Well well, after months of waiting and speculation, FIFA 08 is finally upon us following its PAL release today, but has it been worth the wait?
I’m pleased, well actually delighted to say a big resounding YES! EA have really captured the beautiful game in this title and have put together a polished package which is certain to keep many football fans happy over the coming year.
So what’s the big deal? I hear you ask, well I’ll just try and give my opinion on why I feel FIFA is now the definitive console football game out there.
Firstly, as always with EA and the FIFA series the presentation is top notch, from the front end menus to the music selection which all combine to make FIFA look and sound great. The menus are easily navigated once you know where things are and seamlessly pop in and out of each other. The accompanying music score also caters for all, so there will probably be something in there for you to nod your head to. Another interesting addition is the selectable podcasts which you can choose to have playing in the background while you navigate around the front end, there are a few to choose from and they are available in varying languages as well, so everyone is catered for. The only gripe with these are, if they are not updated frequently they will become very boring and tedious and will probably just be turned off after a while.
Next we’ll look at the graphics and again EA has done a great job here. Everything from the pitches and stadiums to the kits and boots look fantastic. But as always nothing in this life is perfect and the players faces could do with a lot of work and look for the most uninspiring, there are of course a few exceptions to this but all in all it’s definitely not one of FIFA’s strong points. Player animation however is excellent and there’s plenty to marvel at, whether it be colliding with an opponent or hurdling an onrushing defender, thanks to EA’s motion capture technology the animation looks fluid and blends seamlessly into the game.
Another plus point to FIFA 08 is the in game sound, they have really captured the excitement of a live football match with hundreds of authentic crowds chants and noises blasting out in Dolby 5.1 surround sound, so whether your playing as the mighty Arsenal or the lowly Tranmere (sorry Chris) you’re able to enjoy an authentic atmosphere, which goes a long way to adding to the overall experience. Next on the sound front is the commentary, which is provided by the long running SKY partnership of Andy Gray and Martin Tyler and what a job they have done here, both provided detailed commentary of events on the field and have an array of stats about individual clubs and players which are often used in any breaks in goal mouth action etc. Again, for all it’s good points there are a few faults, such as slight delays in commentating on what’s going on, I had an instance when a shot hit the post and went in and Martin Tyler went on about how close the effort was etc and Andy Gray even joined in, then about 5 seconds later they ecstatically shouted goal even though we were about to kick off again. Still it doesn’t detract from the great job the commentary team do and is definatly the best in any football game ever!
Next we’ll look at the game options and customization abilities. Right from the outset when you select the quick match option you realize this is the most comprehensive football title ever released. With 30 official licensed leagues and a selection of international teams as well, this all combines to offer the complete package with something to do for everyone. This was one of my major gripes concerning the last two FIFAs and thankfully EA has addressed it (and then some).
Let’s now look at the online aspects. The basic premise is very similar to EA’s last incarnation UEFA Champions League but with a few important additions. FIFA 08 brings interactive leagues to the next-gen platforms for the first time, those who already played the PS2 version from 07 will know all about this but for those new it basically allows you to mimic your teams real life fixtures and play against fans of the same team your club is facing that weekend. All the results are totaled up and the club with the most win percentage gets the win for that match. I have tried it a few times and everything seems straight forward and definitely adds something more than just your bog standard friendly. The next new feature is the online leagues, now this is excellent. It allows a person to create and moderate a league and restrict who enters it. All the data is stored on a central server and the participants can play their fixtures in any order until completion. I’m already involved in one, which is organized by my esteemed colleague Chris, and even though I’m not setting the world on fire I’m enjoying it immensely. However there is one major annoyance with this, someone somewhere came up with the brain child to only allow odd number of games between the participants i.e. play each other 1, 3, 5 times and so on. This is unheard of in real life and I hope EA patch this as soon as possible.
Playing and finding games online is also a doddle with quick match options finding you an opponent in seconds. There’s also the soon to be released add on which allow 5v5 online but as this feature is not yet implemented I can’t comment on it.
Now all of the things I’ve mentioned before would render themselves useless if EA messed up on the most important thing in any football game and that’s obviously the gameplay. Thankfully EA are aiming for perfection now and have really produced a tight, rewarding experience this time around.
The first thing that strikes you is the slower deliberate pace of the game, which may seem strange to those who are use to playing other football games, but this really adds to realistic simulation experience EA are trying to create.
What EA have done is catered for a lot of people in this version by offering varying degrees of assistance that can be provided by the CPU to help you along. The passing, shooting, crossing, through balls and long passes can be set to varying degrees. These are:
- Assisted – Which Basically means the computer controls the direction and power for you often and chooses the best option.
- Semi – This gives you much more freedom and allows you to choose the direction and power but the CPU helps you to aim for the player or place in the goal in that general direction.
- Manual – This is the experts choice and gives you total freedom to do whatever you want.
I use semi on most but sometimes manual for though balls and long passes, but as I get better I hope to go manual all the way.
As for playing you really have to think about what you are doing as kicking and rushing will often only leave you with exhausted players and not much else to show. You have to play as you would in real life, you can’t just dribble all the way around the pitch as defending and attacking is finally balanced to counteract this.
A major addition to the gameplay is the introduction of skill moves which are performed with either LT or LB and the right analogue stick and this truly is a next gen integration, the skills flow so seamlessly with the game and the animations are a sight to behold. But as mentioned before even the best players can’t trick his way through the whole team thanks to the much improved defensive system. Another good thing about the system is that only the more skilled players can perform the more advanced tricks , so while big Phil Senderos could maybe drop a shoulder now and then get him to attempt a flip flap and he’ll probably fall flat on his backside.
But the biggest improvement is the brand new shooting system which to put it bluntly is amazing, the closest thing yet to realism in a football game. Shots now swerve, dip and pea-roll due to many different factors and really give the game that ‘every goal is different’ feel. The players also really feel and look different which is a major improvement for FIFA 08′ over it’s predecessors.
Goalkeepers while on the whole are very good are sometimes prone to the odd silly lapse which is even outside the realms of reality but this is very, very rare so is nothing to get too excited about.
I’ve babbled on for long enough now and I doubt there are many who have even made it this far but all in all I’m delighted with this latest installment of FIFA.
- Graphics – 8 – Nice stadiums, kits and animations only let down by some of the faces and the crowd could also be improved upon. Some of the lighting could also do with being reworked but all in all a very good looking game.
- Sound – 9 – Great atmosphere inside the grounds and very good commentary provided by Tyler and Gray, who apart from the odd balls up now and then, capture the match scenario very well.
- Presentation – 8 – Not much wrong but the amount of menus may prove daunting for some.
- Gameplay – 8.5 – Plays a very good game of football, some people may find the response difficult to adjust to and the simulation experience may not be for all.
- Longetivity – 9.5 – With a host of official tournaments, user creatable ones, online games and leagues, the comprehensive manager mode and the innovative BE A PRO mode there’s enough to keep even the most hardcore player occupied till the next installment.
- Next-gen worthiness – 9 – An odd category I know, but an important one however in my opinion, many games fail to utilise the power of next gen consoles but EA IMO with the redesigned game engine are really pushing the boundaries in football games, adding many more calculations etc to make a more realistic experience for us all.
- OVERALL – 8.7 – A great effort by EA and it now IMO has the definitive football game on the market. A massive step up from it’s predecessors and it’s deep gameplay combined with steep learning curve serve up a football fans treat. A few extras here and there could have made this a solid 9 but this is still a great score. The best thing is that EA are listening and communicating with us fans and gamers alike and are constantly striving to improve the product and it’s not inconceivable that by the next installment we may have gaming perfection for a football title.