UEFA Champions League 2006-2007 PS2/PSP Review - 31/03/2007

It’s that time of the year again, the best competition in football is coming to a dramatic close, and EA are there as usual to capture it. The current-gen version of FIFA went down a storm, the question is: can UEFA build on it?

Unfortunately, it’s a step back if anything. What you really want from a game released half way through the football season not long after the league version is either just player updates and smarter graphics centred around the UEFA Champions League Tournament, or a completely unique reinvention of the last title in the series. The problem here is that UEFA 2006-2007 falls in the middle ground – some players have not been transferred between teams in this title, and indeed, the controls and gameplay have been tinkered with, to the detriment of the rest of the game.

The key feature given to us by the developers in the run up to launch was the new fast pace of the game. While on the Xbox 360, they’ve slowed it down to concentrate on passing moves, this version sees everything sped up, with faster players, crisper passing, and quick set pieces. You can now elect to take quick goal kicks, throw-ins and free kicks, but you will only ever get any sort of advantage out of this against a human opponent, as the AI will almost always already be in position otherwise. The whole point of all this was to allow you to keep momentum throughout, and in that way it works – however, it would perhaps have made more sense to implement this in the next generation, because the PS2 and PSP’s load times, while better than previous FIFAs, still mean substitutions and dead ball situations grate on the tolerance of the player, although surprisingly the portable version seems a lot sharper in this sense.

However, they’ve included an innovative new mode for us to play through, called The Treble. It allows you to select any of the 268 teams included in the game, and play through 17 of the premier leagues in European football – basically, any league through which you can qualify for the Champions League is included, as well as a few extra well known teams dotted around (i.e. Juventus). It may seem silly to contemplate playing through the Champions League as Watford, but it can be done in the Treble Mode. Similarly, as the name suggests, you will be fighting to win the League title, and the League Cup. Even more silly is that the club chairman of Watford will set you winning the treble as your target for their first season in the Premiership. What odds did he get on that I wonder?

The PSP screenshots for the game start on the right at number 8, there's quite a big difference in graphical quality

With that said, the game does a good job of making you believe you're actually there. You read well-written newspaper headlines and blogs describing your affairs at the club, and everything seems individually catered for each club. While clearly a template is used and the names are just inserted depending on your team, there are never any errors and the developers seem to have done their homework on who the integral player in each team is, so they can injure, suspend or sell them to give you a challenge. Your chairman will set you targets for each game, or event. The year is structured into the most crucial chapters in a club’s attempt to mount a challenge for the treble, with pre-season, the closing of the transfer window, and most months of the year making these up. It’s a nice idea, and works well.

However, unless you choose to play as one of the top four in the Premiership, you’re really going to struggle unless you put the difficulty low enough to allow you to dribble round the opposition. The game throws challenges at you, such as injuring your captain for the season, making you rest players, or getting one of your players sent off. How can it do that you ask? Well, for most of the games, you start late in the second half – I remember the first time I saw it, my mouth hanging at the realisation that Robbie Keane had been sent off and that my team were two-nil down with fifteen minutes to go. The game length was set at ten minutes, and I had three attacks on goal before the end of the game, scoring one, and conceding one in the last minute. Sure, it makes for some addictive and exciting football, but when you’re sitting through save and load screens only for the computer to play half the game for you, it’s certainly frustrating.

This is all very opinionated. Some of you may prefer to play the EA challenge games that are usually included in the games, and while admittedly these are fun, there is a classic scenario mode with 40 matches for you to change history in. If you lose a game in preseason in the Treble mode, you’ll probably be given money to spend on a new player, providing you get rid of some of the clutter. You’re given a budget, and can choose from any player in the game, providing they’re willing to come to your club. You’ve automatically qualified for the Champions League in the Treble mode as well, which is a bit unrealistic – it would have been nice to have the season before hand to establish yourself in that first.

The blur effect looks a lot better in motion, as does Ronaldinho

You’ll be longing to right the wrong of the AI that conceded two goals for you in the last game, just hoping for a full 90 minutes in control to redeem yourself, and I found myself playing for an hour and a half with the time flying, just to advance through the games and get some playtime. I’m not sure if the fact that you’re longing just to play the game, but are kept waiting to make it addictive is a bad thing or not really. Having said all this about the difficulty of playing the pre-structured matches, you can use the calendar to go to a previous point in the season and replay an event – this means that you can win the Treble every time in theory, but provides a vital option if you 'fail' too many missions and objectives, meaning that frustrating AI inflicted 2-0 defeat can be replayed and your tactics can be changed so that in the 10 minutes you can play, you score the three required to win. Most of the Champions League games are all fully playable, and it's clear that the developers want you to focus on this side of the treble rather than the league, which is mainly formulated with the half scripted games and late starts.

