Custom tactics and enhanced AIOn the pitch, EA has learnt some lessons from FIFA 08 and has tweaked gameplay to iron out some of those annoyances from last year as well as adding intricate changes that make the overall game feel more intuitive and entertaining in the process.
One of the additions, helping significantly to enhance the gameplay this year, is the custom tactics system, which allows up to ‘50000 different combinations’ of attacking and defensive options.
You can use a series of sliders to tweak parts of your team’s performance, choosing from eleven settings that allow you to change the way your team move around you and respond to the action. For example, if you tweak the standard speed setting higher you’ll see your teammates moving up the pitch more quickly, but if you pull the slider down they won’t make any hasty runs – ideal if you’re playing more defensively. The tactics work brilliantly and impressively can see them being played out on the pitch.Choose short passing and players find space around you waiting for the pass; choose long passing and you’ll see them making runs trying to get behind the defender. There are plenty of tactics to experiment with and you'll soon find you're favourite gameplay style.
In online mode in particular it’s a brilliant system because you'll often have to try and identify which tactics you’re opponents are using and adopt your tactics to counter-act them.
On the pitch, improved AI sees teammates making intelligent runs, tracking back into position quickly and responding intuitively to the action around them. It’s now more difficult to get past defenders who stick close to you and make like difficult by shoulder barging you off the ball or putting in a timely challenge. Headers have also been tweaked so that you need to time your button press perfectly as the ball flies through the air.
Improvements continue with the goalkeepers who now reach behind their bodies if they misjudge a shot and who now, thankfully, release the ball quickly up the field to take advantage of midfielders and defenders who are trying to get back into position after their team’s attack. Overall, the increased responsiveness from players to what’s going on around them is a markable improvement over FIFA 08.
AI improvement also carries over the referee who now does a better job at letting play flow by allowing the advantage after a foul has been given. (i.e. he's no longer a pain in the arse).
With all of the added tweaks FIFA 09 is a tactically challenging and enjoyable game of football that benefits from EA's typically smooth presentation and graphics. Some great player models, stadiums and superb animations, that sees players showing off their range of special tricks, tumbling over after a ferocious tackle or leaping in the air with authority, make for a dazzling overall package.