Reviewed: June 9, 2008
Released: May 19, 2008
I’m a soccer player. Well, I was a soccer player. Now I’m just a fan and photographer and occasional coach or referee. Over my playing career and the years that followed, it’s been fun and frustrating to see soccer grow in the USA.
The frustrating parts have largely come from sports executives attempting to “Americanize” the game. Vain attempts to look like a major league sport when the numbers couldn’t support it ruined many leagues. The North American Soccer League (NASL), Women league (WUSA) and most recently the Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL). Even Major League Soccer has made some huge mistakes though not catastrophic (yet). But “The World’s Game” has continued and is growing in America.
It has grown mostly from a grassroots movement and that is why MLS is still around. ESPN is getting good ratings for English Premier League games – yes, games broadcast from another continent get higher ratings than our own league. But soccer is alive and well and looks to have a bright future in the USA. So bright, that EA is releasing soccer video games without a single American team!
If you happen to be home in the daytime in June, you’ll probably be hit with a deluge of European soccer games on espn2. It’s time for UEFA Euro 2008!
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 Euro 2008 is a tournament to determine the best team in Europe. Similar to the World Cup, UEFA Euro takes place every 4 years (in even numbered years between World Cups) and there are qualifier games to eliminate the countries smaller than a postage stamp.
But this year is a little different. England, the supposed birthplace of soccer, made a complete hash of the qualifying games and didn’t qualify for the tournament. This is a team that was in the final 4 a few years ago. So at least we can live out our ‘inner-English’ and redeem the team in EA’s UEFA Euro 2008.
EA has quite a process for their soccer games. FIFA has so many tournaments and leagues that EA can bring out several soccer games every year based on the same game engine and make lots of money while continuing to improve the games. Not that I mind a good new soccer game… it’s just that spending $60 several times a year for a game with a few new variations gets a little old.
I have to say, EA deciding to release a game in the US with strictly European teams is pretty bold. Obviously they will make their money overseas. But with the popularity of Fox Soccer Channel and ESPN’s soccer programs growing, perhaps there are enough hardcore soccer fans in the states to warrant it here.
UEFA Euro 2008 starts with a quick highlight and explanation video of the game by usual commentator Clive Tyldesley. Then you can jump right into the thick of it.
There are several modes from which to choose. There’s the usual ‘Kick-Off’ mode for immediate soccer satisfaction, the UEFA Euro 2008 tournament mode, captain your country, story of qualifying, online knockout cup, battle of the nations and Xbox Live games. EA does a lot with very little.
In the UEFA Euro 2008 mode you jump immediately to the tournament with all 16 real teams playing right now. If you want to play with England, look for another play mode. But you can replace teams if you want to be unrealistic. Pick your team and how much of the tournament you want to play – start with qualifiers to go straight to the finals.
Captain Your Country is an offshoot of the Be A Pro mode in FIFA 08 where you pick one player to use the entire match. In this mode you try to play your way into the captaincy and win the championship. This mode is both fun and frustrating. You pick your player but you have to pick 3 other players for the console or your friends to play challenge for the team captaincy. If you have the console play against you, start praying. It took me a run of 6 consecutive games with a hattrick to get it. There was always another player that for some reason got a 10 rating for passing the ball around. But this mode is great fun.
Story of Qualifying is a historical mode with achievements. There are 9 historical matches which you play to either achieve certain objectives or correct a stunning defeat. These are really entertaining, and you will feel a certain satisfaction for completing a task, but the actual historical teams are not used. The current teams are used to replay a historical battle. It’s too bad because it would be a great addition to have Gazza for England and Klinsmann for Germany. I hate licensing issues.
In Euro Online Knockout Cup you enter a persistent online knockout tournament with 15 other players from around the world. If you win you move on, if you lose you are done. It is fun… if you can find a game. Unfortunately that is true for us Americans in any online mode in this game. The vast majority of players who own UEFA Euro 2008 will be in Europe several time zones away. So get up early if you want to play online.
Battle of the Nations is a kind of interesting twist for online players. You pick a country and represent them online against rivals around the world. You earn individual and team points and it’s rated, uploaded, and it all counts to see what nation is the best. It’s a nice addition… for people in Europe. You can’t represent the USA. It would have been better to have a competition to see which country has the best online players – so the USA based players could still pick their favorite European team, but still represent the USA in the point rankings.
Online with Xbox Live you can participate in Online Leagues and the usual ranked and unranked matches. They still only allow up to 8 players in a single game for multi-player but keep your fingers crossed for the full 11 vs 11 mano y mono for FIFA 09. Again, online play is fun, but for this game all the USA based players are going to have trouble finding opponents during daylight hours.
Another nice addition is online tracking of your progress. You can log on to EA Sports Football and create your own avatar and see your statistics. You can even save replays as Macromedia Flash Video files and view them online.
The overall look and feel of the gameplay for UEFA Euro 2008 is the best I’ve seen on the Xbox 360 yet. It’s a great soccer game and a nice ‘tide me over’ until FIFA 09 hits the shelves in October.
The stunning 60 fps graphics at 1080p really look amazing. There are still the occasional clipping problems on cutscenes or instant replays but overall UEFA Euro 2008 is a nice improvement over FIFA 08.
The difference in UEFA Euro 2008 is primarily in the amount of content. There are 23 stadiums – including the 8 official stadiums of the tournament. The fans, the grass, the textures, and even the celebrations (which are now interactive) have all been improved. The rain and mud effects both visually and in the gamplay are huge improvements. It’s impressive to see how the EA soccer game engine is improving with each new game.
There is a strange focus on the managers in this game. Any substitution or throw-in seems to have a cutscene with the manager pointing at someone. This seems to slow the flow of the game and quite honestly, I don’t care about the manager.
At any rate, if UEFA Euro 2008 is any indication, FIFA 09 is going to be jaw drop amazing.
Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend return in the broadcast booth and provide their usual high level of commentary. There are certain phrases and comments that are specific to this tournament but overall it hasn’t changed much from FIFA 08. They do add a high level of excitement to the game and rarely do they lag behind the on field action.
The fans and overall sound of the stadium environment is spot on. Everything from chants and songs to whistles of disapproval are faithfully rendered. Run the Xbox through your Dolby Digital surround sound system and you will feel like you are there.
EA Trax music includes 18 tracks from Boys Noize to The Young Punx. It seems like it’s now required for every band to have a “z” or “x” in their name.
UEFA Euro 2008 lives up to its title. It is all the pageantry and excitement of the real tournament. But it still feels like a stable beta test version of FIFA 09… without all the teams and a handful of online options. UEFA Euro 2008 will be over in a month so the shelf life of this game is about that long. It’s a good game, it’s fun, the graphics and sound are great, but it’s not FIFA. It’s unfortunate but in a few months this game will be in the discount bin at every retailer.
There are 48 achievements available. Some of them are ridiculously difficult and only the seasoned FIFA guru will have a chance. The most fun are the “Story of Qualifying” achievements where you try to duplicate or reverse a historic match. There are 9 matches to choose from and EA includes a nice little history lesson match report to let you know what really happened.
If you want a preview of what’s coming in FIFA 09, UEFA Euro 2008 is as close as you can get. It is one of the best soccer games to date, but it’s so limited that its shelf life is almost zero. The real tournament will be over in June, and honestly you can set up FIFA 08 to do the job just fine. Unless you are a soccer fanatic and want to get a peak at FIFA 09, save your $60 until October to get the real deal. FIFA 09 will have all the UEFA teams plus over 500 more.