I prefer to play football, rather than watch screens of text. In the Treble mode however, the only real option is to set it at the difficulty below to give you a chance in the challenge games, otherwise you’ll just be frustrated that your striker couldn’t score the three chances you gave him one on one, or that the game moves so bloody quickly. But again, if you like the sound of a 'story-based' mode, then go for it.

Anyway, that’s the Treble mode. There’s also the UEFA Champions League mode, which allows you to play through the tournament using any team. In fairness, EA could have just given us this option alone, but they’ve provided more, and full credit should go to them because of it. Here, thankfully, you can choose to simulate games and then intervene if something is going wrong, but aren't forced into anything. As with the Treble mode, you can tick off a huge ream of objectives in your History Book by beating every team in the game (one objective each!), scoring a certain amount of goals, not getting any bookings – virtually anything you can think of. This adds a bit of value to the game, and indeed, there are unlockable stadia, balls and kits available to buy with these points.

Celtic play a large part in your Treble campaign as you'll probably be in their Champions League group

The mini-games from the last FIFA are still here on PSP, with Juggling and Wall Attack, and there’s also a Champions League quiz to test your knowledge, which is a much appreciated touch for any football fan.

The gameplay itself is fluid and fast paced. Animations look a little odd at the new, fast speed, and the ball physics aren’t quite up to the standard they were at in the last game – again, you can make allowances for this because of the new pace to the game, which incidentally makes multiplayer games brilliant. End to end games, tons of goals (providing you’re both playing as decent teams) and silky skills will dominate here. Both versions can go online, and while there are a few disconnection issues, but it's easily bearable for what you get out of it. Against the AI skills are harder, with the right stick on PS2 being used to do stopovers and shimmies, and L2 for close, pace control.

On the PSP these are harder to do, but the difficulty of the AI and heightened pass assistance appears to have been implemented to counter it effectively – leading to more team attacks and passing movements. Running down a straight line on the PS2 is far too easy with a good player, just knocking the ball in front using the right stick, and holding R will beat almost anyone. Also strange is the star player system – the developers seem to have given one star player to most teams, but it’s odd that Aaron Lennon is one, but Arjen Robben is not, and this is just one such occasion that you’ll wonder at the structure of the system (note: the star players are not present in the PSP version, possibly due to the reduced effectiveness of the skills).

The graphics seem a little old now, but we have been spoilt for choice and the frame rate remains good as a result. With such a fast paced game, you can perhaps accept that player’s appearances in the smaller teams are still not up there with Pro Evo’s yet. In Treble mode you can pick a manager to play as from a few predefined faces and clothes, and you’ll see various cut scenes of him cursing when the AI have lost you a game before you even get to touch the ball.

The patented EA blur effects are in full force throughout

Commentary is very good, and while the sound effects in the game have been toned down, there is a great UEFA feel to the game in both sound and graphics – blue and black with the memorable stars, it’s certainly up to EA’s usual standard. The music however is not, with few songs and even less UK ones – sure, it’s a European competition, but you’ll get fed up with them, and fast. All said and done, we should be thankful the Treble mode is there. You may well like the system they have put in place, making it almost like a story, and certainly adding a purpose to the game which some EA football competition specific titles have lacked. It’s also nice to have it all in one, with the league and cups there; if only you could choose to play in all the matches, this would get a much higher score, but in fairness, you can see what they were trying to do, and it’s a good innovation at least. I personally preferred the PSP version, as the navigation seemed sleeker, and the controls and gameplay easier. However, the graphics aren't near the PS2's quality, but the interconnectivity between both versions (allowing you to load your PS2 career onto your PSP and play it on the move) means buying it on both formats is a viable, if not cost effective, option.

The other modes are worth playing, and as a package it offers very good value for money – a lack of tactical options in the Treble mode disappoints, as does little if no improvement in graphics and gameplay over FIFA 07. Definitely worth it for football fans, just pushed above average thanks to the wealth of options.


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