As good as it gets, or at least as good as it’s gotten.
While most of the country is concentrating on the start of the NBA season and the Sunday battles on the gridiron, EA Sports has turned its attention to the beautiful game. They have recently released their annual iteration of the wildly popular FIFA Soccer series to eager aficionados. This year EA has made one of their best entries in the franchise to date. Particular attention was paid to the setting; nothing new there, but this year it is especially good. The gameplay is still a bit frustrating with friendly A.I. consistently making poor decisions. However, if you’re looking for a solid soccer title that will last you a couple of years, look no further than FIFA Soccer 08.
EA’s sports titles are known for their extensive licensing agreements with players and leagues. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in their FIFA titles, and this year is no exception. The sheer number of players, stadiums, leagues, and official tournaments is impressive. Any soccer fan will be giddy with the scope of the licensing. All the national selections you would expect are here too, and setting up World Cup-style tournaments with a round-robin format and elimination rounds is a breeze. It’s unfortunate EA can’t nail down the Champions’ League license though. Other than that, the inclusion of official league cup tournaments is fantastic. These tournaments include, but are not limited to, the Apertura and Clausura, FA Cup, Copa del Rey, and the U.S. Open Cup. The realism the licensing affords keeps the player engaged and FIFA Soccer one step ahead of the competition.
Gameplay and player control are very important issues when talking about soccer simulators. EA has always dominated sales due to the aforementioned lock on licensing. However, they have traditionally lacked perfect gameplay and pinpoint control. The 08 version follows this pattern, but positive strides were made. The game controls well, but it is not great. Getting a through ball to your A.I. teammates is very difficult. EA has tried to ameliorate this flaw by adding the lay-off function. This function allows you to improve the path of the through ball by guiding your pass with the analog stick. Another sore spot is performing feints at the appropriate time with someone other than Ronaldinho or Cristiano Ronaldo. It’s unfortunate that dribbling isn’t great during standard gameplay, because during loading screens you’ll control Ronaldinho and be able to perform insane moves with just a flick of the analog stick. This also holds true during Be-a-Pro mode. That feel of control should be carried throughout the game. On a high note, shooting always feels very good. It is easy to control the pace and direction of the shot. Free-kicks are also easier to control than in previous versions. The ability to add top, side, or backspin makes for a lot of fun. Because of the ease of shooting, you’ll score a lot of goals from range. Unfortunately, you’ll have a lot of near misses within the six yard box. Crossing the ball in from the flanks and finishing with headers and volleys is an effective strategy, but you’ll tear your hair out with the number of sitters you’ll botch. In order to help you with this, you can jostle with defenders in the box during set pieces with the analog stick to maintain or gain a positional advantage.
As far as gameplay goes, A.I. controlled teammates do not run off the ball well. They’ll always be in good supporting positions, but sending balls through to a striker making a diagonal run is not always a viable option. Fortunately, gameplay is well paced. It’s very easy to go end to end via short passing, and taking a man on down the flank with a speedy winger is both realistic and effortless. Sprinting is little more than a burst over five yards, but it is your most formidable tool for getting past defenders. FIFA fanatics will have no problem picking up the game and winning in world class difficulty. The legendary level is a different story, however. In fact, it is so difficult you’ll think the computer cheats. Yeah, it’s one of those games! You might throw your controller a couple of times if you let it get to you. Several levels of difficulty is a good thing though. It allows beginners and experts alike to enjoy the game.
The graphics are high quality. The stadiums look great as do the movement animations. Player likenesses, while accurate, are not as extensive and exhaustive as the licensing. The world’s best players’ likenesses are well captured, but there is a paucity of second and third tier professionals. This isn’t so bad while playing with English or Spanish clubs, but the MLS athletes are not well represented at all. The crowds in the stands are realistic and unique. They add a lot to the feel of the game. In addition to the tight visuals, the music, sounds, and commentary are very good. EA always does a great job of selecting cutting edge tunes from a wide variety of international bands. Not everyone will like all the tracks, but to be sure, a lot of effort went into song selection and the presentation is crisp and clear. The sounds on the field are fairly standard, but the crowd noises are nice and add greatly to the setting. The commentary is the same as always, quite well done. The same comments are made over and over again, but no developer has yet to solve that conundrum. Overall, the setting and presentation are what set this title apart from previous versions and the competition. It’s very easy to get lost in the exciting and realistic atmosphere.
As far as game organization is concerned, it is very easy to navigate through the menus. EA has a very user-friendly interface despite the breadth of content. The clear menu design and accessibility of the game extends to the online interface as well. You will connect to the EA servers, as you do with other EA Sports titles, and have to login or create a gamer account. Online matching, ranking, and leagues are nicely done. Online leagues are neat because you can set up tournament with up to 32 friends. If you join the interactive leagues, then you will be able to select and support your favorite club side and compete against opposing team supporters. This makes for a great gameday challenge for rabid fans. Scoring a hat trick with Clint Dempsey from Fulham against a stacked Man U squad is very satisfying. This is especially so being a Yank in a Brit dominated interactive league. All in all, it is a very pleasurable multiplayer online experience.
Online play is just one of the game modes available to you. If you want to fully manage a club, you’ll turn to Manager Mode. Being a manager allows you to control every facet of your club’s development. You will make trades, develop youth players, and win sponsors, cups, job security, and lucrative offers from top clubs. New this year is the Be-a-Pro mode. This mode of play has you perfect positional play by selecting a player you wish to control. Instead of switching from player to player, you will work your magic as a striker, winger, center mid or marking back. This is an awesome experience because the dribbling is silky smooth, the through balls and forward runs are inch perfect, and you mark even the world’s greatest players right out of a game. Those of you familiar with Madden NFL 08 will recognize this mode. This is a neat experience that is highly addictive. Other than Be-a-Pro, everything else is standard fare that you have come to expect from FIFA titles.
FIFA Soccer 08 is another solid entry in the long history of the soccer franchise. FIFA 08 is far superior to last year’s addition, but don’t expect magic. A lot of the gameplay issues remain unresolved, but the overall setting and presentation are second to none. The online component and interactive leagues are outstanding additions that are sure to be included in next year’s versions. If you want a soccer game that can actually last you more than a year, then FIFA Soccer 08 is a good choice. You’ll get your soccer fix with good controls, great graphics, and tremendous license support.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.2 Graphics
Graphics get you into the game, however more professional likenesses should have been included. 3.9 Control
The controls are good, but this is the area where the most improvement is needed. 4.4 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The track selection, crowd noise, and commentary are awesome. 4.2 Play Value
This game is very fun to play with several levels of difficulty. 4.2 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.