Developer: EA Sports
Release Date: October 9, 2007
USA vs. Mexico, Germany vs. England, Manchester United vs. Arsenal, EA's FIFA vs. Konami's Winning Eleven — these are just some of the major match-ups that occur in the soccer world. As a soccer fanatic and an avid soccer gamer, I've come to both love and hate EA and Konami's take on their prized footballer games. One game has all of the teams, while the other has all of the gameplay. That has been the stipulation for years, with EA slowly making moves here and there in an attempt to dethrone Winning Eleven. Out of the gate comes FIFA 08, once again jam-packed with enough teams and players to make your head spin, a nice amount of game modes and decent gameplay. It also comes plagued with an intense learning curve and gameplay that still does not meet the standards of the Winning Eleven series.
Believe me, I really wanted to love FIFA 08; the game features teams from just about every soccer league that you can think of, so that should keep soccer fanatics cheering. FIFA 08 has 30 official leagues spanning from Serie A in Italy to the Barclays English Premier League, with smaller leagues from Austria, Brazil and Mexico in the mix as well. No matter who your favorite team or player is, you're sure to find them in this game.
The amount of players and depth of presentation have never been an issue in the FIFA franchise. EA has once again made the FIFA license work to its advantage in relation to players and teams, and over 20 stadiums are featured. With as many teams as there are in the game, not every team's stadium could be included, but historic sites, such as Manchester United's Old Trafford, are in the game.
One huge downside to everything looking so nice is the inability to save replays. They can only be saved by being uploaded to the EA servers while you're connected to Xbox Live. When you score that one-timer from 30 yards with David Beckham (which I did), enjoy not being able to save that to your hard drive or memory card. Honestly, first NHL 08, and now this?
Commentary is conducted by Martin Tyler and Andy Gray and complements the overall audio scheme of the game, which features stadium-packed crowds that could induce a riot at any time. There's not much dialogue on the field, though; players requesting a pass or encouraging you to shoot is not as prevalent as you might have hoped, which is unfortunate because it would have strengthened FIFA 08's presentation on the pitch.
There are only four camera angles to choose from, and each one allows you to see how good FIFA 08 looks. The amount of animations has definitely been increased from last year's version, which is apparent when you see the different moves, shots and passes that players make. The virtual footballers move fluidly with and without the ball, and the extra amount of jerseys complements all of the teams. There were minor instances of clipping when players went in for a tough slide tackle or collided with the goalie, but that's about the extent of it.
Aiming placed pieces, such as free kicks and corner kicks, is sometimes difficult because you can only move the camera from side to side. It is different than what most soccer games have had, but it is also parallel with FIFA 08's new shooting system, which places the speed and trajectory of your shot in relation to the speed and position of your player. The advanced free kick controls work reasonably well, allowing you to put some spin on your free and corner kicks with the use of the left analog stick.
With the addition of the new shooting system comes the method of executing skill moves. There are over 10 skill moves that you can pull off by holding down the left trigger and moving the right analog stick in various directions. It sounds good on paper, but in the game, it's a different story. The right analog stick is not as responsive as I was hoping for, and by the time you even think about pulling off a skill move, you've already lost the ball. Initially, it's a frustrating experience when you try to dribble your way around players, especially in one-on-one situations, but the controls are there for you to learn.
Fouls are another frustrating aspect of FIFA 08 because referees are inconsistent when calling fouls and booking players during most games. The hardest slide tackles that should result in a yellow card usually don't, while the wimpiest shoulder nudges will constantly be called. It also seems that the AI gets most of the calls in its favor and, as a result, gets more free kicks.
FIFA 08 runs at a much slower pace than before, as EA attempted to add realism to the game, and it works, for the most part. The only downfall is that players who are clearly faster than others do not have that boost of speed that differentiates them from the rest of the pack. On the other hand, it does help with aiming shots and passes, and the amount of errant passes is much lower compared to last year, thanks to a much-improved offensive AI. Defensively, the AI was not as responsive; opposing attackers could frequently run down open lanes while players watched instead of attacking.
Aside from playing friendlies, there are Challenge Mode, Manager Mode, Tournament Mode, and the new Be A Pro mode, which restricts you to controlling just one player. There are a ton of tournaments to play spanning the globe, but you have the ability to create your own if you feel the urge.
In Manager Mode, manage just about any team you can imagine. You begin by selecting a sponsor, and the better your team is, the more sponsorship options you'll have. After that, you perform the usual managerial tasks, such as upgrading your staff, rotating rosters and scouting out the next young talent. You'll also keep track of player growth and team chemistry. Your calendar, depending on which team you play against, is packed with games. During my time in Manager Mode, my team was Manchester United, and fortunately, my calendar featured standard season games, FA Cup games, and English League Cup games, so you'll get your fill in a season.
Be A Pro has you playing as one player on a squad, but it mainly serves as practice for the Challenge Mode, which does the same thing. Challenge Mode allows you to accumulate points that you can spend on creating players or unlocking merchandise as you complete challenges of increasing difficulty. Some challenges will include scoring a goal with a certain player or completing 75 percent of your passes. It's a fun and pleasantly addicting mode that gives FIFA 08 great replay value.
Minus its hiccups in gameplay and difficulty, FIFA 08 is a good game. It's just not a great game when compared to the reigning king of soccer games, Winning Eleven (Pro Evolution Soccer in Europe). EA has been making great strides in the last few years, and this year is no exception. With great presentation, a roster full of teams and players and great graphics, FIFA 08 is a game that all soccer fans should try out. It may not be Winning Eleven, but it's certainly on its way.
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