FIFA 08 Review
|Genre:||Football / Soccer|
|Release Date:||September 28th, 2007 (UK)|
|Reviewer:||James Barlow (Malis)|
Current-gen is dead, long live next-gen, next-gen is current-gen and current-gen is now last-gen. Confusing, but what it boils down to is this - the world is no longer interested in the Playstation 2. Or at least, that's what the Dragon's Den of power players at EA are claiming.
Ask anyone who's played digital football over the last few years what the ultimate football experience is, and they'll undoubtedly say Pro Evolution Soccer. Sure, FIFA, had the names, kits, stadiums, balls, boots and bootlaces of the Premier League, but where was the gameplay? Gamers and the media started becoming more and more hostile towards EA's venerable series with every yearly update, many favouring the deeper, more skilful games of Konami's Pro Evo series.
And the problem with FIFA? Truthfully? It lost its soul. For a sport more akin to a religion than something derived from thwacking a pig's bladder down a street, this is about as heinous a crime as you could ask for. Point is, nobody likes football when it's given a pretty-boy sheen - just look at Chelsea's dive in popularity. Fans like to see hard work, grit, and the odd humiliating loss to have a private weep over. Not Lampard and Terry arm-in-arm pouting down the camera.
With the series slowly evolving into an arcade title - pinball passes, sonic speed, and a button seemingly labelled 'goal', the games certainly may have looked exciting, but actually became predictable high-scoring affairs. Little wonder then, that fans became reduced to mumbling the intricacies of Pro Evo at the pub table. Something had to give.
So what have EA changed for FIFA 08? Well, that actually depends what console you own. If you're still clinging to your Playstation 2 and wired pads, you'll find little beyond the expected roster changes. But last year, secreted away in EA's next-gen research laboratory, something incredible happened. EA built an entirely new engine for the Xbox 360, and made a football game. A game that attempted to replicate the physical, random unpredictability of the beautiful game, whilst retaining the licensed power of the FIFA brand name.
And, surprisingly, it worked. Sure, it was rushed and unfinished; bereft of features to cash in on the new football season. But the framework was so robust we actually wanted to see the finished product. To all extent and purposes, that product is FIFA 08. Building on what last year started, EA have something of a football renaissance on their hands. The physics still delight, and everything has been made sharper.
The game has been slowed down, allowing for greater time on the ball and emphasising the effectiveness of truly fast players. In addition, passes seem to have become crisper, resulting in far more detailed build-up play. And FIFA 08 demands patient play - goals are either earned with careful probing passes and territory control, or gifted through luck and error. It's satisfying to play a game where you know wasted chances can't be easily replayed five minutes later. AI is sharper, and players now make runs of their own far more frequently, resulting in tighter games, especially in singleplayer.
Of course, the game's biggest addition is the trick stick - which does exactly what it says on the tin. By rolling the right analogue stick in certain directions, different tricks are performed - combine movements together and you can fluidly chain tricks. It's implemented well, and it's never in danger of becoming game-breaking due to the physical nature of the game, and the time required to pull tricks off. In the end tricks become just that - parlour pieces you'll pull out to impress friends, and on occasion risk in a desperate effort to score an outrageous goal.
But, like any sequel, it's often the addressing of old problems that pleases more than any new feature. The chief concern with 07 was the lack of teams and events. FIFA 08 brings the next-gen series up to line with the old guard, adding a host of teams from every league, and just about every league and cup competition from them too. Throw in a custom cup mode, and the basics are all covered.
One of the biggest annoyances last year was the startlingly clumsy player-switching. These are forever banished from FIFA 08 with the ability to switch to your player of choice by flicking the analogue stick in their direction. It's simple, effective, and should become the standard for all future football games. The somewhat bouncy nature of the game physics when players collide has been vastly improved, with powerful forwards now holding off defenders, and offering a different line of attack to pace players.
Technically the FIFA series has always been both graphically and audibly excellent, and of course the Xbox 360 puts all its power into some pretty impressive visuals. The player models still look a bit plastic, but are much more obvious caricatures of players this time around. In game FIFA never fails to impress, with fantastic animation that adds to the immersion. Sadly commentary seems to have taken a backwards step. While FIFA 07 provided rich and varied speech from Martin Tyler and Andy Gray, FIFA 08 seems much flatter and less detailed. The wonderful anecdotes and facts seem to be far more streamlined this year, and the re-use of some old phrases is quite noticeable.
Similarly, it's disappointing that gamers are still not being given full analogue control in football games. How long will it take before developers stop us running in eight directions and actually let us make intricate movements? It's become an embarrassing trait in football games now, and can only be down to laziness in design.
Although the manager mode retains its depth and surprising addictiveness, and the challenge mode is great for suicidal gamers, for many FIFA on the 360 means one thing - whipping other humans over the internet. It's surprising just how exciting playing a faceless individual can be - but it transforms even the most dreary team selection into a cup-final battle. FIFA 08 continues the superb implementation of online play, and setting-up or joining a game takes seconds. It will be interesting to see how FIFA implement their 'Be-a-Pro' mode in the future (where you control just one player for the entire game). Although there's a singleplayer version, it will be multiplayer where this mode could really shine as a fantastic innovation in online football. Of course we'll have to wait a few months for FIFA to activate the multiplayer version.
Overall FIFA 08 is a decent sequel for the new Xbox 360 series - improving upon the game in nearly every area, and offering a robust and realistic football game. It's clear now that EA are looking to craft the so-called next-gen versions FIFA into a much more mature series. For this, I can only commend them - it's going to be a much more even title-race this time around.
- Improves on last year in significant ways
- Physics system still impresses
- Realistic build-up play
- Fantastic online multiplayer
- Looks gorgeous
Not so good stuff
- Commentary seems to have taken a backwards step
- Players still look a bit plastic in replay mode
- Still no true analogue control
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