FIFA 08 Next-Gen Review - 13/10/2007

EA Sports' latest effort, FIFA 08, is the best football simulator to ever grace a console. Ever.

Yes, you read the blurb correctly. FIFA 08 for the 360 and PS3 is the most realistic football experience you can get in gaming. The pace is ‘realistically slow’ and the licenses, kits, stadiums and rosters are all correct. Arguably all the players are correctly rated, so basically it’s that same old Fifa, but with a next-gen overhaul.

Now, if you’ve read my demo impressions of FIFA 08, then you’ll know that I was bitterly disappointed with it, but I thought it had potential. And potential it has. Going off the demo you’ll think that the pace is too slow, and the movement is sluggish. But both of those things have been tampered with in the full version, and now the pace, although slower than its rivals, is much quicker. Players like Sol Campbell and Akinbiyi may be slow and, at first glance, unresponsive, but when you have played with teams like Manchester United for example, you’ll notice that when controlling players like Ronaldo and Nani the pace immediately picks up, and you find you can skip past players without even touching the dreaded skill stick. (More on that later) So that’s one thing you can tick off your realism check-list: player movement.

Something that links in well with how each player handles differently is how each player looks, each and every one of them has had a make over. Carlos Tevez, who you will not recognise, even when the camera zooms in after a match, hasn’t got his almost scaly under-chin. Or any bumps or lumps on his face. Smooth is the word to describe it, every single player in the game has perfect skin (there must’ve been a Nivea For Men sale on) so you can hardly tell a teenager from a full grown adult. The players, while having peculiarly perfect faces, look nothing like their real-life counterpart. Bar Rooney and Ronaldinho who look amazing. Every neat touch from Rooney’s ginger beard to Ronaldinho’s donkey teeth are captured beautifully, and if all the players looked like this then it would be one hell of a graphical achievement for EA.

Then you’ve got the actual presentation to talk about, which, as usual with EA, is almost flawless. The EA Trax picked from a number of different countries and cultures (no Indian songs though) all work well with the game and don’t stand out too much. Except from one song, that you’ll recognise as soon as the chorus gets going. “What’s that coming over the hill? Is it a monster? Is it a monster?” There’s basically only one flaw with the presentation and it’s to do with the crowds when you’re playing a match on Be A Pro or a normal match. Sometimes the stadiums are packed, like EA meant them to be, but sometimes they’re completely empty. Not one person in sight, until you get a free-kick or any other set piece/replay, where home and away kit colours flash in vertical lines all over the stadium. Shoddy work. It’s quite hard to think how this could have got past testing. Hopefully it won’t become a trend with EA, as they already had a massive glitch preventing you from completing the 360 version of Tiger Woods 08.

Now that we’ve got those over with, let’s get down to business. The game has quite a steep learning curve, and even though EA have set the default difficulty to professional, I recommend starting on semi-pro and (trying) too work your way up the ranks. On semi-pro the game flows, allowing you to make great passes, great runs, and ultimately (after you have overcome the fact that it’s so hard to score at first) scoring goals that actually make you so happy that you can’t help but scream “get in there!” and punch the air. The feeling of accomplishment when you score is unbelievable, it’s only a game! But on my season mode, in which I was Blackpool, I started winning every match by a good two goals or more, so I upped the difficulty to professional. Which was a bad idea, and a good idea in some ways. The game changes, the AI becomes so good that it’s almost impossible to break down the opponent's defences, and when you do, they tackle you at the last minute and you find yourself four on two, as your defenders are still running back from attack positions.

It’s extremely hard to defend, as the only way to slow down and hold your ground is to hold L2 which ’tracks the player’. But this just makes you much slower and easier to get past, so you either risk it, and seven out of ten times risk a shot at the keeper. Or don’t risk it, and find yourself doing a snake-like manoeuvre in front of the opposing striker. Plus, if you go to ground, and don’t get the ball, again you’re screwed. Or, annoyingly they pass it out to the wings leaving you with a decision to make: take one of your players up to stop or at least weaken the inevitable cross, or keep him in the centre of the box so that you have two men marking one player in the box. Both of these can work, or go horribly wrong. If you decide to mark the player, their winger sometimes keeps running closer to goal, and then either forces you to come, then passes, or shoots. Which sometimes forces a save that ends in a rebounded goal. The latter: taking a man up to the wings, can result in a cross then headed goal, as their strikers always end up overpowering your defender and scoring. That one can go on your frustration check-list. Which will be full if you buy the game.

