UEFA Euro 2008
Make no mistake, 2007 was the year of FIFA. After a mediocre and disappointing display by the previous year’s champions, Pro Evo, FIFA raced to the top of the table as the gameplay finally matched the slick presentation EA have had down to a tee for years. It had been a long time coming, but Pro Evo‘s crown had been finally usurped. As usual, I had my reservations about a game centred on a single tournament, rushed out to exploit the whirlwind of excitement and hype the fans find themselves in – but UEFA Euro 08 isn’t a quick cash-in.
EA have delivered once more, improving on the already great FIFA 08 and widening the gap on their closest adversaries. First impressions indicate not a lot has changed, but after a short play fans of the last incarnation will notice the subtle yet intricate differences in the gameplay, which add to the flow of the game and cut out a number of annoying frustrations. The passing has been overhauled and feels far more responsive, the frustration between pressing X and the delay in actually passing the ball has been largely removed; shooting has been improved which makes it a tad easier to get the ball in the back of the net. Nice touches have been added to team AI, when you’re facing a team worse than yours they’ll generally play men behind the ball, trying to strangle your play before grabbing sly chances through set-pieces and counter-attacks, mimicking how the real teams play adds a drop of realism and refreshment from the sometimes suicidal play of the poorer teams in FIFA.
With these mechanical improvements, the visuals and sound were given a shine and polish too. FIFA was a tremendous looking game in the first place, Euro 08 ups the ante with even more realistic looking character models. Managers make an appearance during intervals during matches – although they look slightly worse for wear than their player counterparts, some resembling ogre-esque creatures. This is a minor complaint and doesn’t detract from the sense of atmosphere Euro 08 successfully creates, matches sound more alive than before, bring your team to a hostile country’s pitch and hear a chorus of whistles and boos every time your team’s in possession. Small touches like this really do go a long way in bridging the gap between what we play on our PlayStations, and what we watch on TV.
The unique Be a Pro mode returns accompanied by the new Captain Your Country mode, which gives players the chance to prove their worth and end up captaining their country and Euro 08. The fact that you’re always competing with three others – be they friends or AI – for the captain’s armband spices things up. Your rating during the match is taken into account, so you want to get the passes, tackles and goals in to ensure you’re leading your team to glory when the time comes.
Scenarios make a welcome return, this time in the guise of exceptional moments in the qualifying campaign. It allows you to relive Scotland’s glorious win over France, put England to the sword once more by playing as Croatia and pummel San Marino as Germany. These scenarios are fun to play and do get quite challenging as you progress, the commentary also nicely reflects what has happened in whatever game you decide to make history in.
Online has taken a step back and forward, with the baffling omission of the 5 v 5 matches, but the addition of a 16 player tournament. UEFA Euro 08 delivers on the connection side of things one again, games are usually lag free and encounter little to no slowdown during online play – which really is a killer in online football matches; something which Pro Evo still hasn’t grasped.
FIFA does have an advantage over its cousin though; no club or international teams out of Europe feature in Euro 08, which is a shame and limits the game option-wise. Once the Championship’s been won a few times and the scenarios beat, there’s little refreshing to do bar play online.
It’s debatable whether these improvements really warrant someone who’s already got FIFA 08 in their collection to hand over full price for the game, but EA aren’t worried I presume, it’ll sell like hotcakes regardless. The gameplay’s been tightened up, graphically it looks great, the Captain Your Country mode is great fun and most club and international teams are omitted. If you’re an owner of FIFA 08 and think the positives outweigh the negatives, certainly buy it, if you don’t own FIFA 08, buy it; it plays the best game of football on a current-generation console, period.