While football 'the game' is our favourite sport by long shot (well, Nick and Andy's at any rate), we're starting to get mightily sick of football 'the industry'. Premiership ticket prices are so high that many fans are priced out of going to support their club while players who earn more money in a week than most of us do in years whine about being 'slaves'. Teams that get relegated from the Premiership get £30 million in 'parachute payments' for their failure, surely an unfair advantage over other teams in the second flight, yet still get themselves into financial troubles. We could go on. A lot.
But if and when the football 'industry' disappears up its own Sky-franchised European Super League backside, we'll still have the wonderful world of football games to entertain us. And FIFA 09 certainly entertained us during our extensive first play of the game.
FIFA 08 was a cumbersome affair on Wii, attempting to ram in a bunch of motion-control ideas without executing them properly. It was thin on game modes too, a rarity in a FIFA title. Both issues have been addressed for the new season, and the game's all the better for it.
Cheer we go
Gameplay first, then. With the excellent Pro Evolution Soccer lurking like a 6'6" centre forward at the back post, FIFA had a lot of work to do this year to win our affection. There's a way to go yet, but early signs show that they've pulled off a control system that feels more natural and more fluid than last year's. To make a pass, you point the remote at the player you want to pass to then hit the A or B button depending on how you set it up. Simple really.
When you're pointing the remote at the screen, it's the player nearest the cursor that will be highlighted as the player you'll pass to, which obviously makes sense. However, passes can go astray or be intercepted so it's advisable to try and point directly at the player. Do this and a cross will appear at the player's feet and your pass will be far more accurate. One problem area that still needs addressing is that your pass type is chosen automatically (ie, whether it's along the deck or lobbed in the air), and too often the AI chooses the wrong one.
Shooting is once again a waggle-the-remote affair, with the timing of your waggle determining the shot type. It's simpler than last year, there being no 'hold this button while holding the remote at 73 before shaking twice above your head' contortions. It's more like Pro Evo's shooting, relying more on your timing than anything. It's more or less as you were for the rest of the controls, and we like it a lot. There are All Play controls for - erk! - 'casual' gamers, and this involves the AI doing most things for you and minimal button presses. We're massive snobs, so we didn't try them.
Game of two halves
So there's a definite improvement on the pitch, but how about the game modes? Again, much better. Firstly, Manager mode makes an appearance This has been a staple in FIFA on other formats but was a glaring absence from Wii last year.
Here you take a job at any club in the game, and in addition to playing all the matches (you can view the action from the sidelines if you wish, but where's the fun in that?) you must sort out all the other goings-on at the club.
You'll need to make signings, renew contracts, build up your staff's abilities and even sign up a sponsor (weirdly, the sponsors are made up of companies like Latvian Pizza firms or Turkish telecommunications providers). It's a comprehensive and entertaining mode, and superior to the rather weak Master League in Pro Evo on Wii.