It’s October 2009 and, as expected, Electronic Arts allows us to play a new version in their appreciated FIFA franchise – a big surprise for both PC (since other EA Sports games don’t have a “for Windows” version) and Xbox 360 owners (since the game, as we’ll see, seems to beat PES this year). So, without further ado, because everybody knows what this game is about, let’s see what are the changes brought by this year’s release and if they are any better than what the competition is offering.

We’ll start with the PC version of FIFA 09 but you should still read even if you’re here just for the Xbox 360 review, since the two versions have many things in common. For example, FIFA 09 brings us a few innovations gameplay-wise, a great addition having in mind the rather sloppy versions of the past years when we only got an updated version of the previous release, with improved graphics and animations.

This year we get the Adidas Live Season tracking system which is a real jewel: it allows us to import in real time player stats and updates, according to the player’s performance in the real world. This service is completely free for one league of your choice, but if you want to use it for more, you’ve got to send a few bucks to EA’s pockets. But this does not mean it’s not a great feature!

A brand new game mode is also introduced – Be A Pro, challenging you to take your player from reserve status all the way to the national team’s coach. You only have four seasons to do that but once you’ll start playing and see how cool it is (you only control one player on the pitch, which is really cool) you’d wish it lasted more.

However, the biggest innovation brought this year by Electronics Arts’ FIFA game is control-related. For the first time in eons it appears that there actually was a development team that had an idea or two about how computer games are played, and they were up to do some great work. I mean that the controls this year, apart from the classic keyboard or gamepad only, allow us to use a keyboard + mouse combinations, which turns FIFA 09 into the most realistic and easy to control football game ever.

Of course, you shouldn’t expect this new control scheme to be a piece of cake from first (I scored two own goals and offered the opponents 3 corners during the first game I lost 5-0) but once you get used to it, it’s a dream come true. Basically, you use the keyboard’s arrows for moving your players and the mouse to do the hard work for you: exact passes, just where you want them to go, easy shooting and tons of realistic tricks are the things your mouse can do starting this year. Trust me – it’s the best thing you have ever tried and I’m sure that in a couple of years people will just wonder how come we played for so many years football games without mouse control?

Another major improvement comes from the visual part of the game. To sum it up, FIFA 09 looks absolutely terrific! The players’ faces are really life-like, their bodies move naturally and the tricks have great animations, they even sweat and, the cherry on top – even the grass is 3D now! A real feast for the eyes, unlike the previous versions which had major flaws in most aspects of the game.

However, it’s not all sugar and honey when it comes to the PC version of FIFA 09, as it has some minor flaws. The commentary, for example, is once again limited and you’ll feel like turning it off after the 5th match. The learning curve for the mouse + keyboard control method is a bit too difficult and there will probably be a few people who will stop using it because of that (and it would be a big loss gameplay-wise).