Fifa 07 PS2 Review

“Hello everyone and welcome to FIFA 07” booms Clive Tyldesley’s voice over the cheering fans. Yes folks, it’s that time of the year again. It’s early autumn, the golden brown leaves are beginning to fall from the trees, the squirrels are gathering their last few nuts for the cold winter months and, yes, the latest FIFA game has arrived.

Now, those of you who feel like turning away already, don’t. I know FIFA games have somewhat minimal space in your hearts thanks to year after year of lacklustre efforts and blatant disregard for quality control, but this latest effort is a pleasant surprise; it’s actually pretty good. ‘Liar!’ I hear you cry, faces fuming and pitchforks at the ready, but it’s true. Finally, EA Sports have actually taken a step back and had a good long look at what makes football games fun, rather than just trying to cram as many licenses and likenesses into the mix (though they’re not slacking in these departments by any means). It’s obvious the developers have been keeping a steady eye on the PES series, and the inclusion of a ‘new’ control scheme that’s virtually identical to that of its rival just goes to show how highly they rate the competition from Konami. It’s a smart move really; not only does this provide a great control scheme, but it also rather cunningly allows loyal PES fans to (almost) immediately feel at home with the game, and perhaps enjoy the experience a bit more because of it. EA want all the sales they can get, and, at last, it looks like they’re on their way to becoming worthy of all the money this precious franchise makes.

Now, football at its heart is all about fluency and linking up well with your team mates, and this is evident in the gameplay to a certain extent. Player movement is smooth and well animated for the most part, coupled with pleasantly realistic ball mechanics, producing a solid and robust game engine. All the basics are in place, but unfortunately it’s let down by a handful of problems. Firstly, and perhaps the most major problem of all, the defence is crap. If a striker manages to make it past one of your defenders, you’ll be hard pressed to catch up with them again as nearly every defender in the game seems to be slower than a fat cat in a patch of wet cement. It also doesn’t help that team mates seem to huddle up together in one area of the pitch rather than spread out and mark the other team effectively, nor does it make matters any better when goalkeepers have regular moments of true brilliance such as happily letting the ball gently fall on their head and bounce into the goal rather than making any attempt at catching the damn thing. Adding salt to the wound, you’ll often find that players seem to be too scared to run ahead of you when you’re charging towards the opposition’s box while looking for someone to place a good through ball to, and this just causes frustration when you’re forced to try and solo it through the remaining defenders and beat the goalkeeper on top of it (though, as previously stated, this bit’s not the hardest thing in the world). On top of this, sliding tackles result in more than their fair share of handballs, there are moments of annoying slowdown which breaks up the flow of the game, and the AI seems to lack any sense of variation in its play-style.

That said, there’s still a very enjoyable and addictive experience on offer here, and despite its obvious flaws there’s a lot of things done very well indeed. When positioning a player to receive a well-directed goal kick or throw-in, the tussle between you and your opponent is short but satisfying, having a more natural feel than PES’s equivalent. Free kicks bring with them great opportunity to score, and although the lacklustre goalkeeping skills on offer can lead to many a goal scored from them, they do present a major element of danger to whoever commits the foul that leads to one. Tricks aplenty can be accessed via the right analogue stick, using a mixture of twists and turns to pull off the corresponding on-screen wonder-moves, such as tricking your opponent with a dummy or pulling off a cheeky turn to get round a defender (EA seem to have included a mischievous subconscious joke with regards to this move, as the hint screen explaining how to do it is titled ‘This is the season… of the 360!’). The commentary is largely very good, except for the constant babbling from Andy Gray about the best players ‘making the most of their chances’ or Clive Tyldesley bemoaning a shot narrowly skimming the crossbar as being ‘absolutely way off target!’. At least there’s no mention of some sun beaming down whilst some wind is shooting through some stadium… or something like that. The music included during the menu screens is varied and good quality, ranging from ‘Muse’ and ‘Polysics’ to ‘Belasco’ and Argentinean rock band ‘Bersuit Vergarabat’. Adding to the atmosphere, authentic crowd chants are included for most of the major clubs, along with a truly massive amount of official leagues, stadiums (including the new Wembley), clubs, kits and player likenesses (some more successful than others) that have become FIFA’s main selling point over the years. True, these things are only superficial at the end of the day, but from the direction EA have taken with this latest incarnation it looks like a very real possibility that these licenses could be the deciding factor when choosing between PES and FIFA in the not too distant future.

The huge amount of variation doesn’t just lie in the team selection options though, as there’s also enough game modes present to cater for everyone’s tastes, unless you happen to hate football, in which case you’re a bit silly for buying this game in the first place really. For those of you of a slightly more intelligent nature there’re training modes to help you improve your skills, character and club creation and editing options to allow you to introduce your freaks of nature to the world (though to be honest, the amount of freedom on offer is adequate at best, and doesn’t match the great variation shown in the likes of Pro Evo’s own offerings), tournament creation options let you set up your dream competition showdowns and there’s also a fun yet frankly absurd manager mode for those of you who prefer more of a tactical slant to things. ‘Why is it absurd?’ you ask? Well, let’s put it this way. After creating a rather gifted young chap under the name of ‘Bob Shit’ and adding him to the hallowed realm that is Liverpool FC (yes, yes I know, we’re doing crap!) he was put up for transfer with an estimated value of around £36 million. Arsenal then promptly replied with an offer of £60 million hard cash. Yes, that’s right folks, sixty million squids. Arsenal. £60 million. Well, you get my drift. There’s also the random annoyance of having a message pop up after a match saying the fans suddenly hate you because you forgot to wear black armbands in memory of some random non-existent football god who’s just died. Silly really, as there’s absolutely no warning anywhere telling you about Mr. X and his unfortunate circumstances, but never mind. It’s hardly a game-threatening event, and the amount of fun that the management mode offers more than makes up for such crazy things.

Perhaps one of the most exciting new inclusions is the excellent online mode, which allows players to choose their favourite football team and participate in the same matches as their real-life counterpart thanks to a constantly updated match schedule. Every win by each team is added up, and the team with the most wins for each fixture is awarded three points. Not only does this create a greater personal bond between the player and the game, with their own performance actually affecting their supported team’s chances of success, but it also provides an excellent reason to keep fans playing online for a long time yet.

So, there you have it. Though it seemed like it would never happen, EA have actually pulled their finger out and come up with something that’s a good deal of fun. Granted, it has more than a few problems that need to be addressed during the next twelve months, and it’s still not good enough to topple the mighty PES from its long-held footballing throne, but it finally looks like there’s light at the end of the tunnel for such a prestigious and shamefully-abused series. I never thought I’d be saying this, but ‘Come on FIFA!’

More Wigan than Liverpool, but a worthy contender nonetheless which is improving all the time.

7.2 out of 10

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