|FIFA Soccer 08 (2007)
Publisher: Electronic Sports
Available for: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, PS2
Don’t buy into the hype: “FIFA Soccer 08” isn’t quite the near-flawless soccer experience that EA (and most critics) would like you to believe. True, the latest installment of the long-running series has been given a massive overhaul in terms of content and gameplay, but that doesn’t always mean it’s for the better. There are still plenty of kinks that need to be worked out of the new system, and it’s going to take you a while to get acquainted with the controls. While many may call this the best “FIFA” in years, it’s probably safe to keep your expectations dialed down to a medium-low. Still, with updated rosters, an overwhelming selection of world soccer leagues (30 in all) and tons of new features, “FIFA 08” offers more than enough to keep you holed up in your house for weeks at a time.
Ignoring franchise mainstays (i.e. Manager Mode) for the sake of repeating myself, this year’s biggest addition comes in the form of the Be a Pro Mode, which allows you to play as a single member of any squad (save for the goalie, unfortunately) for an entire match. As the game progresses, you’ll be judged on your performance and given a final grade when it’s over. While lauded as the best new thing about “FIFA 08,” I have to respectfully argue against such statements. Yes, this new game mode certainly adds variety to the usually bland selection of features, but there are plenty of things wrong with it that should have triggered questions about such blind applause. The game doesn’t take in to account strategic tackles (you may miss the ball, but you’ve also prevented a pass) and it penalizes your inability to mark multiple players, even though it’s humanly impossible to cover three men within a 20 yard radius. Here’s hoping that the A.I. for this system is improved for next year’s installment, because it really is a nice change of pace.
The other two major additions to the game are the ability to create and play in tournaments, as well as online leagues on Xbox Live. The latter allows one user to create a league for up to 32 different gamers, and while I didn’t have much time to fool around with the system, it seems pretty self-explanatory. Online matches are subject to some lag (as well as the occasional dropped game), but they’re relatively smooth as long as both players are using high-speed connections. EA has also announced a future patch that will enable 5 vs. 5 player matches in the near future, and as long as the servers are able to handle the extra load, it’s going to result in some big-time fun.
Whenever changes are made to a new edition of a sports title, however, fans always find themselves on one side of the argument. In the case of “FIFA 08,” there’s plenty to be upset about if you enjoyed the arcade-style scoring of last year’s installment. Shooting is now horrendously difficult, players run slower than ever, and you’re lucky if more than two goals are scored during an entire match… between both teams. Now, I understand EA’s decision to make the experience more realistic, but video games are supposed to be fun, and “FIFA 08” is downright frustrating 95 percent of the time. Focusing more on the build-up of the backfield game, you must now spend a majority of your time passing the ball around your defensive line until a hole opens up in the midfield. True to life? Yes, but that doesn’t mean it’s any fun.
Sure, as we all play the game a little more, we’ll probably learn to enjoy the new system, but by then, “FIFA 09” will have been released and who knows if that new system will still be in place. Finesse moves have been added to offer the opportunity for flashy scoring, but unless you plan on spending hours of your day practicing the many combos to string together a successful move, forget about even trying it. The A.I. is also still in need of some serious retooling, while player fatigue carries over to the next match, even though players have an entire week to rest. Thankfully, one glaring issue is finally headed toward some redemption: the game’s referees, who no longer card you for every single tackle you make on the field. The ability to cancel a movement (like when you press pass, only to realize you’d rather shoot) also makes things a little less frustrating from the days of “FIFA 07,” but these are all minor problems that honestly should never have existed.So what’s the final assessment of “FIFA 08?” Consider it a rebuilding year if you must, because just like a pro sports team, game developers must also go through the same trial-and-error system of reconstructing a championship roster. The new groundwork has been laid out and the necessary changes have been made, but don’t expect “FIFA” to reach championship status for at least another two years. Until then, it’s still very much a masterpiece in the works.