Football games are a classic case of catch-22. Every season FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer come out and we have faith that this year, they really will be different. Of course they never are, but we have to buy one of them and this commercial success leaves little reason for publishers to change anything. If they make the very best game that they can, then no-one will buy the next year’s version because they couldn’t possibly add to it. However, develop one that leaves room for improvement and everyone assumes that you’re trying to rip them off year after year.
Let’s look on the bright side though; this year’s FIFA is the best title in a series that now spans fourteen years and is arguably the most realistic football game to date. The arcade-style gameplay which has served the genre so well in the past is completely gone, making FIFA 08 more like the real thing then ever before. Attacks break down far more often than they succeed and the pace of the game is noticeably slower than Konami’s title. If PES is like watching the highlights reel, then FIFA 08 is akin to seeing the entire game played out in front of you.
Patience is definitely required to play this year’s instalment, such is the hike in difficulty from previous versions. Even on the easiest setting, an acute sense of timing and tactics is required to get past opposition defences; running down the flank and crossing it in simply doesn’t cut it any more. It’s still possible to have matches with end to end action, but often it’s more a case of keeping possession and trying to unlock a defence with a clinical pass.
“This year’s FIFA is the best title in a series that now spans fourteen years and is arguably the most realistic football game to date.”So FIFA 08 is a thinking man’s game, as unlikely as that may seem. As before, you can pull off the occasional bit of trickery and score a sensational goal, but the game’s difficulty often means that you’ll only try these when you’ve got a lead that affords you the luxury of failure.
Thankfully, the game’s controls allow you to execute moves with precision and ease. Players have three speed settings and the bumper buttons activate a range of more refined moves that you’ll learn to love. One-twos, finesse shots, floated through balls and more are the finer points of a control system that equips you well to face the challenges ahead.
Undoubtedly the most intriguing new addition to FIFA is the ‘Be a Pro’ mode, in which you’re limited to control of a single player, Libero Grande style. It’s an inspired inclusion and allows you to master any position on the field for a single match, except the goalkeeper’s. A new third-person camera angle swoops in and out to keep you on the screen, although the lack of peripheral vision sometimes prevents you from spotting your team mates. It’s an enjoyable aside to main action with plenty of potential that is yet to be fulfilled. If you could play an entire career as one player and have him develop accordingly, then EA would be on to a real winner.
FIFA 08 makes good use of Xbox Live, incorporating several online modes. Players can take part in interactive leagues, where fixtures mirror the real world, and also create their own custom leagues. You can also upload video replays to EA’s website, which is welcome feature.
“If PES is like watching the highlights reel, then FIFA 08 is akin to seeing the entire game played out in front of you.”As you’d expect, FIFA 08 looks fantastic, taking full advantage of the power of next-gen hardware. The graphics are sharp and the presentation isn’t bad either, but the best part is the physics and animation. It never feels like your button presses simply trigger a set number of moves; it’s far more organic than that. One movement flows naturally into the next and animations can be cut short in an instant, to execute a pass, for instance. The ball is also completely removed from the players, flying around according to its own set of physics. The combined effect is quite simply the most convincing football simulation to date.
There is the usual list of annoyances though. The manager mode is particularly underwhelming, with barely developed features that do little to keep you playing. The team chemistry feature is also confusing, resulting in you swapping around players, never aware of what you’re doing. The tournament creation mode is a bit of a pain to use too, and labelling it as ‘new’ in the menu is a bad joke.
So there you go, another year and another one without the definitive title. It looks the part, the gameplay is definitely heading in the right direction and it’s certainly enjoyable to play, but none of the modes are really good enough to keep you hooked for months. ‘Be a Pro’ is interesting, but far from reaching its true potential. FIFA 08 is like many a top team’s season; plenty of the sublime, but some glaring errors hold it back from greatness.