EA might be taking the piss a bit by releasing not one, not two, but three FIFA games in the space of a year, but after two lacklustre World Cup titles what a relief it is to be finally playing a FIFA game where, get this, the football is actually entertaining.
"This is the season," spouts the punchy FIFA 07 corporate spin, and by God is EA right. Just as it was with the recently released Xbox version, so FIFA 07 on Xbox 360 genuinely looks and feels like real football. Instead of simply concentrating on making it look lip-smackingly gorgeous (which it does, as ever), someone at EA has finally taken note of what real football looks like and done their best to recreate it.
Strikers move intelligently into space, defenders track back with killer precision and even goalkeepers seem smarter, no longer prone to flapping pathetically at ridiculous 30-yard screamers. But what really impresses is the sense of weight and momentum players have, something EA's games have always failed to grasp.
Naturally the new ball physics help (although, to be fair, PES managed this years ago), but it's the dozens and dozens of exquisite new player animations that really make FIFA 07 what it is. From walking to running, and all the subtly different speeds in between, players literally move as they would in real life.
And it sounds great too. Commentary is as you were, but the ambient noise really makes each match an event, with a richness of cheers and chants that's unrivalled by any other sports game. Listen carefully and you'll even hear the stadium announcer telling the owner of the silver Mondeo in the car park, registration number NV32 4RW, that he's left his lights on.
So it looks great, it sounds good and it pushes PES 6 all the way when it comes to slick, entertaining football - but for every deft piece of brilliance on the pitch, there's an equally embarrassing bout of binge drinking off it. To put it another way, FIFA 07 feels like a second-division struggler in terms of options and presentation.
Yes! Presentation! Rubbish in an EA Sports game! Well, maybe it's just us, but surely we're not the only people who want to see the awful menu system that's been there since Road to the World Cup dropped in favour of something a little less conceptual and more user-friendly? We've noticed some pretty peculiar bugs too (severely injured players that 'miraculously' get up and walk off when substituted), not to mention overly long loading times.
But it's the woefully poor selection of teams on offer that really damages FIFA 07's shot at the title. A poxy selection of international teams and a mere six licensed leagues (the English, French, German, Spanish, Italian and, bizarrely, Mexican top flights) is dreadful by EA's normally exceptional standards. It's the same for the game modes, with a selection that's emptier than a Sven Goran Eriksson testimonial crowd. There's Lounge mode (essentially a stat-tracking compere for an evening's FIFA with you and up to seven mates), the fun, if simplistic Challenge mode and a career mode that's admirably deep in terms of individually developing your players, RPG style, but nowhere near as immediate or as fun as the corresponding mode in the current-gen versions. Ditto the Xbox Live component, where the basic ranked match system is only bolstered by an eight-player Co-op mode (alright, so that's pretty ace) and real-time, real-world streamed news.
And yet FIFA 07 still gets an 8 - the same as PES 6 - because it looks great and plays amazingly.
We're still not convinced it's quite as good as PES, but we certainly won't point and laugh at anybody who prefers it to Konami's effort this time. Shame about those crappy options, though.
- Stunning player looks and animation
- A wealth of stats for every footballer
- Eight-player online matches!
- Only six leagues? Poor show, EA
- Limited online and offline game modes