The clue is in the title: FIFA 09 All Play. EA's new Wii-specific brand is, like its host console, designed to be as inclusive as possible. So if you want a 'conventional' football game that you control with the Classic or GameCube controller, then All Play provides. If you liked Pro Evolution Soccer's point-and-pass mechanic, then you also won't be left wanting. And even if you've never played a football game before, get bewildered by games that require the use of more than two buttons, or refuse to play anything that won't let you use one of your adorable little Miis, you'll still find something here that's designed to suit your tastes.
Once you've tried out the almost over-whelming number of control systems and settled on the one that suits you (Wii plus Nunchuk in 'advanced play' mode was your reviewer's favourite), you'll discover an entertaining and unpredictable game of football. The animation is smooth, the ball physics realistic, and play is fast and flowing. But ironically for a game that provides so many different ways to control your team, you never really feel like you have an iron firm grip on the action.
One of the most limiting quirks of the point-to-where-you-want-to-pass method of control is that the game decides for you whether the ball should be played along the ground or floated through the air. On the whole it's the shorter passes that are kept low, but the rule is unreliable enough to make planning intricate moves much more difficult than it should be. When you want a nice long lingering ball that gives your target man a bit of time to run into position, the game may decide to ping it fast along the ground; when you need to swing the ball into the box quickly for one of your lurking strikers you may find the ball gets drifted in painfully slowly, so that the opposition defender has no problem heading it away. It was almost enough to make me revert back to using the GameCube controller, but ultimately the satisfaction from playing an inch-perfect long ball just about outweighed my anger from the times the game decided to deliberately sabotage my delicate passing game.
Defending isn't without its problems too. The computer's eagerness to switch which player you're controlling has a habit of causing mayhem to your attempts to hold down a one goal lead on a regular basis. Too many times I would switch from one player to another, start moving to close a hole in my defence, but then get automatically switched back to the player I'd just de-selected. This is a problem common to many sports games, but most are sensible enough to give you the option to turn off the automated cursor change so you can manage it entirely yourself. All Play doesn't, which seems particularly baffling when you consider that the 'change player' button is the most prominent button ('A') for all control schemes.
These problems are all the more noticeable because without them, All Play could be a truly great game. The inclusion of the Manager Mode, found in FIFA 08 on the 360 and PS3 last year, gives a welcome boost to the game's long-term single player appeal. Computer controlled teams behave convincingly, never falling into predictable routines of play, varying their tactics, and making sensible substitutions. And as ever, there are a ridiculous number of licensed teams from all around the world to choose from.
Yet despite all the massive strides forward the game has made since last year's edition, All Play continues to remind you of its shortcomings a little more regularly than it should. It might be when you can't see the ball because it's obscured by the over-sized score-line in the top left of the screen, it could be when you're trying to navigate through the clumsy menu screens, or maybe the final straw will come when Andy Gray voices his (misplaced) concern that a defender may have injured himself performing a sliding tackle, for the fifth time in one match. It's almost enough to make you believe the developers deliberately included these flaws to make sure there's a still a reason to buy FIFA 2010 next year.
That's a little paranoid though, and as a game that has only had one year to make so many major improvements over its previous incarnation, it's perhaps not surprising that there are some elements which feel a little rushed. But it's no-one's fault but EA's that FIFA is locked into a yearly release cycle, and after a few games of All Play you won't be able to resist thinking about what could have been if the release date had been pushed back by a couple of months, and the game a little more thoroughly user-tested.
Nonetheless, there's much to do here, whether it be playing through the game's 32 leagues and 22 cups, taking Macclesfield to the Premiership in management mode, or working your way up the online rankings; and with the exception of the so-bad-I-haven't-bothered-to-mention-them Footii Party games, you'll almost certainly get engrossed playing through any of the modes on offer. The trouble comes as you improve at the game, because you realise you'll never have enough control over your players to feel like you're fully in charge. The title suggests that all can play, and that's certainly true - what it fails to tell you is that this is a game that no-one will truly master either.
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