FIFA 07 Xbox 360 Review

It has long been considered that Pro Evo is the best football series around. However, times change and over the past 2 years it has stagnated, allowing the development team at EA time to improve their game, reducing the void between the two opponents. Has the FIFA series improved and evolved to the point where it is finally ready for the hardcore football gamers to embrace?

Football enters the HD era

FIFA 07 has been released at the same time as Konami’s Pro Evo 6. Both claim to have embraced the new capabilities of the Xbox 360, but it’s obvious upon first play that only FIFA 07 looks and plays like a brand new game. Konami have barely evolved their series and their fans are largely unhappy, whereas EA have given FIFA 07 a new game engine with sumptuous visuals that really raise the bar for what should be the accepted standard of this console generation. The players have much improved likenesses and look fantastic; there’s a real sense of technical progress on display. The framerate is constantly good during play but struggles a little during the close-up cut scenes, but this has been improved a lot since the demo was released. Players sport grass stains on their shorts and sweat glistening on their heads, all we need now is the introduction of shirt pulling, diving and spitting.

There are various modes of play, including co-op, online, online co-op, vs. cpu, challenges, and a fairly comprehensive offline management offline mode. That’s all very positive, but what about the gameplay? Cutting to the chase, to me FIFA 07 feels like a mix of Pro Evo and ISS’98. Everything is fast, fluid and open, resulting in a highly entertaining style of game. The physics engine is a step forward with a ball that FINALLY moves realistically and doesn’t feel like it’s attached to the players when you pass it around. Players feel like they have real weight behind them when they connect with the ball and shooting is the best I’ve seen in a FIFA game. The player’s body shape is the main factor when striking the ball, allowing you to focus more on positioning yourself than worrying about complex button presses. A nice ‘finesse’ shot can be performed by holding the RB shoulder button and the chip shot feels just right so it’s no longer a lottery when attempting it.

Unfortunately not everything is perfect. Players sometimes fail to respond quickly enough which can leave you a few yards behind when tracking back and tackling. This means you always feel there’s an element of luck involved when it would be better to feel more in control. Once you learn the intricacies of the game things are easier but generally because you know how to play it safe. Tackling is generally worse than in Pro Evo though you don’t see many fouls, which is good, but it could do with some tweaking. Slide tackles are near useless unless someone is running straight at you, and block tackling can make your player do nothing other than stop running. I’ve found the best course of action is to stand in-front of the attacking player and hope they run into you, it’s a bit like pinball and could annoy some, but its looseness could be said to be more realistic than the abstraction we’re accustomed to. I found attacking headers and volleys hard to perform effectively due to the reliance on a mix of power bar usage and general timing. I’m hoping this aspect will not be an issue with more experience under my belt, but it should be more accessible than it is.

Passing is good though receiving players don’t like running towards the passer when the ball starts to slow, so you can’t help but feel they’re unrealistically waiting for the ball. I’d like to see a bit more manual player control to counteract this. With regards to moves, back heels and scissor kicks seem to be impossible to perform and show-offs will be shocked to hear that ‘skill moves’ – by this I mean things like spins and kick ups – are not present in the game. However analogue stick tilt is used perfectly to allow for the best dribbling thus far in a football game.

Surprisingly it seems impossible to manually curl free kicks, i.e. aim them wide and curl them on target. To support the fact that this may well be a quite major gameplay flaw I found it very easy to score with Frank Lampard simply by aiming near the corner of the goal without attempting after-touch. This is quite an oversight but can be avoided by not hacking people down outside your box.

Despite these criticisms my feelings are largely positive as the gameplay is generally what I’ve been waiting for in a FIFA game, and with a further iteration or two the more minor aspects should be rectified in future releases. Let’s face it that Pro Evo has a lot of annoying aspects too, the main difference is that the focus here is on entertainment and you will never get the same gridlocked games you get between equally matched teams in Pro Evo. FIFA 07 entertains enough that you simply won’t worry about the things it does less well. Not least because the refs tend to stay out of the game, offside decisions are rare and accurate, throw-ins are painless, the keepers are reliable and the dribbling is a joy to behold. Considering this is a newly developed game engine everything looks very promising, I can’t wait to see what advancements EA come up with next year.

Over the net

Online play has been central to Microsoft’s gaming philosophy and EA have gone to great lengths to provide us with an engrossing experience. Each time you connect you’re prompted to download the latest rosters to ensure your game’s up to date and authentic as possible. The online modes include ranked quick match, quick match, custom match and multiplayer co-op. Lag is rarely an issue; quite often it’s just like playing someone in the same room, but sometimes you come up against someone with a poor connection. There’s a stats area where you can see how-many-thousand people are ranked above you and a screen where you can view your career.

That sounds good yet is to be expected in a FIFA game, however EA have taken the online experience a step further. With the ‘always on’ aspect of Xbox Live you will find the latest Talk Sport podcast playing in the online area, typically a running commentary on the previous day’s matches. What’s more you can read the latest football news, tables and current real-life scores. These are excellent features and I’d never even considered them being integrated into a game.

When introducing a new game engine it’s always hard to find every little bug, unfortunately I did uncover a couple of strange situations when playing online, which I’d like to see patched. The first was when the game kicked off, the camera was stuck on the penalty spot at ground level and I couldn’t see anything until the ball went out and I could change the camera angle. The second problem occurred when the half time whistle went and I made a substitution, the player in/player out screen sat there indefinitely and I had to go back to the dashboard. During days of play these were the only glitches so I advise you not press start unless you need to as I suspect this was the cause. But I must stress that the majority of games ran smoothly and overall it was a great experience.

EA Trax

There’s an ever-present soundtrack made up of a varied selection of modern artists, including Muse, Keane, Ralph Myerz and whole host of tracks from artists that most people won’t have heard before. This brings a fresh and contemporary feel to the game and you might well discover a new band. These are the kind of border-pushing production values we have come to know and love from EA. In-game commentary is the standard FIFA affair, sounds good but can be slightly inaccurate in terms of context. “Great Pass!” Ball goes straight out of play.

From the main menu you can return to a ‘free roaming’ area with a player facing the goal. By default it’s Ronaldinho but you can choose anyone you like. The camera is positioned behind the player and you can run, shoot and take free kicks against the lonely keeper. This is a lot of fun and is good for practicing your shooting. What’s best is that you can return here when the game is loading to make time fly that bit faster.

FIFA’s finally hitting form

The past 5 years have seen little real development in the genre, leading many to still regard SWOS and ISS’98 to be pinnacle of their enjoyment. But FIFA 07 has a refreshing feel; it looks genuinely new and doesn’t feel like the same rehashed formula of the Pro Evo series. FIFA’s mega-update to the series, which has clearly had a huge budget, is extensive enough to leave you with the impression of glimpsing the future of football gaming, where presentation is on a par – if not better – than Sky’s match day coverage. With Pro Evo 6 providing an underwhelming and feature-lacking experience on the Xbox 360 I’d advise everyone to give this a try. There’s a lot of fun to be had and with the polished production values you’ll be able to forgive the mostly minor gameplay niggles. If EA can tweak and evolve the gameplay further in the right direction then FIFA 08 could be a modern classic.

Despite not everything on the gameplay front being perfect, FIFA 07 is a very entertaining and accessible game that does a lot right, expanding our expectations for the genre as a whole. Gamers who take their football seriously will find the game engrossing, addictive and tremendous fun in multiplayer. Set aside your preconceptions, this is a great choice for those looking for a true next-generation football game.

An engrossingly authentic and entertaining high-def experience.

8.6 out of 10

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