UEFA Champions League 2006-2007 Xbox 360 Review - 02/04/2007

The next-gen version of UEFA Champions League 2006-2007 has an innovative new mode called Ultimate Team, but is it enough to separate it from the usual money spinners that are the competition-specific sports titles?

Having just reviewed the current/last-gen version of UEFA 2006-2007, I'm probably in a good position to recommend which one to get – but having played the PSP, PS2 and Xbox 360 versions extensively, I'm really no better off than I was before. While the current-gen versions provide sharp gameplay and honed features, this Xbox 360 iteration has a brilliantly thought out game mode (in theory) and the best graphics seen in a football game to date. To read our PSP and PS2 review of the game, check out www.tgsn.co.uk/rvw135ps2.php.

The headline grabber has of course been the 360 version, as the Ultimate Team mode combines trading cards, management, and gameplay – something never before been seen in any sports title, with brilliantly polished menus and navigation making it all come together nicely. Essentially, the Ultimate Team mode sees you build a club from scratch, with a few packs of cards to get you started containing all the players you need to make up a starting 11 and a full substitutes bench. In your first packs you'll also be given a badge, home and away kits, and a ground. Whether the kits are real or generic EA ones is random, as are the grounds and badges, but eventually, as you climb through the ranks in this mode, you unlock better accessories and items to tart up your team.

Your best starting players will probably have stats of about 69/100, and most will be from the outskirts of Europe coming out of teams you've never heard of. It goes to show how many clubs and leagues are included in the game compared to what EA have done before with their UEFA competition games. In the first booster pack you may find some gameplay cards to help you on your way too; these allow you to reduce opponent's attributes mid-game (such as passing, shooting, fitness etc.), or boost your own, and actually work really well in tandem with tactical changes to alter the course of a game. You can also get fitness, injury healing, contract extension, staff and training cards to use outside of games – each one of your players will have a certain contract length, usually between 5 and 10 games, and as they come to the end of their term it's your choice whether to splash out on some more booster packs in the hope of winning a contract extension, or to let them go and replace them with another player.

He may look like Tim Henman, but Roy Makaay is probably the most notorious Champions League goal scorer

Of course, this means your team will be constantly changing, but because after every game you play you advance in stats and become able to find better players in the bronze booster packs, it's likely that you would be replacing most along the line with better players anyway. No matter which mode you play in, you win credits to spend on bronze booster packs for your team, but the silver and gold packs, obviously containing better items and players, can only be gained through achieving targets and meeting statistic criteria in the Ultimate Team mode – bronze packs cost 100 points, silver 500, and gold 1,000 – meaning you really have to be cunning to decide whether to splash out on the better players and cards, in turn limiting the chance of getting contract extensions with fewer packs for your money.

An interesting feature of building your team is the Teamwork rating. This is calculated carefully based on three criteria: the first being the number of players in each section of the team to be from the same country, i.e. having Owen and Rooney up front, or Terry, Ferdinand and Robinson in defence and goal. Clearly you don't need the same country throughout the pitch, but as in real life, it greatly helps communication and teamwork if certain crucial sections contain players of the same nationality. Next is favoured position. Try playing 4-3-3 and there will be many left and right wingers unhappy with the formation, almost forcing you to play three central midfielders who like the role. Finally, each player has a favoured formation, and while early on it's easiest just to play your best players (statistically) in each position, as your team develops you'll probably find yourself getting a near perfect teamwork rating as your collection of excess players build up and picking and choosing becomes far easier.

The navigation screen for Ultimate Team is almost an extension of the main menu – the whole game is geared around this mode, and with a dozen or so side menus it can look daunting. However, in a good advert for the processing power of the 360, you can open one of these menus and then scroll through them all with the left and right triggers, with split second loading times allowing effortless and eventually very effective team management. From lineup to injuries to staff contracts, these screens form an integral part of the game. Somewhat confusingly, once you agree to play a game you are taken to another screen with your players represented in the chosen formation by dots. In the previous menu, everything is done in card form to allow you to manage the extensive selection of players and items more efficiently – it’s difficult to grasp just how your team and tactics will appear on the pitch until you get to the final screen, and a merger of these two menus would have been nice.

Sergio Ramos decided to have his name in small print on his shirt so as to allow him to hack the other team and blame it on Robinho

You can perform most of your tactical changes in the final menu, with the main Ultimate Team screen centred around card management. After you play each game you return to the management screen, and then have to quit that, after saving, to return to the main menu and Ultimate Team card menu, with the myriad of side menus described earlier. This feels a little clumsy, and is unfortunate with the sleek pace of the rest of the navigation. As you progress and amass a bunch of players, you'll eventually begin to get too many of each card, at which point you're taken to a comparison screen to decide which to discard, and which to swap for players or items already in your squad. This makes buying multiple booster packs quite time consuming, but would be difficult to avoid without restructuring the whole system.

Because it's a sort of card trading game, you can get swaps, and have two of one player – of course, if you play Barcelona and have Ronaldinho yourself, they will be two playing – this is not exactly the best idea for the purists out among you. Once you progress through the Ultimate Team levels you get given a Golden Ticket. This is the aim of the mode, as it allows you to enter the Champions League mode also available in the game, but with your Ultimate Team. You can earn more Golden Tickets, with each one allowing you one stab at winning the tournament. It's a really great feature, and while the actual Ultimate Team mode takes on the format of mindless game after mindless game, to be able to enter the Champions League at the end of all your hard work (it will take you near to ten hours per team) is very satisfying. Seeing your team transform from virtual nobodies into Galacticos is a real treat.

