FIFA. It must be galling for the Federation of International Football Associations that their acronym became the reference for the mediocrity that EA’s football game used to be. In FIFA 07, EA had a bit of an epiphany, and actually decided to try and compete with Konami’s Pro Evo. They actually did a fairly decent job in terms of the gameplay, if a little arcadey, but in the 360 version there was a lack of the usual variety of licensed teams and tournaments. This time, however, EA has gone all out to try and go one better than Konami, and they’ve managed. Sort of.

The main thing that had been addressed since the last version is the number of licensed teams and tournaments along with the variety of gameplay modes. In terms of British Clubs, EA has included all the teams from the Championship, League One and League Two alongside your standard Premiership fare. All in all, there are 620-odd teams this year and 30 licensed leagues, which should keep most football fans happy. That’s 15,000 players to create a likeness for, some of which you’ll never recognise, but generally they’ve managed to get the hair and skin colour and race about right. Naturally all the big players are easily recognisable, right down to Rooney’s freckles.

In single player there are far more options available than FIFA players are accustomed to, the most interesting of which are the Manager and Be a Pro. Manager mode is FIFA’s version of the Master League in Pro Evo, except more involved. Similar to the American sports franchises that EA represent in the video game arena, the mode of play focuses on the player’s abilities as a manager as well as being able to control the players to an adequate level to win. This essentially boils down into managing your squad tactically and managing transfers, upgrading your backroom staff, keeping the team finances in order and keeping the fans, board and players happy. This does give some depth to the traditional season mode, and does require some real strategy to keep everything in order on and off the pitch. Obviously this is a little easier if you start of as Chelsea, but being a minnow in League One will definitely make you tear your hair out.

Similar to the Pro Evo master league, the players also gain experience from matches. As each player gets gain time, they will earn points for each area that they play well. You can then either spend points on upgrading attributes, or let the CPU choose how they grow. The transfer system also works relatively well, the most important section being the negotiation history, which will actually tell you why a certain transfer request failed. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a way to shortlist players, but there are good search options to sift through all 15,000 of them.

Be a Pro mode is awesome. In similarity to the Superstar mode in Madden, the player chooses to take on the role of a player within the team and makes the position their own. The camera also switches to a third-person(ish) perspective, allowing you to see the play around you and control your player’s position accurately. The real challenge comes with being content to watch the action going on around you, and having to rely on the CPU on actually being good enough to give you that killer through ball, or to just manage to tap the ball into an open net. Some players will find this mode too frustrating, or miss controlling their whole team, but Be a Pro will give patient players a very satisfying, fresh experience. Oh, and in the next installment we’ll apparently have a 22-man online mode. [Ed – I call not being goalie!]

The gameplay, which is classically FIFA’s main weak point feels so different in 08. However, it really seems as if the Canadians have actually managed to take the time to watch a football match before creating the game. Gone are the mazy dribbles up the pitch with Sol Campbell, or trying to pop a cheek curler round the keeper’s blind spot; you actually have to play a decent game of footy. Everything about the game now is about the player-to-player confrontations. Rather than booting a pass cross-field to a team-mate, you’ll need to look and see how they’re positioned. Are they going to get to the ball before the defender? Have they got the strength to hold up the ball and continue the move? It is guaranteed that you’ll be very frustrated by the amount of times that the CPU manages to intercept the ball when you first start playing.

This is all good, but a few of the original niggles do still remain. The main gripe is with the accuracy of passes. Far too often, the game doesn’t give you the accuracy you’d like, or will ‘assist’ the direction of pass straight into a defender’s path, which is very irritating. Goalkeepers also seem to be stuck in an imaginary patch of treacle, moving incredibly slowly often leaving the goal wide open for seconds. In contrast, the agility of many of the outfield players has been improved, with a decent trick-stick system. By holding the left trigger the player goes into a more accurate dribble and can perform (according to ability) a variety of tricks, mapped to intuitive gestures with the right-stick.

Graphically, FIFA 08 is as slick as you’d expect. The game shares the monochrome, cascading menu interface as the other EA Sports franchises, which is easy to use and great to look at. The only slight annoyance is the fact you have to press start to find it initially, which can be easy to forget after a few cans. In game the players look amazing, with close-ups on certain players it really has you comparing the game to a television broadcast—it’s that good. EA have gone for this weird tungsten/washed-out light filter to make the game appear more gritty and realistic, but it doesn’t completely work. Lighting effects are also excellent, with real-time shadows being generated during night games and some modeling based on the sun position.

Another important factor in a football game is the atmosphere created from the stadium sounds, something that FIFA 08 produces admirably. Cheers and boos rain down from the stands, and the mainstream teams also have the crowd singing team songs, which sounds incredible when using surround sound. The commentary however is a mixed affair. While you have Martin Tyler and Andy Gray (legends) providing the play-by-play and topical comments as the game progresses, the markers set down for the commentary are very sloppy. Often some of the comments that are played bear very little relation to what just happened on the field, which is no fault of the scripting, just how the audio has been programmed in. They also seem to go into a state of euphoria whenever the referee plays the advantage (which is rather often), going on about how amazing it is that the referee had the foresight to do it. Yes EA, you did a good job with the advantage system. We get it.

Overall FIFA 08 is a very decent football simulation, mixing both stunning graphics with some well-thought gameplay. There are still some areas that need to be worked on, but EA have finally produced something that has the potential to be better than Pro Evo.

Originally Written By: Ali Owen

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