For football games, the Xbox 360 has been pretty appalling. Fifa 06 was sluggish and at times very unresponsive. Fifa 06: Road to the World Cup was even worse, scoring a measly 6.7 when it was released. With terrible online play and a feeling it was rushed, the game was unplayable. Then EA created Fifa 07. Finally a decent Fifa game had arrived – with great ball physics, great graphics and overall great gameplay, this was classed as the Pro Evo beater. With EA now on 4 football titles and Konami still with their one title, many people are swaying over to the EA side.
Now EA have released UEFA Champions League 2006-2007, to coincide with the Champions League. To be honest, UEFA Champions League is pretty much Fifa 07 in a different box. Don’t be surprised if you opened the box to find Fifa 07 inside. But the one defining difference between Fifa and Champions League is the collecting and trading of cards to use in the Ultimate Team mode, which, even if you have Fifa 07, is worth getting Champions League for.
The game modes aren’t that different from the Fifa modes, with Champions League being the mode you mostly play. All it consists of is picking one of the teams you can play as and work your way up through the league to the final. Then there are the Champions League challenges, which let you completely re-write the history of football, by reliving moments in Champions League history and possibly changing it. You will find the challenges a whole lot more fun if you understand the leagues history and can remember these moments. Then there is the lounge mode, taken from Fifa. In this mode, you and your friends can play and keep track of your statistics after each match.
But these modes are nothing compared to the new Ultimate Team mode. In this mode, your aim is to create the best team possible and win the golden ticket, giving you the chance to take your Ultimate Team to the final of the Champions League. The difference is that to make your ultimate team, you need to buy, trade and collect the many different types of cards available.
After finishing a challenge or a match in the other modes, you are awarded credits on how well you did. In the challenges you are set certain scenarios, such as win by 2 Goals, which will earn you more credits if completed. In Champions League mode, you earn credits by scoring goals and making shots on target, although credits are deducted for each red or yellow card given to your team. These credits are then used to purchase cards. At first the only cards you can purchase are Bronze cards, but as you play more with your ultimate team, you will be able to unlock Silver and Gold packs, which enable you to access better player, staff and skill cards. Each pack costs a different amount, with Bronze packs being the cheapest and thus giving you the weakest cards. The packs can contain players, managers, staff (such as doctors, coaches, and so-on), stadiums, new kits, new balls and cards which can give you players better attributes.
Using the cards to create your team is relatively easy, but increasing your teams chemistry is extremely hard. You have to pair up players with other players from their country. You’ll need to place them in their best position and you need to use their favourite formation, which is difficult as not all the players like the same formation. You also need to keep an eye on each players contract length, because when it runs out you’ve lost that player. You can extend the contract of a player using one of the special cards. Other cards can be used to improve each players attributes, with some cards improving dribbling skill and tackling. But these cards can be improved further, if you have the right manager and staff cards, which can increase the effectiveness of each card.
The whole sorting and compiling of the cards can seem very confusing at first. The game does include a tutorial, but this is terrible and doesn’t give you much information on what to do. But after fiddling around for around half an hour I finally got the hang of it and was trading, discarding and sorting my cards with ease. Which brings me onto the next point, what to do with your spare cards. After messing with the new cards and placing them in your collector’s album or using them for your team, you can either discard or trade your cards. You trade your cards over Xbox Live and you can have up to 10 cards trade at a time. You set the amount of credits it will cost and after your card has been traded you receive that amount of credits. If after a certain time, some of your cards have not been traded, they are placed back into your card pile. You probably will end up buying lots of cards, especially if you need a certain player or manager, but can’t find it in your card packs. EA has pulled off the collecting of cards quite well, but to improve it EA could’ve enabled you to swap cards for other cards and give cards to people on your friends list, which would add a whole new side to things
After all this collecting and trading, you may actually get round to playing some matches with your team. The gameplay is very similar to Fifa 07, which is to be expected, but there are some tweaks, which are both good and bad. First of all is that the passing and shooting feels really random. Faced with an open net, your player can sometimes miss the goal completely even if you didn’t put much power into your shot, which is quite frustrating, but after playing for a few hours you start to get the hang of how much power to put into each shot, so you can pull off some blinding goals. Crossing and passing still stay quite frustrating sadly, with your player sometimes passing to the opposition or not to anyone at all. Crossing isn’t as effective as in Fifa 07, which gets rid of people who just cross straight into the box for an easy goal. This is both good and bad. Good because it’s more of a challenge to score a goal, but bad because if you want to cross normally, from say your own box to midfield, it’s very random and can end up going off to the side resulting in a throw in.
As with any football game, UEFA has the automatic player change function that randomly changes to a different player to let you get to the ball quicker. Unfortunately, this function is random and makes the game frustrating especially when you’re about to get the ball and the control is switched to another character. You will, at times, find yourself shouting obscenities at the TV screen because you almost tackled someone, but it flicked to another player, resulting in a goal! The control of the players is all-together good, but there are times where it’s difficult to change direction quickly and sometimes it takes so long to power a shot, by the time you’ve got it to where you want, the ball has been snatched from you and is half way up the other end of the pitch. It’s hard to master the controls at first because, at times, you’ll be trying to push 5 buttons at once to tackle the ball, change your strategy, and so-on.
Overall the graphics are brilliant. The weather effects are great, with the rain slightly obscuring the camera and the sun lighting up the pitch. The stadiums look amazing, with the crowd chanting away and the detail in the ad boards as well (Including a sneaky Playstation 3 ad!). The players look ok, with good cloth effects, but their faces are just strange. They look like wax rejects from Madame Tussaud’s Waxworks. Even Ronaldinho manages to look uglier than he already is! The animations are, to put it bluntly, brilliant. With players nudging when trying to tackle and the dives and saves looking very realistic.
If you get bored of playing the offline modes, you can play online. It’s relatively easy to find a match, pick a team and start playing. Plus EA has finally fixed the lagging servers, which makes the game faster paced and exciting. You can also take your ultimate team online and challenge other people’s ultimate teams to see who really has got the Ultimate team.
Overall UEFA Champions League, is pretty much Fifa 07 with a few new modes slapped in. This, by no means, is a bad thing, but one does wonder why EA put the card-collecting feature in this game instead of Fifa – which is played by many more people. If you have played Fifa 07, but want some more variety of teams and modes, or just want a fun football game this is the game for you. If you want a more realistic football game, then go for Pro Evolution Soccer 6. This game is more for casual football fans. Although the card collecting feature seems quite daunting at times, once mastered it sets this apart from other football games. Not making it better, just a different experience.