Reviewed: April 21, 2007
Released: March 20, 2007
Soccer sure has come a long way in the USA. Just a few years ago I had to subscribe to Soccer America (then a weekly newspaper), to get any information about soccer.
During the recent World Cup, bars were packed to watch games – even in podunk little towns like mine. Now we have UEFA Champions League 2006-2007 being released in the USA, which features no teams on this continent! What a great time to be a soccer fan!
UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) is the largest of six soccer confederations under the realm of FIFA (the world soccer governing organization that makes official soccer rules and runs the World Cup tournaments). The USA is part of the CONCACAF confederation on this continent.
UEFA is the strongest of the six confederations with most of the worlds’ top players and 15 of the top 20 national teams. UEFA Champions League is a club tournament of top performing teams from the member leagues (such as the English Premier League, German Bundesliga etc.).
UEFA Champions League is EA’s forth soccer game on the 360. Thus far, EA’s soccer games have ranged from horrid to passable – but always with features stripped out compared to other platforms. Having just played the superior game engine of Winning Eleven, I walked into this game with great caution. Plunking down $60 for a soccer game is pretty difficult to do when you feel like you’ve been burned by previous releases. EA has been releasing a soccer game about every 4 months, so odds are at some point they have to get it right.
The game offers a little variety for everyone. You can just jump into a quick game, which will pit your favorite team against their biggest rival. The front end of the game is fairly standard for EA – fly-out menus over a soccer stadium.
EA used the new FIFA 07 engine, which had me a little concerned, but after playing a few games I have to say I was very impressed. The EA team tweaked everything from player models to the overall motion of the game. The player models and overall presentation is the best I’ve seen so far. Some players even have their own signature moves, which adds some fun to the game.
EA decided to try a new feature by enhancing gameplay with a sort of trading card collectable game. I rolled my eyes when I first heard about it too… but honestly it turned out to be very addictive and I hope it stays around.
Basically the majority of games you play will earn points, which you can use to spend on card packs (three different levels). You can also buy individual cards from online players. The card packs contain players, shoes (boots), uniforms (kits), staff, and various cheat cards. You use these cards to build your “ultimate team”. You just have to choose if to you want to build a team through buying players or risk purchasing the card packs.
The card packs also include a variety of gameplay and cheat cards. The gameplay cards are used to enhance your team or cripple the opposition. When you want to build your team you can increase the fitness level of some players by ‘spending’ a fitness card. Cards are also available to effect shooting, goalkeeper positioning, healing of injuries, and staff and player contracts.
You can pick the type of games you want to play, from a friendly to the UEFA Champions League final. There are 5 camera types to view the pitch – all the angles are fairly standard view, but there’s no height or zoom adjustments.
The actual gameplay is by far the best I’ve seen from EA. In my opinion, EA did get the player models and AI down incredibly well – enough for me to want to play UEFA over Winning Eleven any day! The players finally are moving a bit more naturally and many of them have their own unique style and moves. For the most part, the player A.I. is dead on. Players move like they are supposed to move in a real game.
In the UEFA Champions League Challenge, you pick from a list of classic match-ups from Champions League past. There are 42 challenges with the majority being “come from behind” scenarios where your job is to ultimately win games. You start with the most basic historical games and unlock other levels as you go. It can be incredibly aggravating trying to come back from a 0-2 deficit, but in the end it’s very rewarding. Just a word of caution: the teams in these challenges are NOT the original rosters. So you basically end up playing as current teams in classic scenarios. But it’s still fun.
You can also create players and edit various attributes. You can also edit formations and an amazing number of other game items. The lounge is a sort of party version of UEFA. You can play up to 8 people in offline tournament play. All kinds of details are included which makes UEFA a joy to play.
On the 360 version, the number of teams has once again been trimmed down to the bare minimum compared to other consoles. The PSP version has 268 teams from 17 leagues. The 360 version features 115 teams from 5 leagues and a catch-all “Rest of the World” which houses some major teams like Juventus and Celtic (but not their leagues).
Once again EA has managed to miss the boat in this area. Sometimes the most fun is picking a ‘snowballs chance’ team and building it into a champion. Instead we basically get a “best of” version of the Champions League. Its fun, but certainly not what it could have been.
