Xbox World was wooed back in April at EA's Vancouver lovenest with an inspirational tactics talk about their latest footie opus. Oozing passion and knowledge, the FIFA team certainly talk a bloody good game, and with producer Joe Booth moving to next gen development (from the stellar PS2 version) hopes were genuinely high in the office that the all-conquering PES would finally be pushed all the way for the title this year...
Ironically, while this season's PES appears to have wholeheartedly embraced a faster-paced, more arcadey style, FIFA has gone sim crazy. But, like the pain Spurs fans must experience with each passing year, all that pre-season optimism turns to mush as soon as the first ball is kicked. More of that later, though; let's kick off with the good stuff...
It's almost boring repeating the annual mantra, but FIFA 08 sure does look purdy. Though some of the players still sport waxen masks of which Madame Tussaud's would be proud, they move wonderfully, and the actual presentation is slicker than Sky Sports, with its fancy cinematic camera angles and textbook commentary from Messrs Tyler and Gray. Squint a bit and it looks and sounds almost - almost - real. Full marks for the Beckham-esque presentation then, but sadly in the engine room EA's young pretender doesn't cut the proverbial.
FIFA 08's biggest problem is that it makes it just too difficult to actually play football. Crucially, it lets itself down with the small things - like making a simple five-yard pass to a team-mate. We reckon it's because the 360 is too busy calculating all those trajectories, momentum and points of impact that EA always bang on about to actually play things simple and concentrate on the important stuff.
Foot in Mouth
Playing against rearguards so stout they make George Graham's Arsenal outfit look lax means matches are wars of attrition that frequently rumble on to unsatisfactory stalemates. Our opinion:to create a great footie game, you need to operate on the proviso that an attacker potentially has the beating of a defender more often than not. After all, no goals equals no fun, and FIFA 08 is crucially lacking Pro Evo's sense of adventure in the final third. We're not so sure we didn't prefer the FIFA of old's insane 5-4 goalfests, actually.
With even the supposedly crappiest defenders pulling off man-marking jobs that Paolo Maldini would be proud of, losing your man is a near impossibility. This means that instead of working the ball around the pitch probing for openings or using the flanks and pinging crosses in you're best off lumping it straight down the middle and attempting to dribble your way through the centre-back pairing - breaking the game rather than playing it. Boooring.
Then there's the ball. It looks like a football, but when you punt it, strange things begin to happen. It's almost like playing in Zero-G at times. Additionally, because every player essentially feels the same, your capacity for tactics is castrated. The tasty tactical fruit salad of PES is nowhere to be seen. Konami's masterclass routinely has you leaping out of the chair with joy or indignation, walloping each virtual pass as it were your own foot; FIFA manages to conjure only apathy, because it simply feels like a... videogame. No more, no less.
One aspect that did catch our eye was the new offline Be A Pro mode, devised to allow us to get up to speed with playing in the Libero Grande style before EA kicks off their much-hyped 'eleven-vs-eleven' online experiment next year. It's initially arse and it'll admittedly be tricky convincing some poor sap to go in nets, but persevere and there's a glint of something potentially exciting here.
After ten minutes of swearing, you'll finally stop charging around like a head-less chicken and it's a magnificent feeling when you've chased back 30 yards to put in a vital intercepting tackle. No, really - trust us, it is.
If this review sounds overly harsh in tone, we apologise. We actually quite like FIFA 08 but, given that last season's PS2 version of FIFA was closer to PES than - frankly - we'd ever imagined it getting, this feels like a massive next gen anti-climax. It's packed with teams and truly amazing online options, but perhaps we simply expected too much from EA and their team at the start.
So, the infrastructure is definitely in place for a corker of a kickabout but the important thing - that intangible soul - is still frustratingly missing. Nice try, but it looks like it's back to the training ground for another 12 months of hard graft. Maybe next year, eh?
It's getting there, just more slowly than we'd hoped. EA needs to get back to basics...
- Be A Pro has potential
- Looks like Beckham
- Plays like Akinbiyi