FIFA 08 Xbox 360 Review

Excuse me, I know this is obviously the worst way to kick off a review of a FIFA game, but I am going to opt for a comparison to the Pro Evolution series right from the get go. However, this year things are a bit different. You see, for the past few years every time we spoke of each game we’d find some way to criticize EA as the series kept underperforming, adding some unneeded gimmick in gameplay, and usually not living up to the hype. Conversely, this time round it is honestly a struggle to find anything overtly wrong with the game. This achievement is amazing, especially if you consider the fact that just a few short years ago the gulf between both games was so huge a decision could be very easily made to pick up one or the other. However, FIFA 2008 really seems like the tipping point in the football game war as we finally have an effort from EA that is perfectly playable, but most importantly fun game to play.

It has to be said that most of the criticisms that cynic’s of the series would be quick to point at over the years now seem to have been fixed in some way. The most interesting changes would have to be that movement of the ball now feels very random, with each pass, volley, and shot feeling sufficiently different from the last, and is affected vastly depending on your position. In addition to this the AI is now much smarter, with the opposition giving you very little chance to make piercing runs past their defence, thus making even dribbling past one player feel like an accomplishment. Also, matches now feel much slower, with fewer goals scored compared to previous efforts, making scoring a goal quite an achievement as well. Overall the game is much, much harder than ever before, and if you don’t utilise the whole team, and try to make glory runs with one player you will pay for it.

There are the many extras that help lift the game above previous efforts. For example, the games stamina meter actually seems worthwhile this time, and by overusing the sprint button it is very easy to end up unnecessarily wearing out many players. This now means an extra little layer of tactics is implemented to the game which is very welcome. Animation is also great with player reacting realistically with lunges, stretches and more when needed to control a stray ball. Also, instead of a long loading screen when the match loads you get play kickabout with Ronaldinho as you go one-on-one with the keeper to try and score a goal to pass the time when the game loads up behind the scenes. It really is only a simple addition, but it does a lot to keep the boredom level down between menus. Also, with the inclusion of Sky Sports top announcers – Andy Gray and Martin Tyler – the games commentary is also top notch, and thankfully immensely varied. In fact, the two even get into some banter that would not seem out of place on an on-air broadcast that adds another layer of authenticity to the game. More in-depth commentary comes when the two comment directly about top players during a match from each of the teams from all 30 leagues included which is another nice extra as well.

The biggest new feature on show in the game, and the one most boasted about by EA in almost all recent press releases, is the inclusion of a ‘Be The Pro’ option to let you get right into the boots of one of the players on the pitch (bar the goalie) and move him about, get into good positions, tackle, and make runs. After the match is over the game then rates your performance and tells you how good or bad you played with the single player. In this mode the camera is shifted from the traditional side-on perspective and changed to a behind the player view which very similar to some recent third person shooter games. The camera then zoom in and out depending on how close the ball is to your player to keep you in view at all times. When you first jump into this mode it feels very weird, and honestly quite hard to get your head around – mainly because 20+ years of football games have told you that you should always have control of the full team. But after settling in for a while its inclusion starts to make sense, and the more you play the more you figure out what your role should be during a match. Regretfully, this mode is only available in one off games right now, but apparently a download is planed to bring this mode online which should offer some more fun until EA fully realise its potential (or maybe cock it up) in FIFA 09.

Speaking about cocking things up it has to be said the game is not without a few grating flaws, with the biggest that it is nigh on impossible – without some sort of miraculous intervention – to score from a corner. In fact, due to the position EA have placed the camera, there really is no way to judge where the ball will land when taking one, thus meaning most gamers will opt for the short corner every time as it will give a better chance for scoring rather than leaving it to the luck of where the corner kick might land. Also, I noticed that through balls were not as effective as they should be, with very little of my attempts resulting in any kind of joy in the 40 or so matches I notched up before writing this review. In addition, even though the menus look okay they are unfortunately very awkward to navigate with different functions assigned to different buttons, and some convoluted choices that ends up giving you a feeling of being inundated with info but having no easy way to access it. Furthermore, one final point of contention, although not a flaw with the game itself would have to be that for fans of the way FIFA used to be a few years back, those same people that used to help it chart at number #1 even though the game was highly average, will probably not like what the game has now become.

So there you have it. FIFA 08 is a huge step in the right direction for EA, perhaps the biggest step the series has taken in many years. Sure, it is not perfect, and there is no way to deny that even this quality rendition of the beautiful game has suffered a fair few lashings of the ugly stick, but it is still good, very good in fact. As much as PES fans may not like to admit it both football games are now nigh on equal in terms of quality. Sure, each of the games will still appeal to different fans, and still have there own selling points along with controversial inclusions, but when all is said and done, and as weird as it sounds, it seems EA are now the ones pushing the genre forward.

Take a bow son, take a bow

8.8 out of 10