The improvements to FIFA 08 are phenomenal and have really made a huge impact on the game
Like many other football fans out there, the anticipation before the release of the next FIFA or its competitor, Pro Evolution Soccer is akin to that of the start of the new season or my favourite team (Tottenham Hotspur – don’t laugh) playing in a cup final. The excitement really is that great.
Realistic animation gives this game instant appeal
Real Madrid v Barcelona is just one of the classic derby games that you can create in FIFA 08
However, in terms of FIFA and its many re-incarnations over the years the term, “must do better” has always been applicable. That tingling feeling soon turns into a numb sense of apathy as nothing’s really changed and the amazing new feature never really lives up to the hype. This time however, the improvements to FIFA 08 are phenomenal and have really made a huge impact on the game. In fact, I think it’s fairly safe to say this is a FIFA game unlike no other. Don’t get me wrong, the game is far from perfect but almost every step made has been a step in the right direction. I’ll explain.
The game engine has had a complete overhaul and this is apparent from the moment the ref blows the whistle for kick off. The ball physics are markedly improved, the player animations more realistic than ever before but more importantly your team mates no longer run into the wrong spaces, they now more often than ever pass the ball to the player you want them to and in a nutshell, it plays more like a real game of football rather than an arcade sim.
One area where FIFA has never disappointed is the graphics, and they certainly impress again this time around. Players look even more realistic, with some notable exceptions (mainly Spurs players so who cares, eh?) but overall you get the sense that Electronic Arts really want this game to be as immersive as possible. With 621 licensed teams and 30 leagues and a staggering 15,000 players added really hammer home EA’s intent to make FIFA the king of football games. Only the management simulations such as the revered Football Manager can rival such content and although one could argue that these additions are simply superficial and gameplay is the true indicator of greatness, I would counter that by saying you really do feel part of the game and like it gives you the sense that you’re playing a football game for football fans.
It could only be Rooney with those ears!
Not only are the players lifelike, some of the stadiums are modelled to scale too
Other new additions are what really make the game stand out from the rest of the series to date. On-line leagues are now a reality, so get some friends on the PSN, organise some games and then you can really see who’s best. Also, they now added a 5v5 mode where every player bar the keeper can be controlled. Sometimes this can turn into something like an U9’s game as all the outfield players just run around after the ball but if you can get some decent players together and keep things structured on the pitch and communicate well, then you really feel as though you are playing as a team. This I might add is all lag free (although this is post-patch). The only downside is that setting up these games can be a bit tricky as EA’s menu system isn’t the easiest to navigate, but after some mucking around in the myriad of options screens, you’ll soon find you get the hang of it easily enough.
However, as the age old saying goes, this where it really becomes a game of two halves. The multiplayer element brings the game head and shoulders above all competition and fulfils many of my personal dreams of when I played the superb FIFA: Road To World Cup back in the hazy Playstation 1 days of 1998. I wanted to take on who I want, when I want and prove beyond all doubt I was the best, FIFA has now given me this opportunity just on a much grander scale.. Although since that time I’ve realised I’m nowhere near the best. But with that aside, the thing that made RTWC superb was the single player game, or offline mode as it’s fashionably called nowadays. This was a rich experience, offering instant playability and an excellently implemented learning curve. It is here that FIFA 08 falls down a little.
The game is just too difficult. I’m no expert, but I’ve always been able to beat the AI on hard mode over the recent years. With FIFA 08 however, I’m all the way down to ‘Semi-Pro’ (the next easiest level) before I can actually get a good, flowing game going and score some goals. I have always played FIFA games on ‘Professional’ and slowly made my way up the difficulty ladder. Not so here.
The AI crowds you out completely when you get into the final third. Keeping the ball for more than 5 or six passes takes a lot of skill as it’s almost as though the opposition knows what you are going to do next. The amount of times I hurled my remote through walls was too much to bear. So I eventually had to set aside my pride and drop down a level. Funnily enough, the game became easy: I was scoring freely, ending up with 70% possession and over and suddenly the game became playable again. Only I couldn’t shake off the fact that I was for all intents and purposes playing on one of the easiest levels in the game and for someone who prides himself on knowing his football and having a history of playing football games, - i.e. EA’s target audience – this took the shimmer off the proceedings somewhat.
So after a few games of thrashing the opposition I go back up to Professional only to be hit by a brick wall yet again. This unfortunately for me made the single player game unplayable to a degree. Because even though I can win the League as Tottenham, I can only do it in less than challenging gameplay mode, as soon as I take the plunge to give myself a challenge, I go 15 games without a win.
Why are their hands between their legs? Does AI really feel pain?
The kits are as varied and as detailed as the players
To sum up I will end this review the same place I started by saying that for all FIFA’s many, excellent improvements, the old adage of “must do better” still applies to this game. For it to be the perfect, all round football experience EA just need to tweak the AI some more and make it so the plethora of moves that you have at your disposal are actually usable in the single player campaign. However, the new features this time round, especially to the on-line element offer so much longevity that anyone with a healthy list of friends on Sony’s Playstation Network and a passing interest in football would be stupid to pass up. Game on.
Top Game Moment:
TOP GAME MOMENT
Finally winning a game in Professional difficulty.