IGN Review of FIFA Soccer 08
First things first, soccer is not soccer, it's football. For the rest of this review every time you see the word football - and this only applies to Americans, the rest of the world will already know what I'm talking about - I'm actually talking about soccer. In recent years the game of football has been portrayed by two games, not counting EA's defunct offspring running on the same game engine, those being FIFA and Winning Eleven (Pro Evolution Soccer for those not stateside). The last few entries have been slightly shy of mediocre in quality. Last year's game was lacking several licenses, teams, and features on next-gen consoles, not to mention the fact that the gameplay was just plain poor. Sadly some of the poorly conceived control nuances remain, but overall the FIFA 08 package is much closer to returning the series to prominence.
EA Sports seems to be in a constant struggle between bettering the visual presentation of their games and still delivering the same kind of flexible and deep gameplay as people are used to seeing on consoles of the past. This year's FIFA has clearly undergone some fine tuning, but the developers are still missing a few glaring issues. The first, and also the ugliest issue, is that of running on rails. For whatever reason your players still can't adjust to the defense once a pass has been made. Say you send one of your forwards on a run to the goal and you make a through pass that will reach your player in perfect time for him to shoot. But, and this is where the game loses track of things, when a defender takes a path to cutoff your pass you'll never see your player make an adjustment. And it's not as though you can take control of your player and have him make an adjustment on your own, he's stuck on his line, or - perhaps more accurately - on the proverbial rail.
The same lack of adjustment comes into play on balls in the air, mainly punts from the goalie. You can jam on the pass button all you want, but there's really no way to win position once things are set. On the Playstation 2 you can at least push your way into the defender and maneuver a bit, but the same can't be said for Xbox 360 and PS3. Sadly the theme of a lack of control runs throughout FIFA 08. You just never feel like you're in enough control of what your guys are doing, even if it is an improvement over last year.
In an attempt to remedy that issue as well as give a bit of flash to football, EA Sports decided to include Pro Skills in FIFA 08. Essentially you can string together flicks of the right analog stick to produce some truly awe inspiring moves. The animations are very well done and lifelike, now if only they did anything. Granted the artificial intelligence in FIFA 08 is improved over FIFA 07, but the trick moves still didn't seem to produce any of the desired outcomes unless you're playing against another human opponent.
The artificial intelligence was obviously something that EA tried to perfect in this FIFA outing. Playing on professional yields very few goals, an almost frustrating amount, but when they do come they're just as rewarding as they should be. Even with the improved AI, while playing on professional there are still moments of idiocy. During one game I saw an AI-controlled player throw the ball in to his mate, only to have him head it directly out of bounds. This didn't happen just once or twice, but three times. That was also coupled with a few instances of the computer dribbling the ball down my sideline and straight out of bounds, and shootouts that consisted of nothing more than the AI rattling off shots directly at the keeper. Neither happened every time, and certainly weren't enough for me to throw my arms up in disgust, but for these things to happen at all certainly detracts from the realism of the gameplay.
The other movements on the pitch all play out the way they should with the same solid looking foot planting technology that we became accustomed to in last year's game. Users have a myriad of moves aside from the aforementioned Pro Skills. You can do a through ball, a lob through ball, a standard pass, a far pass, a low-cross, a ground cross, an early cross; there's nothing that real players could do that can't be pulled off within FIFA 08. You also have the ability to manually switch players by using the right stick, as well as making manual crosses and through balls (note: through balls are still the easiest route to a goal). It's just too bad that the latter is extremely difficult to pull off, and in the end really isn't worth the time of perfecting.
Despite the obvious negative slant of the previous paragraphs, FIFA 08 is actually a sizable improvement over FIFA 07 thanks to a nearly fully realized feature set. While it still doesn't remedy the frustrations that transpire on the pitch, the offering of game modes is still fantastic to see.
First, and what would have (note the "would have") been the most impressive, is the Be a Pro mode. Basically players can select one player from their favorite team for a one game stint of playing as only that player. There's a new camera angle too, but this proves to be cumbersome in some situations, mainly when the AI is trying to score the ball on your end. The viewing angle is so poor that you can't tell when they've put the ball into your net and instead you'll have to judge from the crowd's reaction.
