You know, it can't be easy working at EA Sports. There's a lot to sort out. Scouring the charts for music that gets annoying the more you hear it, deciding how soon in a calendar year you can get away with naming a game after the following year, soaping each other down with money.
And these pressing concerns must have seriously distracted them this year, for if ever an instalment of an EA Sports series is treading water - I know, it's sacrilege to even consider the idea - then this is it.
I'll tell you what is easy, though: taking cheap shots at long running sports titles. Take FIFA 07 commentators Clive Tyldsley and Andy Gray. They say more inappropriate things than Prince Philip on an overseas tour. See, I did it again. (Although, obviously I've exhausted the 'A' material now.) Still, while an off-year can't turn FIFA from titan to turkey, it does seem as if the essentials of the game have slipped down their priorities, resulting in one of the dullest FIFAs in ages.
The main weaknesses of FIFA 07 are the same ones that have undermined its predecessors, chief of which is the fact that moves are subordinate to animation, a design decision that separates button presses from on-screen responses by crucial fractions of a second. This can leave play feeling calculated, one step removed from the desired intuitive, immersive interaction. It's baffling that this still hasn't been addressed, as a new function lets you press the pass key to interrupt a shot and thus fake to shoot, so it's clearly possible.
Another thorn still left in FIFA 07's side is its poorly pitched AI. Amateur level remains a laughable stroll to goal, Semi Pro a dour exercise in teasing defenders out of position and running behind your team to make them overlap, while Pro and World Class close you down faster than the controls let any normal person react, making for tediously conservative matches. Two-player mode remains a pleasure and slightly simplified controls smooth the pick-up-and- play curve.
For the solo player who can find a happy match with the AI, there's always the basically solid Manager mode. However, it's still let down by a sorry transfer system, all the odd news events that pop up demanding you answer a multiple choice question and seemingly random team morale and board confidence. At least player fatigue has been sorted, finally turning it into a full-squad game.
One new feature offers hope: jostling. A return to oldfashioned 16-bit waggling, it lets you use the analog stick to jockey for a high ball and nudge ball carriers, but it feels more like an afterthought than something integrated into the game.
FIFA 07 is still entertaining, but it's about as workaday as it gets. It goes through the motions of offering team updates and a smattering of new features, but fails to address core problems or significantly innovate in its approach to football. Dare we hope for improvement next year, or is that too far down the production schedule already?
Smug soccer sequel.
- Trying too hard
- Not very responsive
- Does not have decent AI