UEFA Euro 2008
My summer of 2008 was going to be amazing. Exams would be well and truly over, I’d be done with school for at least another year, and according to the folks that predict weather patterns, Britain was set for one of the hottest summers in recent history. My summer activities were to be planned completely around the European Football Championships held in Switzerland this year; another chance to sit outside in the warm sun, beer in hand, shouting passionately at the television and watching England’s “Golden Generation” crash out of the tournament to Portugal in the quarter finals yet again.
My summer of 2008 was ruined.
England failing to get out of a relatively simple qualifying group was not the only football related surprise of last year. For the first time in what has seemed an absolute age, EA achieved the impossible: create a better football game than Konami. Making a Scholes-like burst onto the shelves, it marked a turning point for EA, who had managed to capitalise on Konami – caught up in their own arrogance – taking 1 step forward and two back with Pro Evolution Soccer 2008. FIFA 2008 was just one in a flurry of high quality sports titles released by the gaming behemoth last year, but don’t let that fool you; EA would still probably run you and your family over in order to make a few extra sales, and in typical EA fashion, they’ve decided to cash-in on the Euro Championships, with the release of a themed game for poor saps that are determined to see England win something.
Straight away from the fairly lengthy opening video, the game’s underlying objective is made very apparent: to find the best gaming nation in Europe. Players are asked to choose a country to represent throughout their time playing UEFA Euro 2008, and from then on every ball kicked, tackle made and goal scored goes towards a greater collective effort in the form of a daily leaderboard specific to your country. Regardless of whether you decide to use one of the five star teams or guide the mighty Albania to glory, it all goes towards the overall total of your chosen nation. This is a shrewd move on EA’s part because the lower the rank of the team you play as, the more points that are up for grabs – so theoretically, it encourages players to go with the less star studded filled teams. Emphasis on the word theoretically.
UEFA Euro 2008 is a refinement on all the good of last year’s FIFA, and a complete overhaul of its bad points. Most noticeably, matches play a far smoother, cohesive game of football. The passing is snappy with a dedicated power metre, shooting feels a lot more balanced (one-on-ones are not as impossible as they once were) and EA have even sorted the defensive errors that somewhat plagued FIFA 2008. A new feature that isn’t quite as welcome to this edition is the ability to celebrate your own goals for a few short moments. While there’s something quite endearing in watching Peter Crouch perform his infamous robot dance, it soon grates and players will be counting the seconds before they can get back to the game at hand. Your team mates have also clearly spent extra time in the virtual classroom; computer controlled players will make intelligent runs (something the commentators are always quick to remind you of) ensuring there’s always options available. Gone are the days of losing the ball because you found yourself up in your opponents half, totally separated from the rest of your team and with nowhere to go.
Not only does Euro 2008 feel more like real football now, it also looks and sounds it too. The difference isn’t massive, but the small touches such as how weather affects the ball, to the – at times – photo realistic character models add so much to the immersion factor that if it weren’t for the radar and name pop-ups, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you were watching Live Ford Super Sunday on Sky Sports. To add to this sense of being pitch side for yourself, the audio also delivers in spades. The crowd chants give matches that special carnival-like atmosphere you only find in an international game of football, and the way the fans whistle if you play too defensively, or you’re not playing well enough considering you’re the home team is a nice touch. We’ve also been given the extra bonus of not having to sit through any more of Andy Gray’s inane ramblings, with the inclusion of the less grating Andy Townsend. Despite this plus however, you’ll still be subjected to the over the top, child-like whelps and screams from the utterly incompetent Clive Tydsley.
Undoubtedly the biggest success of last year’s FIFA was its online component. While Konami were still seemingly unable to grasp the concept of seamless 1 vs. 1 play, EA took strides forward with a more often than not, lag-free experience and the option of playing with nine other players for some of the most enjoyable multi-player yet seen this generation. It’s very disappointing to see this option removed from UEFA Euro 2008, but the introduction of a European knock-out tournament for up to sixteen players eases the pain slightly.
As with past football tournament based titles, there’s also a vast list of real life scenarios from the qualifying tournament to plough through. These range from staging a late, dramatic fight-back as Bulgaria against the Romanians, to matching Germany’s record winning 13-0 triumph over San Marino. And yes to all the Scottish, Irish and Welsh readers out there, you can recreate that memorable night between Croatia and England.
As well as the aforementioned omission of 5 vs. 5 online play, and the unsurprising lack of teams to choose from, FIFA 2008’s staple game mode, ‘Be A Pro’ appears to have opted for a place on the bench this time around. Thankfully, EA have given players a more than acceptable alternate in ‘Captain Your Country’. Here you and up to three friends can choose one player each to take control of, over a full length qualifying campaign in which the quality of your performances will net you the possibility of being your team’s captain for those all important summer Championships. No matter whom you pick, by the end of it all you’ll have mastered – and loved – your position as if it were your own. It’s a game mode I fully expect to see emerge in one form or another when FIFA 2009 hits shelves this autumn.
Recommending UEFA Euro 2008 is hard if you’ve already got FIFA 2008 or you’re severely strapped for cash. At its core, it is a cash in, and when you look at what’s been taken out it is a stripped down version of last year’s effort. But when it plays a game of football so streamlined, so natural – so real, it’s hard to not feel justified in handing over more hard earned money to a company who seem to be learning from past mistakes. The British nations not playing their part in the soap opera that is Euro 2008 this June, will leave many feeling hollow and bitter towards the tournament – and it may have ruined my plans for the coming months. But UEFA Euro 2008 is just the prescription fans and gamers needed to get over their summer blues.