The mode is more than simply being confined to one player as you'll have to watch your every move as it will have an affect on your overall score for the game. Everything from making an incomplete pass to positioning yourself properly will garner a positive or negative mark on your player. The mechanic works fairly well, even if it doesn't take into account the effectiveness of a tackle that stops an AI opponent from making a certain pass. There's also a new roadie-run style camera angle that comes into play when you streak towards the goal and helps to heighten the excitement. It's just too bad that they couldn't turn the mode into what it's obviously intended to be, a full season mode in the same model as the Superstar and Campus Legend mode from Madden and NCAA Football respectively. It feels entirely undercooked and unrealized as it is, more of a teaser of things to come than anything else.
(Note: The Be a Pro mode will be taken online in the next six weeks or so via a free downloadable update to match what the PS2 version can do, but since the game was released without this feature it won't be factored into our review.)
Another nice additions, and something that will hopefully come into play in Be a Pro mode if you've got decent skills, is the ability to Upload Videos to EA's website. It's a shame that there's no file sharing system built into the game, but the ability to save and upload replays is definitely a step in the right direction.
The online mode in FIFA 08 is also getting a new member to the family, and it's Interactive Leagues. Essentially players hop online, choose a league, claim a squad, then work their way through their calendar of games, matching up against their real life opponents. Your results will be uploaded to an online leaderboard and your squad will be ranked depending on how you and the rest of the world are faring. On top of that you can also participate in a standard league mode, but that's old news at this point.
In our online playtests the game ran fairly well, with only slight lag noticeable while moving around the field. Our players didn't respond quite as quickly as they do in single player mode, but the difference was very slight and didn't hamper gameplay, even when the action got a bit more frenetic.
Then there's the licensing, something that EA Sports has always held over the heads of the financially debilitated Winning Eleven and this year is no different. There are 576 licensed teams, 30 official leagues, and more than 15,000 players. That's a good bit more than the 117 teams and six leagues that last year's game offered. There are still a few small omissions but certainly nothing like the abundance of missing teams that '07 brought. There are also 35 officially licensed tournaments to go along with the 25 unlicensed ones. Don't like any of the offered tourneys? No sweat, just create your own with up to 24 teams taking part.
As far as old favorites go you'll still find an awesome Manager Mode that allows you to carry your favorite squad through a season, managing expenses, signing sponsorships, assigning experience points to develop a player's skills, and transferring players to and fro as you see fit. It's essentially the Dynasty Mode of FIFA and it delivers just about everything you could want, less a handy dandy PDA so you can store the messages from upper management. Then there's Lounge Mode, which still feels just as tacked on as it did last season. I suppose it's a worthy distraction, but finding the nuances of the mode that differentiate it form the rest of the pack of more of a nuisance than it's worth.
The visuals in FIFA 08 will bring back memories of last year's version with crisp character models and stylish animations. Now if only EA could find a way to make those animations mesh seamlessly with the gameplay, then they'd really have a winner. The close up shots during penalty kicks and foul calls by the ref look solid, but do suffer from a slightly jumpy frame rate. The Xbox 360 version has slightly better detail on the character models than the PS3 version, but the difference is so slight it's almost not worth mentioning. As always EA Sports brings some awesome production values to the table with stylish menus and an enjoyable practice arena that takes the place of standard load screens.
On the sound side the two blokes from last season, Martin Tyler and Andy Gray, return to the commentators' box and do a mediocre job of conveying the excitement of the game, but nothing to separate FIFA 08 from the rest of the pack. The crowds on the other hand simply don't deliver the amount of energy that you'd expect. Crowds at European club matches are completely insane with cheers, flags, beach balls, and air horns, yet we see none of that in the game. They cheer when there's a chance for a goal, and cheer a tiny bit louder when a goal is actually scored. That's it. I want to see a drunken Englishman streak across the field one of these days!
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