Your “Ultimate Team” is the team you build with all your cards. The depth of team management is amazing and incredibly fun with the card system.
XBOX Live play works very well. You get the usual ‘quick match’ as well as ranked and unranked matches, which you can set the rules. In the lobby you can challenge other players to a game.
Unlike FIFA 07, there is no ESPN integration in this soccer game. I assume this is due to licensing issues – Setanta Sport (a pay channel on satellite and a few cable outlets) outbid ESPN for the rights to broadcast the Champions League. So there really is no incentive to slap the ESPN logo and features on there if it’s promoting games on another service. It’s too bad, as the ESPN features were getting to be a nice and expected bonus in EA Sports titles.
Along those lines, one other amusing advertising issue is on the sidelines. In an XBOX 360 game, there are numerous advertisements for PlayStation 3!!! I’m surprised Microsoft let this slip, but I guess if Sony paid the money for the ad, they get the space.
There is one glitch in the gameplay that is about as frustrating as it gets. Injury time is set to strict stopping points. For example, in injury time if I’m running at the opposing keeper… in the penalty box… and I’m just winding up to shoot… and injury time is over… the ref will blow his whistle for the game to be finished. Any ref that whistled for the game to be over when I’m in possession of the ball in the penalty box would be killed, if not by the fans, then by FIFA. This glitch wasn’t in FIFA 07 but they are using the same engine in UEFA Champions League so I’m not sure what happened. I don’t know how this got out of beta testing, but let’s hope they release a patch to fix it. Though I suppose that’s what FIFA 08 will be.
If it were not for the above ref problem, the gameplay would near excellence. The tweaks they performed on the FIFA 07 engine have overall paid off very well in UEFA Champions League.
The graphics are the best I’ve seen in a soccer game on the 360. Tweaks in the FIFA 07 engine are easily apparent – the players act somewhat intelligently and even have certain attributes that look like their real life counterparts. It’s this kind of detail that really sets EA apart from Konami and others who want a piece of the soccer pie.
The stadiums are really nice eye candy as are the uniforms, and all the other little details that make this game stand out from the competition. EA also includes a good video calibration utility to make sure your TV is playing the game as it should.
The commentary is all over the place. Every couple of games the announcers were apparently tripping on some hallucinogens – to the point where it was comical. Often my guys would be celebrating a goal while Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend would be talking about how foolish my player was to be shooting from there... and “OH! HE SCORED!!” To be fair, this is not the announcer’s fault; this is a programming issue that the EA dev team really messed up – and another item that should have been caught in beta testing.
I also had an instance of them referencing the out of town scoreboard by saying ‘lets take a look at what Lion is doing’ WHILE I WAS PLAYING AGAINST LION. Yep, the out of town scoreboard had the current game. Whatever they’re smoking in the press box must be really good!
The crowds react to action on the field and some fans have unique chants and themes for their team. The music, stadium announcers, commentary, and music can be turned off as desired. EA Sports Trax has 11 songs from all over the world. They sound interesting at first, but I bet most people will end up doing what I did – turn the things off or add your own music.
The trading card method of team management is surprisingly addictive. I usually don’t play with career modes once I’m done reviewing the game, but in this case I will be going back to build my team. EA really struck gold here. There’s something about the combination of building your team through online trades or purchasing card packs while also gradually bumping up your skill level that really got me hooked.
There are 31 achievements totaling 1000 points. Achievements range from the easy (buying a pack of cards), to the insane like remaining undefeated for 50 games on semi-pro skill level.
The absence of ESPN live ticker and other features is certainly a strike against UEFA Champions League, but in the end, it’s about the gameplay and that is where EA really set a new standard. EA has never been very detailed with manuals, so it was no surprise when I opened the box to find a mediocre 10-page manual.
This is the game that FIFA 07 should have been. Despite the little annoyances, this is the best soccer game on the 360. Yes, there are a couple items that clearly should have been fixed before release – it seems like they felt like since this is a modified version of the FIFA 07 engine it was OK to skip a few rounds of beta testing. But overall I am thrilled with this new addition to my 360. I only hope that EA will continue to push the envelope with innovative features and gameplay.