UEFA Champions League 2006-2007 PS2 Review

In the last year, Electronic Arts have released an astonishing FOUR football titles, each with their own different branding but all essentially the same game. Champions League 2006/2007 is the officially licensed game of Europe’s, possibly the world’s, greatest club football tournament. Some of the stories told on the pitch over the years read like epic movies, full of glorious victories and crushing defeats.

So, the question is, has EA Sports made the game that distils the passion and the glory onto a disc, or is it merely FIFA 07, only with less teams?

Well, it’s neither, to be honest. What we have here is essentially FIFA 07.5 – the animation is a little better, the constantly improving controls have been tweaked slightly and the still impressive roster of players has been updated (to the January transfer window). All European leagues and teams are represented, not just the elite that qualified for this year’s competition. This means I can take my beloved Newcastle United all the way to European silverware, although this would mean classifying the game as ‘Fantasy/Role-Playing’ rather than ‘Sports Simulation’. Unfortunately, any real innovation has been left out in favour of the 360 version, which supposedly features a ‘card collecting’ mode, where you open packs of cards and gain players of various skill, value and rarity, a-la Magic: The Gathering. The PS2 version is hardly lacking in modes of its own, however, just not anything you haven’t seen before.

All the usual match modes are included, as are the options to take part in domestic leagues, tournaments and, obviously, the Champions League itself. Exclusive to the PS2 version, which the press release was proud to boast, is the Treble Mode. Now, for the readers less educated in ‘the beautiful game’, doing the Treble is the act of winning three trophies in one season, such as Manchester United’s Premiership, FA Cup and Champions League triple whammy some years ago. Achieving this ultimate goal requires brilliant team management – winning tactics and resting key players is an absolute must.

There is also a scenario mode, much like the one in Pro Evolution Soccer, but with the added authentic tournament history this has a certain edge. Recreating classic footballing moments, like Liverpool’s return from three goals down against AC Milan or scoring two in the dying seconds as Manchester United against Juventus is as exciting as watching it on TV… well, almost. The actual teams that played in these classic matches have been replaced by the present day squads, robbing us of some George Best action, but it appears that EA’s vice-like grip on the world’s football licenses can only stretch so far.

It’s worth noting that the presentation is at EA’s usual high standard, although – and I know they are an easy target these days – the EATrax are just as awful and ill-fitting as usual. They stand out more than usual due to EA licensing the Champions League theme to play at intervals during the game. It’s a piece of music so synonymous with the tournament that you can’t help but feel those butterflies you get at 7.30pm on a Wednesday evening when you know your team has got tough competition. Add to this the commentary, which EA can easily lay claim to having the best in any sports title, and you have damn near an authentic broadcast quality than any of its nearest rivals can offer.

As mentioned earlier, only the slightest tweaks have been made to the controls, which were already on the right track with FIFA 07. The control scheme has been streamlined further, making for a quicker, more intuitive game, far from the over-complexities that gave the PSone and early PS2 releases the reputation they have been trying to shake for nearly a decade, and very nearly have.

It isn’t all positive though. Crowded penalty boxes cause a noticeable drop in framerate. A goal mouth scramble in the Nou Camp and things get uglier than Iain Dowie and slower than an overweight Paul Gascoigne after a gunshot to the knee. A strange addition is the ‘Quick Kick’ button. Whenever there is a dead ball situation, a button prompt appears, informing you to hit L1 and take a quick throw in or a quick goal kick. Now, the ability to rush a corner kick to catch your opponent off guard would be an excellent addition to the game, especially against human competition, but unfortunately, ‘quick’ actually means it simply skips the short scene that plays before these set pieces, with all the players teleporting into the position they were headed to. A disappointment, but it is for the best, as some of the aforementioned scenes are one of the worst victims of slowdown – some of them even requiring a short load, breaking up the otherwise slick flow of the game.

It’s hard to recommend Champions League 2006/2007 to anyone other than those desperate for a footballing fix between now and FIFA 08’s inevitable topping of the UK sales charts this Christmas. Although it plays a solid game of football, and of course, multiplayer is always a blast, this is a well-licensed stop gap before the next true update – the first built for the new consoles, which the PS2 will no doubt get a ‘courtesy port’.

What baffles me is why EA Sports don’t add their official World Cup and Champions League licensing into FIFA 08; a game that no doubt will already be bursting at the seams with authenticity, to create a game football fans would be stupid to overlook – further closing the ever-decreasing gap with Pro Evo.

There – a review of an EA Sports football title and only two mentions of Pro Evolution Soccer – they must be doing something right.

Breezes through the group stages but knocked out in the semi final.

7.0 out of 10
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