The gameplay in UEFA 2006-2007 360 is in direct contrast with the current-gen version. It's slower, more measured, and looks brilliant. However, the camera is not as effective as we'd like, and indeed, while the PS2 and PSP versions let you alter the zoom and height of each camera style, this version contains no such options, leaving you with only one real option, the new take on the Tele cam, which tends to look at the ball (like a television broadcast), rather than the pitch, leaving you unable to see players 20 metres in front of play making runs off the back of defenders. It also fails to keep up with play sometimes, in what appears to be an attempt to mimic real television broadcasts, but often completely missing where the ball has gone or the player you've got selected that's chasing it. The other cameras are all either too close in, or at silly angles, leaving you to rely on the radar and your player's ability to hold off opponents while you use it to assess who's open.

Note: To be a great footballer, you need gloves, and some item of Nike apparel – preferably football boots

Player switching too is pretty unpredictable in this version of the game. Because it has all been slowed down so much, you'll often cycle through four or five players before you get to the one you need, as everyone's bunched pretty close together rather than spread across the pitch attacking and defending. If you're frantically trying to stop an attack and select the right player, only to skip to another one by accident, you'll then take five seconds trying to get back to him, by which time the other team have probably progressed so far down the pitch that the respective player is now of no use. It's just a shame that the days of dodgy player switching aren't yet over with.

If you're playing with bog standard players, who aren't all that good, the new pace of the game also lends itself to sloppy movement. Should you be facing the wrong way and try to turn too sharply, you'll amble slowly round – the turning circle on these players is worse than an 18-wheeler, and it all feels sluggish as the AI skips in and out of your lumbering defence with ease. Often you'll make tackle after tackle only for your players to be too slow to react and end up just never completely taking the ball off the opposition. Passing is easier, but this is largely thanks to a great deal of assistance on the part of the computer. If you like having player switching off then passes will regularly lollop towards your players, mere inches away only for an opponent to run in between you and steal the ball. Players also regularly pass randomly into touch or no-mans land just because you didn't hold down the button for long enough.

There's little way to bring your players towards the ball in situations when you're receiving passes either. Combine this with the fact that your players often opt to kick air rather than head or at least challenge for the ball, and you have a deeply frustrating control system. The first touch control with the right stick is very satisfying to use however, allowing for some beautifully composed attacking movements and plenty of goals, although again, it all feels a little contrived and sluggish at times.

He's got the gloves, but those are not Nike shoes – the level of detail in the game is astounding, but some lesser known player likenesses are a let down (Figo looks good though [for his age at least])

Another gripe is lack of a stepover button, admittedly absent from the last FIFA on 360, and while you can at least sidestep by travelling slowly and weaving with the left stick, this omission is disappointing. Also, you rely on the computer to activate your player's block command, as sliding in to stop a shot or put an attacker off will almost always result in a penalty. Similarly, putting pressure on the opposition using your human controller player and an AI controller player is pretty useless – the AI just give away free kicks left, right and centre, as will you if you so much as look at the other team's players wrongly. Slide tackling is very satisfying though, and presents a much better option than pansying around with pressure buttons. Injuries are realistically frequent now too.

An old FIFA favourite is back too, in terms of pressing a button and having the game replicate it a few seconds later, under completely different circumstances. For example, if you're pressuring the AI using A, once you win the ball, you'll pass it forwards to no-one because five seconds ago, you pressed A. Try to win a header on the half-way line by pressing X, (these are New Analogue controls we're using here, the same issue of course applies regardless though) but fall to the ground with the ball bouncing in mid-air, and your player will get up and have a shot. There's no dummy or cancel button, and it really makes for some frustrating moments in game.

Graphics are great, and while the players appear to have taken on a Ronaldo/Tevez style build, and likenesses aren't the best, animation and stadium detail is superb – streets ahead of the competition. The game is packed full of content too, there's hordes of unlockables, stadia, teams and kits, making it the most feature full football game on the Xbox 360. Audio is also very good, with the best crowd chants yet in an EA football title, although repetitive music soon grates. Commentary too, while sounding intelligent and pleasing early on, quickly becomes tiresome as you cringe at hearing about how it was a good shot despite being denied time and space by the defender. Eurgh. There are some nice pieces in there though in fairness, and for the mostpart, it adds to the atmosphere well.

Barcelona vs. Chelsea – fancy adding up the players' total wages and getting all depressed?

You have all the usual EA online features, and lag doesn't seem to be a problem so far. Also in there is a trading ship within the Ultimate Team mode. Here you can sell cards for points to spend on others, or buy some at low, low prices – providing people aren't being stingy. There's a surprising amount of people using it too, which is nice. Other modes include the Ultimate Challenge mode, where you replay famous games from the Champions League, as well as the Tournament mode itself, where you just play through from the groups to the final.

There's so much good stuff in here, such as the new stamina bars, Ultimate Team mode, great navigation, superb graphics and wealth of content, but the gameplay lets it down horribly. It's not refined or polished, and ends up causing so much frustration – yet, I still find myself playing it for hours on end. Indeed, the rest of the features are enough to keep you playing, thanks to the addictiveness they create, and when everything clicks and the player switching works to your advantage, it's a brilliant game – it's just so inconsistent, and we can only hope that FIFA '08 rectifies these faults.


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