FIFA 07 might be a great game, but you can't play it. For some reason - we're guessing time restrictions as opposed to, say, brain damage - the developers have removed all the right stick skill moves and subtle button-assisted dribbling techniques that work so expertly in last gen versions, limiting your options to passing, shooting and - the big one - running fast, or slow. Each player has 35 unique attributes (compared to eight on last gen) and 45 behaviour patterns but the fact is you haven't got sufficiently liberating, or varied, controls to appreciate their subtlety. Often it's like playing a grand piano in oven gloves - you can't unlock the potential within.
In fairness, the new physics system, which removes the ball from the player's foot so it doesn't feel 'attached' by elastic (a claim they made about FIFA 05 too, but there you go...) allows for very precise dribbling. You can see exactly where the player's foot makes contact with the ball, and how your delicate left analogue stick movements cause the animation to blend realistically - eg a sudden 180 spin will cause your player to plant a foot, bend his knee and swerve with accurate momentum. Impressive.
The ball only moves in contact with your foot, allowing you to flummox defenders by gauging their position, then applying a swift change of pace (or twisting sharply) with minute stick tweaks. It's the most delicate analogue dribbling system of any football game, but - this is the killer - only really works up close. You need to play with the zoomed-in Dynamic Camera to see the player's feet, but this claustrophobic view makes it harder to spot off-the-ball runs and makes sweeping long balls risky. In the more playable, zoomed-out Tele view the subtle foot animation gets pretty much entirely lost, and it's harder to time your delicate analogue sweeps - a double-edged sword.
PASS THE TEST
Passing is rewarding. You can zip the ball around the park with swift taps of a, while your fellow players achieve decent separation, and make sensible off-the-ball runs. The only problem is when you near the final third, your strikers don't attack space with the vigour you'd expect - often failing to react intelligently to FIFA's usually reliable 'Prompt run' command on LB. With no trick moves to beat the last man or 'break' the defending line, you're left - as ever - twisting and turning the analogue stick in the vein hope that something deceptive will happen and you'll make some space. In fairness, strong, gifted players like Henry, Gilardino or Rooney exhibit greater changes of pace, and can barge past opposition defenders to create shooting opportunities, but this feels like rather a crude application of those 35 unique attributes we mentioned before.
EA claim that teams consist of eleven unique, individually thinking player AI's, and while you can see that some teams move more slickly than others - a function of their Chemistry attribute - battles are lost and won in more familiar areas. Playing as Wales against England, we lost 4-1 since Steven Gerrard won every tackle against the Welsh midfield - and we're not just talking 50/50s, but every ball, irrespective of his timing and positioning. It could happen, but negates the use of skill, and builds lingering resentment. On a similar note, all of Gerrard's shots went in, including one from 30 yards on the by-line. Even in real life, absolute domination of one player in all situations is very rare.
I PITY THE FOUL
Block tackles and slides work like in any game, but the referees whistle like they're at an early 90's rave. The slightest hint of obstruction or a tackle from the side results in a free kick. Once, Michael Essien nudged an attacker just shy of the thirty yard line and the referee responded with an instant red. Weirder, even commentators Andy Gray and Martin Tyler were talking about a "bad challenge" and how the ref had "no choice".