Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Canada
Release Date: May 19, 2008
UEFA Euro 2008 was released to go hand in hand with the Euro Cup this year. In many ways, it's similar to EA's other soccer effort, FIFA 08, though some slight improvements have been made to the gameplay to make this one of the best soccer games I've played in recent years. While I usually prefer to play Pro Evolution Soccer, UEFA 2008 has made such a strong case that PES is going to have to do something really special to get the upper hand.
If you've followed the series, you'll notice upon booting up that the presentation is certainly of a lower grade than what we saw in FIFA 08. Considering that the game almost plays like a carbon copy of FIFA 08, I found myself confused about why the step back was taken. The loads are no longer masked with a scene of a shootout with a goalie, the menus don't feel as slick, and the list goes on.
Once you get in the game, the presentation still feels good, but there are little holes in the system that can really get on a player's nerves. About half the time, I started a game by transitioning from the loading screen to the players' pre-game warm-ups, the game would make a startling and hideous static noise. During camera cuts that showed events occurring outside of gameplay, the players would often appear just after the camera changes, so you'll see the grass and then a split second later, 11 players pop in and they're listening to the national anthem. While none of these things break the game, they certainly don't do a good job of making it feel authentic.
Other than these occasional pop-in issues, UEFA 2008 looks fantastic. The players are all highly detailed and look more or less like their real-life counterparts. They animated fairly well, although there are instances of oddities — if a player is about to strike the ball hard and it gets stolen, the striker falls flat on his face. The game never has any instances of slowdown that I could see, so the only problem that I could find with the graphics was the previously mentioned pop-in issue. FIFA really has the competition absolutely destroyed here, and PES doesn't come anywhere close.
On the audio side of the spectrum, you have the standard EA Trax, which serve their purpose although they're mostly forgettable riffs that you've probably never heard of. Most of the sound you'll be hearing is the roar of the crowd, which gets the job done (why wasn't the crowd cheering when I won the Euro Cup with Bulgaria?). Announcers Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend do a good job, but when there's activity around the goal, they tend to miscall things left and right, often calling bad crosses as shots that were, "Oh so close to breaking the scoreless draw!" They have a wide variety of things to say, though, and it's nice to hear little tidbits about the tournament from time to time or a little history on the team you're playing as.
UEFA 2008 plays like a slightly polished version of FIFA 08, which is a good thing, as the latter was the best FIFA game in a long time. The developers seem to have listened to community feedback about what was wrong with FIFA 08, and these issues have been fixed in UEFA 2008. As a result, UEFA 2008 feels like you're playing an enhanced version of FIFA 08. My biggest gripe about FIFA 08 was that the game still felt like I was on rails when I played, so after a pass, I couldn't reposition the guy to whom I'd passed the ball, so if a defender moved in to intercept, my player would be helpless and couldn't do anything about it. Fixing this makes an already good soccer game that much better; everything feels faster, more realistic, less cheap, and certainly more intense.
UEFA 2008 has some pretty good AI players to match yourself against, and you're sure to find a difficulty that will provide a good challenge for you. You'll also find a wide assortment of options in the menus so you can start pretty much any type of soccer match that you want.
Despite the great fun that can be had while playing a soccer match, UEFA 2008 feels like I'm paying 60 bucks for scraps. There are only a few different game modes, 38 national teams compared to the 500+ teams you get with FIFA, and a feature of which the developers seem most proud no longer works. A lot of the blame here can be pinned on the nature of the license. With the Euro Cup, you have a very limited range of what you can and can't do; regardless, it feels awful to see both FIFA and UEFA 2008 sitting side by side for the same price and you only get a fraction of the features.
UEFA 2008 only has a few different game modes from which to pick. You can pick the teams in standard matches, which serve their purpose but are nothing exciting. One of the main offerings is the Euro 2008 mode, which is a pretty standard tournament where you qualify and participate in the Euro Cup, which is fun but doesn't have the depth of the season modes in FIFA titles. You have a set roster to deal with, all you run into depends on how well your players do, and their stats and abilities as playmakers change as you continue. (My main forward went from a rating of 82 to 96 over the course of one Euro Cup.)
The other main mode is Captain your Country, which plays very similar to Be a Pro in FIFA 08. In this mode, you have to play as one player at all times, and the game grades you on how well you played. (If you're a forward and you often go back on defense, that's a bad thing.) The change here is that you're competing with three other players (player- or CPU-controlled) to become the captain and lead them through the Euro Cup. When you're the captain, you're allowed to make tactical decisions, like substitutions. It creates an interesting play mechanic where you want to win, but you also need to be captain, which means occasionally trying to make the other potential captains look bad. However, playing as one player at all times can be a little tedious, and you'll spend long periods just sitting around waiting for the play to get close to your position.
One of the features of which UEFA 2008 seems to be very proud is Battle of the Nations, where every game you play counts toward a leaderboard of which country has the best players. When you boot the game, you're forced to pick a country to represent, and you earn points for playing; more difficult wins, such as beating Italy with the Faroe Islands, earn you more points. UEFA 2008 gives you a tutorial on how the mode works (thankfully, you can skip it) every single time you start the game. However, the feature is now absolutely useless because the Battle of the Nations ended June 30, 2008. While the game still gives you points, they mean absolutely nothing now.
Finally, UEFA 2008 has all of the standard Xbox Live features: tournaments, standard matches, etc. Unfortunately, only a handful of people are still playing the game online, as I encountered extreme difficulty in finding another person to play with, and the EA servers never showed more than 60 people playing the game at one time.
All in all, UEFA Euro 2008 is a very good soccer game. The play is fantastic, and there's a lot of fun to be had, but even with the improvements made from FIFA 08, it feels underfeatured and overpriced when you hold the two titles side by side. If you already own FIFA 08 there's no real reason to pick up UEFA 2008, but if you don't, this might be a good place to jump in to get a taste of what FIFA 09 will likely offer. If you really need to get in some time with European soccer, UEFA Euro 2008 is about as good as it gets.
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