2008. The year that no home-nations will get to play in the European Championship Finals in Austria and Switzerland. The long summer of watching the likes of Portugal, Germany and France compete to be the best in European football. Although England failed to qualify for the Finals, one good thing to come out of it was the FA’s decision to terminate the contract of Steve McClaren. Now with this years Championships, just months away, EA have thrown another football game onto the market with UEFA Euro 2008 – and it’s good.

UEFA Euro 2008 is practically FIFA 08 with a few tweaks – extra modes and only European countries (obviously). Whilst the FIFA 08 game was catching up on the Pro Evolution Soccer series, UEFA Euro 2008 plays as enjoyable as FIFA 08 does, with the aid of a few tweaks to the passing and shooting system – the easy viewable strength meter above the players head for both the power when passing and shooting the ball. Whilst this is only a minor tweak to the game, it’s very effective – especially when getting the perfect through-ball to your attacker. While everything’s much the same, let’s talk about some of the new features that have been added to UEFA Euro 2008.

Firstly, Captain Your Country. It does exactly as the title says, but you have to start from the beginning – the B team. Creating a player from scratch, you have to start from the bottom up and work your way up to leading your country to the Finals. When creating yourself (or just a random player), you get to do all your own custom player – such as your facial features, hairstyle, height, weight and of course, your style of football boots you’re going to where on the field. With your physical look sorted out, it’s time to use the points you get to improve your game; add power to your passing, add points to your speed and so forth – this can be done after you’ve earned points in the games before hand as you can constantly update your statistics.

As well as you competing for the captaincy, you can invite three friends to battle it out with you to become captain of your chosen country – if not, you compete with the three computer opponents that you select. Once everything is sorted, it’s to the field to become the number one contender for the first-team. The system works as the Be A Pro mode – just you in your position and you’re always rated at the end of each game. For example, if you’re a striker, the more goals you score, the higher the points you’re awarded – there are also points awarded for pass completion and so forth. Along with these points, you and the three computer competitors (or three friends) have a constant rating on-screen out of 10. This will increase and decrease on your abilities: strikers scoring is a plus; defenders losing the ball or giving away possession has a negative impact – a simple but effective system.

Another excellent addition is the Battle of the Nations competition, that happens both online and offline. Every game you play or challenge you complete, you’re awarded points, and as you earn these points, they’re added to the countries total: all players in England will have an overall score, all players in Germany will have an overall score and so on. So, if you really have that pride for England and the ‘hate’ (such a strong word) for the Germans, it’s all about contributing to England’s total (COME ON ENGLAND!), or whatever country you’re from.

Skills are also in UEFA Euro 2008 and they certainly help against the quite challenging AI. Skills such as step-over’s, drag-backs and if you’re really want to be skilful, you can try and flick the ball over your head from behind and also lift it over your opponent/s and run on to it. Although it is possible to use your tricks on the ’lower’ difficulties, from Professional up, the game truly does get challenging. The AI is remarkably life-like with the computer reading all your moves, cutting out your passes and sticking to their man they’ve been given by their manager. Along with the AI of the players alone, the lower ranking teams in the world seem to play a 8-1-1 formation; teams such as Andorra keep it very tight at the back with practically their whole squad behind the ball and keeping a player up the pitch just incase they go on the attack. The AI is remarkable to say the least and will prove a challenge on the higher difficulties.

New to UEFA Euro 2008 is the ability to control your goal-scorers celebrations! Using a selection of buttons, your player can celebrate by running to the corner flag with his finger on his lip, drop down to one knee and act as if he has a weapon in his hands, the celebrations are extremely good and when you play with family/friends, it’s good to be 2-0 down in the last 10 minutes and fight back for a draw; nothing like Owen putting his finger on his lip as you play a psychological game. To pull off these celebrations, you run where you want to, pressing either one of the A,B,X or Y buttons – throwing your hands in the air, performing a low flying aeroplane and so forth. Once this is done, the game will go into the ‘video’ mode where the game looks realistic with clear facial features, before finally bringing your celebration to an end with a kneeling fist in the air, arms out to the crowd and so on; these are done by holding down the L-Bumper and pressing A,B,X or Y.

