FIFA 08 (XBox 360)
Another year, another FIFA. Well, actually no. FIFA 08 will in fact be the fifth EA Sports soccer game on the Xbox 360 in the last two years! If you’re wondering that’s FIFA RTWC 2006, World Cup 2006, FIFA 07, UEFA CL 06/07 and FIFA 08. Fortunately, the prevailing theme in each of the preceding four games has been one of improvement and FIFA 08 continues this trend with a game that’s easily the best in the series.
The graphics engine in FIFA 08 is largely based on FIFA 07, but been improved in a few areas.
Player models are better and you can finally start to differentiate some players by build alone from the gameplay angles. Unfortunately, these are still the extremes (e.g. Crouch) and they’re still not on par with those in Winning Eleven. Player faces are still poor with most players looking like the zombie version of their real-life selves. It must be noted that some of the player likenesses for the lower league players are off and even some of the top tier players are incorrect. Momo Sissoko, for example, has light skin and a fade. But I guess EA Sports can be forgiven, it’s not like he plays for a team that made last year’s Champions League final or anything……
Animations flow much better than before and transitions are very smooth. There’s still the odd hiccup where a player will jump in mid-animation to a completely different movement but these are few and far between. There are also lots of new animations for the Skill/Trick moves including Elasticos, Step-Overs and Rabonas. Unfortunately, I’m still not seeing a differences in player gait and body movement, but at least players don’t look like Forrest Gump when they run (as they do in the PES 2008 demo)!
FIFA 08 features 28 stadia which is 5 more than last year’s game. The new grounds are 2 fictional Division 1 stadiums, 2 fictional Division 2 stadiums and the HSH Nordbank Arena. The stadiums are all modeled beautifully and the pitch textures are superb. EA Sports also seem to have re-implemented many of the lighting effects present in the Xbox 360 World Cup games and these really make the visuals shine (both literally and figuratively). I still wish you could see the subs warming up on the touchline, as well as the coaching staff. Hopefully EA Sports can implement these in the next game.
Interestingly, there is NO ref or linesman visible! I’ve seen little mention of this in mainstream reviews but it seemed blindingly obvious to me that there are only 22 players on the pitch and yet the ref suddenly appears when there’s a cut-scene. On the bright side, however, the framerate is rock solid but when you look at the number of players on-screen at one time in Madden I wonder if one ref and a few subs would really break the game?
The TV-style presentation is good, however, there are still some niggling issues. Firstly, the end-of-half/match highlights are broken. Some matches I’ll see the highlights of all the goals, some matches I’ll only see a single goal, and some matches they’ll show no highlights whatsoever! Furthermore, during online matches it’s possible for either player to skip replays and highlights for both players – this is bogus, I should be able to watch at least a basic replay of my goals against an opponent without hurting his feelings.
Substitutions are also still the same as in FIFA 07 where you see a guy running to the touchline, cut to the crowd, and then see a guy suddenly running on! There are a decent selection of text-overlays pre-match, but it would be nice to see more during the match such as other league scores (this was present in World Cup 2006 for the Xbox 360), attendance and player captions.
Crowd sounds, chants are music are all fantastic. EA Sports seem to have added a number of new chants and when you crank up the volume on a 5.1 system it sounds like you’re there. I also really like the fact that you can choose to have various soccer related podcasts playing in the background during the menus.
Commentary is very good with Martin Tyler and Andy Gray back in the booth. Both have an amazing library of team, player and stadium specific comments that really ramp up the sense of immersion. Unfortunately, this makes it all the more jarring when they say comments that are completely off or contrary to the action going on the field! For example, practically every other cross plucked by the keeper is declared a ‘save’ – how the heck can it be a save when the ball is moving perpendicular to the goal, that’s not even a shot on net! Likewise, a keeper will pull of a dramatic diving save with the crowd gasping and yet Tyler will say that the save was ‘routine’. I know it sounds picky but it’s almost like we’ve reached the uncanny valley of commentary with FIFA – it’s seems so realistic that little discrepancies stand out so much more. Regardless, the commentary and audio in general is on another planet compared to Winning Eleven.
FIFA 08 has more options than you can shake an incredibly, incredibly large stick at! The FIFA team has really outdone themselves this year. The major modes of play in the game are; Exhibition, Tournament (create your own or play several licensed ones), Be A Pro, Manager Mode, Scenario Mode, FIFA Lounge and Online. With respect to licenses, FIFA 08 has licenses from TWENTY-THREE different nations and England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain have multiple divisions licenses (England has 4). The only omissions I can think off are the Argentine Clausura, the J-League and my local recreational league! The game also features a solid selection of International teams.
Thanks to online integration, the rosters are currently up to date as of October 3rd. The player ratings themselves are a tad iffy when it comes to the non-big-name players but nothing major. I think Rafa Benitez writes to EA Sports to ensure Peter Crouch is chronically underrated.
The ‘new’ Be A Pro mode allows you to control a single player for a single match. This ‘revolutionary’ concept has been around in soccer games since the 80s and has also been in the past few Winning Eleven games (the marketing team at Konami couldn’t sell bottled water in the Sahara!). Bafflingly, Be A Pro only allows you to play in a single game, achieve a rating for your performance and then….well, that’s it. There’s no option for a season mode and nothing like the fantastic and fiendishly addictive career modes in New Star Soccer 3 and J-League Winning Eleven Club Championship 2007.
The scenario mode has over a hundred different challenges (score X amount of goals, have X amount of possession, score with player X, etc.). While these aren’t as good as the historic challenges in UEFA Champions League 06/07 there’s enough variety to keep you interested.
The real ‘meat’ of the offline game is undoubtedly the Manager Mode which is fantastic, though not without it’s issues. The mode is pretty much identical to that in FIFA 07 for the last-gen consoles and provides an incredible sense of immersion. Scouting, developing players, getting sponsorship contracts, sorting out finances and playing the transfer market are some of the many things that draw you into the game world.
Unfortunately, there are a few problems that need to be addressed. Firstly, there are NO PLAYOFFS! That’s right, if you’re in the lower divisions in England you have to finish first or second otherwise you’re staying put! Secondly, only teams from certain nations can qualify for the Champions League - so if you want to take Rosenberg back into Europe’s premier competition you’re out of luck. The transfer market is also a bit dodgy with some very good players becoming free-agents and they can be signed for a pittance.
Online returns and continues to be a fantastic (and mostly lag-free) experience. Interactive Leagues that were present in the last-gen games make an appearance as do Online Leagues. I still wish there was an option for an instant rematch after a game and I wish you could see what teams a potential opponent has used (so you can avoid the legions of players constantly using Barca, Inter, AC Milan and Man U).
Finally, there are a host of other little options that serve as icing on this very rich cake. There’s an option to upload replays to EA Sports’ website in FLV format which is an excellent addition – however, you can only upload 4 and you can’t save them to your Xbox 360 hard drive! There’s also a sticker book mode that gives you mini-achievements for setting different milestones in the game. ESPN integration means you get real-life scores and news feeds. Finally, my favorite addition is a stats tracking mode that registers a plethora of statistics in both your online and offline games.
Not everything is perfect, as there’s still no training mode (except for the garbage Arena mode) which is a shame. I’d like to be able to practice, particularly when it comes to set pieces and mastering skill moves from gameplay angles. Also the menus still use the same ugly and unintuitive format as last year which is a pain. There really is a ton of information to be found, so it’s a shame that it’s so difficult to navigate the menus to find it!
Added: October 17th 2007 Next Page (2/2)
Reviewer: Lavan Chandran
Related Link: FIFA 08
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