Not unlike crack

This year's model: FIFA Soccer 09 is satisfyingly weighty and beefs up player models in contrast to FIFA 08
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FIFA SOCCER 09

(Electronic Arts; Nintendo DS, PlayStation 2 and 3, Sony PSP, Windows Vista/XP, Xbox 360)

GAMER In the midst of all this excruciatingly important election business, I strive only to be a better-terrified, proverbially neo-American Joe, asking you, "O citizen, has there ever been a more convenient time to wed distraction — by an awesome bit of footy on the Xbox 360?"

Frayed knot. FIFA Soccer 09 complaints first: most of the situation-specific expressions used for play-by-play and color commentary are fucking irritating and/or redundant to the point of sounding just plain stupid, as in, "a great defensive tackle" or "defensive clear," when we know these maneuvers to be exclusively defensive by definition.

The occasional "goalie blowout" is a definite frustration as well. About once a game, your keeper will choose to ignore a cross that should be cursorily disrupted, either that or decide to come off his line without warning at exactly the wrong time. As for field play, the usual FIFA suspects: errant touches caused by the directional proximity of two or more passing targets, animations that force players to decelerate unnaturally, jive-ass one-on-one moves that remain woefully ineffective. ("Homemade cuts" are still the way to go if you're trying to beat a defender with the dribble.)

Much applause: this year's version plays heavy in comparison to a somewhat papery FIFA 08. The ball is weightier; the scale, appreciably larger. And while retaining its 08 intellect, 09 does well to beef up the player models and bring the default camera angle closer to the pitch. Inertia, momentum, and gravity are better woven into the feel of the game: jostle for good position only to time your jump poorly and whiff on your header. The "Create a Player" feature is nuanced and can get you pretty damn close to a reasonable Con McJain likeness if that's what you're into, freak.

For you Xbox Live fiends, they've set up some decent interactive modes, including an unwieldy but super-fun 10 vs. 10 online welter that devolves right quickly into "Kill That Cow." But you know, son, this is America, and we play how we plumb well please.

Still looking pretty hairy, isn't it, Joe? Narrower, this chance, than it had ought to be.

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