Taking the game online is still as fun, and as frustrating as ever. You’ve got your basic Quick Un/ranked matches, Leagues and you can play in the ‘Finals’ – the last 16 of the competition against other players around the globe, but everyone’s a different team. The lower the seed of the team, the more points you earn for your country and vice-versa for the higher ranked teams – you earn less points. Upon playing and winning with a seeded team 1 to 8, you get achievement points for playing and you get points for winning a game (20 – 50 points depending on your seed) and obviously you get points for winning the competition. Unfortunately, as usual, there are problems with EA’s servers – games disconnecting, gamers not being able to even log on – it’s something we hope that is fixed in the very near future. As well as this negative, you do get the occasional player online that uses the cross-and-hope technique, although it’s not as effective as it used to be – thank you EA!

Other achievements come in the form of repeating the successes of previous winners of the Championships; beat Portugal with Greece (2004), beat Italy with France (2000) and so on. The most recognisable achievement to the England fan (and it’s a serious problem for England) is the ‘Break the hoodoo’ achievement; win a penalty shootout! It’s a lot easier in the game than what we’ve seen in previous tournaments with England (Euros and World Cup). Other achievements include beating a country who has won it on Professional, win the competition (typical) and beating records that have been set; get a bigger score line than the Germany v San Marino (13-0). A lot of them are easily achievable, although there might be a few you’ll struggle with.

Graphically there’s nothing much different to FIFA 08 in this department – at least in the way the players look and the actual gameplay. The graphics on the pitch are quite impressive. When going to a ‘poorer’ country to play, the pitch is riddled with dips here and there, and if it’s raining, the water stays on the pitch and has an impact on the game. They’ll be puddles of water scattered around the pitch slowing the ball down, the goalkeepers area will be muddy as hell around the 6-yard area – it’s a real-life scenario of what footballers go through, and playing in the rain is extremely enjoyable. As mentioned in the paragraph above, the celebrations are well executed and the switch to graphics are great fun.

The audio in UEFA Euro 2008 is also extremely great. Depending where you’re playing, home or away, the crowd will cheer you on at Wembley (if you’re England) and boo the opposition – and it’s the same when you go away to other countries, when your team gets the ball, the crowd show their ‘hatred’ towards you. Commentary in the game comes for Clive Tyldsley and Andy Townsend and is well executed – although a bit ‘funny’ (not in the laughing way) at times. A lot of repetition occurs such as “this is the final 4 minutes” or “it’s been raining since the start of the game and it’s still the same” – although you can see it, it’s very well given commentary, and if you’re lucky enough to have a popular surname, Townsend and Tyldsley will refer you to by that. Unfortunately Hanley wasn’t available (too Irish?) so I didn’t pick one, I was just the ‘unknown’ geezer scoring the goals.

Although England (or any of the home nations) are not going to Austria-Switzerland for the Finals, UEFA Euro 2008 is a good game to see what ‘could have’ been. It has a few tweaks over FIFA 08 and the inclusion of Captain Your Country is a welcome addition. It’s fast, fun and addictive. The great atmospheres around the grounds, the skill and celebrations, UEFA Euro 2008 is a great stepping stone for EA and hopefully FIFA 09 will be tweaked a bit more to make it even better.

UEFA Euro 2008 is a good game, but with only a ‘fraction’ of FIFA 08. You’ve got the added modes, but the £40 RRP may put gamers off as it’s only European teams and FIFA 08 is cheaper with more teams; you’ll be missing out on Captain Your Country though. UEFA Euro 2008 is well worth a purchase to those of you who are willing to splash the cash and want to lead England to glory. The only problem I had with the game was an invisible player running down the right wing. Roll on FIFA 09.

Arron Hanley

Based in the chav-infested city of Manchester, but not in the nicest part by any means, Arron (referred to as Hanley on all occasions) joined the ranks of Console Monster as a first-look contributor before making the leap onto reviewing. After a few bribes, he took the role of General Editor. Having being an alcoholic from the age of 16, Hanley can be found in the few local pubs, down at ditch at work, or on his beloved Xbox360. Also an avid football follower, Hanley follows the blue half of Manchester and really does hate Manchester United fans.

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