Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Sports
Release Date: October 31, 2006
Wait a minute – wasn't there just a FIFA game released almost a year ago? That's right; 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany was released just prior to the World Cup itself. Like its predecessor, the title was met with varying critical success, so is FIFA '07 what football fans have been waiting for this entire time? Things start off well enough, but soon enough, every step forward means three steps back are taken in other departments.
Just like EA's other franchises, FIFA has been rebuilt entirely for the next-generation console. The main issue with this game is surprisingly similar to what is hurting all of EA's other next-gen titles: missing features. In the current-gen version, there are around 500 clubs that can be used (including the MLS, which has issues of its own, but it's what I wanted to play with), but the number of clubs on the next-gen offering has taken a dramatic downward slide to a mere 117 from the "premiere" leagues and 37 international teams. You can probably find your favorite players somewhere, since you can select anyone you want from the international teams, but that's not the point. Why would I pay more for so much less? That question will continually crop up during the evaluation of this FIFA iteration.
The biggest upgrade here is in the graphics, which look great. The characters in the cut scenes are so shiny that they look like they're covered in cellophane, but on the field, they look both realistic and accurate. As with every other sports game, there sometimes seem to be a lot of repeated faces, but for the most part, the player models are quite varied.
FIFA '07 truly shines in its incredible animations. Perhaps it's because the ball has its own physics and is not connected to the players themselves, but the player animations have seen a tremendous upgrade. In addition, they now speed along far more realistically. As players push along, they lose their ability to maneuver as well, which makes plenty of sense but has not worked quite well in recent outings. The defensive side is equally affected, as tackling takes some time to figure out, as unless a player is making a beeline, you really need to be careful where you go. Sometimes it is pure luck, which, although some people will probably dislike, I actually found to be intriguing.
A huge problem arises though, as tackling becomes unnecessary when you understand more about the referees, or lack thereof. You can bully people around without any chance of getting carded, which leads to a host of other issues. Although it is just an exploit, it is one of a few that, when known, will really disrupt the gameplay. The A.I. will bully you on harder difficulties, to the point where some players might be better off sticking with human opponents only.
Another issue lies in the inability for players to make shots. Even great players stumble around when it comes to shooting, missing wide-open shots or ones so close that a strong breeze should be able to push the ball between the posts. Irritating defensive bullying and absurdly good goalkeepers, together with terrible shooting mechanics and physics, just destroy the scoring aspect of the game. What happens in the long run is that players with experience, perseverance and a bit of intelligence will eventually realize how little depth there is in this easily exploitable game and grow tired of it.
As previously mentioned, the soccer ball has its own physics this year, and it bounces realistically and moves incredibly well. Having a ball bounce off a header and go exactly where you expect it to go is something of beauty and realism. Unfortunately, the wheels fall off from there. The right thumbstick is now used for passing, which is a huge mistake. Although flicking it one way into open space sounds promising, it is broken in practice; you are now "connected" to the ball, and you run as if there were a string attaching you to the ball. The function previously assigned to the right thumbstick, the special dribble, is not available in FIFA '07, and that's a real shame.
Sound is lacking to the point that it's almost a disgrace for a soccer title. In real life, stadiums boom and shake as cheers go on and noisemakers go off, but in FIFA '07, there are cheers and some stadium-specific ones, but they are quite muffled. At times, I was probably cheering louder than the 80,000 people sitting complacently within my home stadium. The commentary from Andy Gray and Clive Tyldesley is just atrocious at times. While their actual statements are generally informative with a few team-specific statistics thrown in there, but mostly, they are repetitive and boring. Worst of all, they are slow, responding to action that occurred a few ticks before. Since soccer is one of the few sports where announcing is almost as important as the game itself, it's a pity that this aspect was not all that it could have been.
The manager mode has been rebuilt this year, and it is actually a strong point of FIFA '07. As you play and win, you will gain experience points to use on your team, and eventually, you can make the squad exactly what you would like it to be, as you form a powerhouse that will overtake your league. On the down side, the developers have removed the ability to simulate a match and jump right in. This was always fun to do, as the team you managed might be down, and you could just go in and play. Now instead of being committed to playing an entire game, you're just stuck with a screen giving you the stats of the match. At the very least, it's an effective way of delivering the information, but it's just not really very exciting.
The online mode works the best of any of the EA sports games this year. The regular multiplayer matches and quick matches are present, with little to no slowdown against other players anywhere in the globe. More importantly, the best feature of the online mode in NBA Live has returned: ESPN radio integration. You can hear your favorite football team's news or any other regular ESPN programming; although it works exactly like what we saw from NBA Live, it's still a great feature and just another one of the things that makes online play so much fun.
It's hard to rate an offering like FIFA 2007. Every aspect that "works" has a few that just don't, to the game's overall detriment. The lack of clubs is probably the most disheartening, especially with the knowledge that EA is not above charging for the additional teams. The broken passing game and shooting hurt tremendously as well, but there is a lot of fun to be had against another human opponent, which helps to make up for some of the single-player issues. The manager mode is interesting, and there are just enough positives and not enough other options on the X360 soccer scene, so FIFA '07 is still recommended for most people. If you are not a huge fan, it's probably best to just stick with the current-gen versions for now, but I imagine that next year's offering has the potential to really stand out and attain the promise that so many people saw in this franchise.
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