My favourite moment on semi pro was my first 4-1 thriller, against Hereford, yes, but still it gave me a real sense of achievement. On pro, it was a 3-2 win against Swindon. Within 15 minutes, a move similar to the one mentioned above happened, ending in a headed goal making it 1-0 to Swindon. Next thing I know, they score a screamer, something the game randomly chooses to do, making it 2-1 within 20 minutes, leaving me flustered and ultimately annoyed about the game as a whole. Then, with some luck granted (namely a rebound off the keeper after an unsuccessful header) led to a shimmer of hope for my squad. At 2-1, all of this still being in the second half, emotions were running high. Every time I got the ball I threatened to score, then again they score a screamer. No wait, off the post and out for a goal kick. On the back of that I passed it though my defence until I saw a fitting pass available.

On the ball was Flynn, my central attacking midfielder, without touching the left stick, I skipped past 3 men leaving me with a golden opportunity which I took as soon as space appeared. A dashing right footed shot, and the ball nestles into the bottom right corner. 2-2. The third goal came right at the end of a slow moving second half, the ball came through from a corner (for Swindon) and I headed the ball out to my central midfielder who ran to the halfway-line before an L1+Triangle through ball took it over the defence and into the path of my top goal scorer, Andy Morrell. Hopefully, from reading about my experience, you’ll see how the game can be unbelievably frustrating, and slow, yet on the other hand, can be pacey and fun at other times.

The skill stick, mentioned twice above, is crap. Don’t use it unless you’re in the pro camera or in the Be A Pro mode. They’re solid to pull off, and when you do, you’ll end up being tackled anyway.

The Be A Pro mode, very similar to the loading screens in the demo, which makes a return in the final version, is probably the overall high point of the game. Although you can only do one match, dubbed offline training, those matches are ace. It works on the same engine as the proper matches, just you control one player from a third person view. When the 5 v 5 online matches download is released, for free, this will be what I play on most. This, and online normal matches. Although, if you live in Australia then you won’t be getting this download anyway. Unlucky.

Online is lag-less, depending on yours and your opponent's connection, which is illustrated by a bar chart with green orange or red bars. With red being the worst connection. The online matches pan out much differently from the offline matches (against the computer) and can be great fun. The lobby system works great, and it’s easy to find a ranked or unranked match in seconds. The interactive leagues make a next-gen debut this year too, with the premiership being the most popular of the leagues in the selection. This follows the real life season, and when your supported team plays, you do too. After everyone has played, the wins, losses and draws are tallied up, to find an eventual winner.

In metaphorical terms, I’d describe FIFA 08 like this: Shevchenko, who in this plays the role of Fifa, is rated very highly by critics everywhere, and when he moves to Chelsea for a club record fee, the future looks bright. He’s had a great and successful past, and now looks forward to taking a new step. Although he’s a great player inside, he struggles at Chelsea. Not scoring goals he should do, and basically not playing as well as he could do. His once unrivalled talent is now being challenged. And that challenge he is losing. So, FIFA 08 was once the best football game, but is now struggling to keep up with younger, and faster, games.

To sum all that up, FIFA 08 is the best football simulator by far. With everything being on the money in all areas. But this doesn’t mean it’s a good game. EA have made a fantastic representation of football in real life, but it’s a nightmare to actually play, and when you get to the higher difficulty levels this becomes more apparent. And, for good measure, notice I didn’t mention PES once in that whole review.

I’m sad to say it, but my once loved series has taken a wrong turn, and has forced me to buy PES. When I get that, I just hope that I like it as much as I’ve loved past Fifa’s, as I still need my yearly dose of football gaming.

- Tyler Roberts


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