IGN Review of FIFA Soccer 07
Forget for a moment that EA has already released a pair of FIFA titles on the Xbox 360 in less than a year. 2006 FIFA World Cup and FIFA 06 Road to FIFA World Cup were really Xbox games with a fresh coat of paint. FIFA 07 has been rebuilt from the ground up for a truly next-gen experience. Well, that was EA's intention, anyway.
FIFA 07 suffers from the same litany of problems as the other from-the-ground-up EA Sports titles released in the past year: less features, more expensive, and, worst of all, not as fun. While EA takes several steps forward, improving on some aspects of soccer gameplay that even the acclaimed Winning Eleven franchise doesn't touch, FIFA 07 takes even more steps backward, resulting in a passable soccer game that will leave you screaming in frustration as many times as you scream in ecstasy after a spectacular goal.
Where FIFA 07 shines is with the new ball physics system. Yes, the ball is free from players and isn't sucked in by animations -- we've seen it bounce off the back of heads of unknowing players in exactly the right direction. This makes for a more organic experience, especially in traffic as any misplayed ball can result in a goal.
There's also a wonderful sense of weight to each player. Players plant and change directions realistically, and this is perhaps EA's greatest contribution to the genre. On offense, it's now possible to beat defenders off the dribble if they are slightly out of position. By switching from regular speed to a flat-out sprint, you are able to breeze past weak defenders the same way Cristiano Ronaldo does. On the defensive end, players now slide their feet, strafing from side to side to cut off passing angles and lanes. Being in the correct position is more important than ever. After playing with this new momentum system, it's easy to say that no soccer game will feel like a great soccer game without it.
Then again, you can't be a great soccer game without excellent shooting, passing and dribbling mechanics, and this is where FIFA 07 falls short. While shooting from distance is fine -- some great shooters have the ability to nail it; other shooters put the ball into the sixth row -- there is an inexcusable amount of missed shots from point blank range. Granted, the goalkeepers do an excellent job of blocking shots -- almost too good -- but too often players will take shots from inside the six-yard box and not even get the ball on goal. Some of these guys couldn't hit water if they fell out of a boat.
Short passing is something of a mixed bag. The passes are accurate enough, but the players receiving the pass are stuck on a rail. It's something every kid learns in under-10 youth soccer -- don't wait for the ball. Even after you've auto-switched to the player receiving the pass, you can't move him toward the ball. He's stuck. On through-ball passes, the receiver is stuck on a rail and can't break off early to cut off the pass. He's stuck. FIFA on the current-gen consoles did an excellent job of freeing up players on the pass -- long a problem with all soccer games. FIFA 07 on the 360 does not.
I do really enjoy the through-ball, for the most part. While the pass was way too powerful in the World Cup game, often resulting in "gimme" one-on-one chances with the goalkeeper, the through-pass has been toned down in FIFA 07. Only by tapping the left trigger to send a player on a run and waiting for the perfect moment can you execute this pass well, and even then there's no guarantee it will beat a good defender.
As for the aerial through-pass, it is pretty much broken. On the Xbox, you can drop the ball into the corners and let your forwards run into open space to get it. You could tap the Y button to hit a nearby player; you could hold it down for a long pass. Not so on 360. You can only send the ball to the player closest to you. This is problematic on defense, when you want to send the ball deep for a long counter-attack.
In terms of dribbling, EA added a knock-on feature to the right stick, which basically lets you flick the ball in whatever direction you push the stick. In effect, this removes all special dribble moves from the game, like Ronaldo's patented step-overs, which he does pretty much every time he touches the ball. While an excellent new attribute system measures the players in FIFA more accurately than ever before, not having these moves in the game is inexcusable. What's worse, the right stick is basically useless as your player is stuck on a rail and forced to run wherever you flick the ball. It would have been much more effective to flick the ball into open space and be able to run to it; to be able to flick the ball past a defender on the right, run around to the left and meet the ball on the other side. Mapping special dribbles to the stick would have been much more effective.
And finally, there is a significant problem with player collisions. You can basically bully players off the ball, running straight into them and knocking them off the dribble. It's a penalty in every sense of the word, yet rarely is it called. Sometimes players will run into each other and freeze for a second and look at each other stupidly. We love jostling for the ball and we love throwing our weight around. But this is some kind of bug, a nasty side-effect most likely from the physics system, and it hurts the flow of the game.
Don't get me wrong. FIFA 07 is fun, and there are some spectacular moments in the game that make it worth playing. It's not that there is a learning curve to the new gameplay -- it's that you have to learn to play around the game's faults in order to succeed. EA did build this from the ground up, but this gameplay is only an unfinished foundation of some grand soccer structure. With the physics and momentum, you can almost feel the potential of an outstanding soccer game. Perhaps that is what is most frustrating about FIFA 07: it could have been, it should have been so much more.
Visually, FIFA 07 is pretty. The animations are all well done, and the action on the pitch looks fine. The character models in cutscenes resemble plastic cartoons of these soccer greats in action, but FIFA 07 is still the best looking soccer game on the market, including Pro Evolution 6 in Europe.
FIFA 07 does fall short in the sound department. Although the soundtrack is great, and we always appreciate team-specific cheers, the sound during the game doesn't rock out like it does in a real stadium. The commentary is some of the worst I've heard in years -- Andy Gray and Martin Tyler do a fine job for Sky Sports in Europe, but in FIFA 07 they are dull and lifeless, often falling behind the action. Sometimes you will score a goal and they will go right on talking about what a nice pass you made two passes ago before taking note that you put the ball in the net. They don't have enough energy or enthusiasm to commentate on Antiques Roadshow, let alone a soccer game.
FIFA 07 features the German Bundesliga 1, the F.A. Premiere League, the LFP Primera of Spain, the Ligue 1 Orange of France, the Mexico Primera, and Italy's Serie A. Only the first divisions are included. There are also 37 International teams included, adding up to a grand total of 117 teams. Obviously, this is a huge disappointment, considering that more than 500 teams are included on the current-gen version of FIFA 07. Maybe these teams will become available on Xbox Live Marketplace for 50 Microsoft Points each. Who knows? After the disappointing crop of sports titles EA has released on the 360, you have to ask: When will EA learn? We want more. Heck, we want at least as much as the current-generation version. And for $59.99, frankly, we deserve it.
On a brighter note, EA revamped Manager Mode so you can now "pimp-out" your team in any way you see fit. After each match, you will earn experience points to be spent on improving your attributes or buying new traits, such as "corner taker." It's not exactly realistic, but it does add an interesting RPG element to Manager Mode and you'll find yourself enjoying the time spent tweaking your team to play just so.
Online, you have the standard quick matches, as well as multiplayer co-op. FIFA 07 performed very well and we hardly ever experienced significant slowdown, even when playing opponents clear across the globe. FIFA 07 also features ESPN Integration, including soccer news and radio updates from ESPN Radio.
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