IGN Review of FIFA Soccer 07
For years EA's FIFA franchise has played second fiddle to Konami's Winning Eleven franchise, at least in the eyes of true fans of simulation-soccer. But EA is no dummy and in recent years the FIFA franchise has done its best WE-imitation in terms of gameplay while also putting to use a record-number of licenses -- something Konami's title sorely lacks. In FIFA 07 on current-generation platforms, EA has put together its best playing soccer title to date, and, thanks to a few pleasant surprises, shifts from imitator to innovator.
On the pitch, FIFA 07 is fast-paced and exciting while still retaining somewhat of a simulation focus, a nice departure from the arcade products EA released in the past. On the World Class difficulty levels, the computer AI offers a decent challenge -- you should skip the lower difficulties as defenders and goalies have the combined IQs of a sack of doorknobs. Long ball passing stands out in particular as you can now drop the ball from midfield into the corners, letting speedy forwards race past the defense for a chance at a decent cross.
Passing in the air also succeeds because of the way players receive the ball. A small yellow marker indicates where the ball will land, and opponents will jostle for position, working to get a head on the ball. On offense that means sticking your butt right into a defender and pushing him backward or if he has position, trying to slide around him. On defense, you can push your opponent out of the way -- gambling on a whistle -- or you can let him push into you and, using a Judo-throw, slide in front. It's a great mini-battle that you will wage on almost every long ball in the game, and EA did a great job with it.
Passing in general is a treat as players make realistic runs and a perfectly-timed pass or combination will often result on a chance on goal. As for actually shooting on goal, that's a mixed bag.
Too often players in FIFA 07 miss point-blank shots -- don't even get them on goal. True, keepers do tend to make plenty of amazing saves in one-on-one situations, but you'll sometimes kick the ball wide of the net without any pressure on you at all and only meters from the goal. A better shot aiming system where you press shoot and then aim in the split-second before you release would have worked just fine. Because of this, there are just as many "Oh my God! Look at that goal!" moments as "Oh my God! How did he miss!" moments.
Also, midfield play is basically non-existent. 90 percent of gameplay is focused in the offensive zones. In the middle third of the pitch, players can basically run, passing once or twice, unimpeded before hitting a wall of defenders. These guys make more runs than Mark Foley to Trillion after sessions close (too early?). This isn't a big deal because goal-scoring is such a dynamic experience -- great physics off the post, goalies and defenders -- but it isn't real soccer. To improve the gameplay in FIFA 08, EA should really focus on shot aiming, midfield play and goalie AI.
Yes, even the world's best keepers make under-12 girls youth soccer mistakes in FIFA 07. It doesn't happen every game, but keepers will occasionally dive in the wrong direction, stay on the line even when the ball is mere feet away, or simply play out of position. Then again, you may think that keepers -- when not hampered by buggy AI -- are a bit too tough as they make outstanding save after outstanding save. In one-on-one situations, you really have to fake out the keeper to get the ball past him.
EA also does well with the trick stick, a right analog innovation that is almost too fun to play with. Studs like Ronaldinho and Cristiano Ronaldo have signature moves available, and players can perform a variety of step-overs and dribble beats to shoot past defenders. Where FIFA succeeds is that these moves are hardly powerful and are usually only good for an extra step on a defender. Sometimes, that's all you need. But unlike FIFA 2001 where you could 360-your way to a 7-5 score, these special maneuvers need to be timed perfectly and even then they only work on the more hapless of defenders. Winning Eleven could learn a lot from this stick in a game that is a bit too dependent on passing.
Visually, player models are a bit rough, but the animations are excellent and plentiful. You'll notice more dribble and trap animations than ever before, and the cutscenes are as good as we've seen on the Xbox, with some recognizable faces in most of the stars around the world. In the sound department, the commentary is excellent, and the team takes a "less is more" approach, letting the action speak for itself. Rarely in sports games is commentary this satisfactory. The crowds are excellent, chanting team-specific cheers and reacting to the action with a passion only seen in the sport of soccer.
Off the pitch, FIFA 07 features more than 510 officially licensed teams and 27 leagues from a total of 20 countries. And yes, MLS is included, Freddy Adu fans. There are a number of tournaments and challenges to complete, there's the FIFA Lounge, and there's the excellent Manager Mode, the single finest franchise mode in videogame soccer. Manager includes scouting, sponsorship, a robust transfer market, player development, ticket pricing and even real newspapers specific to your team's country, like Gazzetta dello Sport in Italy.
Online, EA takes a giant leap forward with Interactive Leagues. Choose your favorite team in F.A. Premier League, Bundesliga, French League or Mexican 1st Division (EA couldn't squeeze in all of the best leagues, although we'd like to see more next season and on the next-generation consoles). Let's say you take Arsenal. Every time Arsenal plays, you have a week to play the same fixture. The opponents are controlled by players that have selected the opposing team as their favorite. But, let's say Arsenal plays Man U. And you're a Chelsea fan. As one of Arsenal's rivals, you also can play as Man U to try and stop your bitter foe. Pretty cool, eh? Unfortunately, there is only one-on-one online -- no co-op multiplayer. The online performance is also pretty poor -- we've been disconnected more times than we'd care to count. When the game does run, it is usually choppy and we haven't had one perfect game in more than a dozen matches.
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