Reviewed: January 27, 2008
Released: October 9, 2007
The FIFA series of soccer titles is one of the longest running franchises in the EA Sports stable, and has remained one of EA’s top international selling titles despite a constant Winning Eleven vs. FIFA argument being fought by rabid footie fans worldwide.
Over the past half-dozen years or so, FIFA developers have made conscious efforts to take the game further away from its arcadey “magnetic ball” passing mechanics, and more towards a sim-like experience like Winning Eleven, yet all the while trying to maintain a balance for long-time fans.
FIFA 08 succeeds at blending the arcade and simulation elements better than any previous release, and emerges as the first kick-ass EA Sports title to hit the PS3.
It won’t take long for veteran gamers to notice some of the cool new additions EA has made to FIFA 08. In fact, before the menu screen even pops up gamers are teased with taste of the newly refined over the shoulder camera perspective and Be A Pro® gameplay mode, which will later have gamers donning the spikes of single player of their choice and playing an entire game (and eventually join leagues) from their perspective.
But before I go further, let’s talk about what FIFA 08 delivers; and that is some of the best soccer gameplay to be found on any system, and certainly the best that FIFA has ever delivered in its dozen or more years of console history.
The series has taken hits in the past for weak AI and overly-simplistic gameplay – that is not the case with FIFA 08, which bumps up the difficulty significantly over the previous iterations, mandating that gamers become familiar with the uber-complex (yet surprisingly intuitive) context-sensitive controls, trick combos, and precision passing.
In fact, for all of the FIFA games I have played, I have never had this much difficulty in simply scoring a goal – much less winning a game. But while some might see this as being a bit defeating, footie vets will tell you that a well-played 0-1 loss is infinitely more enjoyable than an easy 10-1 win. That’s precisely what put Winning Eleven on top of the heap all those years ago, and what FIFA is finally nailing with FIFA 08.
As with the other EA Sports games out there, FIFA features a trick system mapped to the right analog stick called Pro Skills. With Pro Skills, the stick can be flicked to and fro to initiate one-overs, stutter steps, and jukes to help route the ball around the competitors. The system works quite well in the standard camera angles, but really shines in the over-the-shoulder angle where the motions are mapped closer to the onscreen action.
The Be A Pro® mode forces the gamer to select a single player with which to lock on through the game. Depending on this specific player’s position, the gamer will have to maintain his player’s responsibilities throughout the course of the game – the success of which is measured on a red-green meter on the bottom of the screen. Every aspect of the player’s position is under scrutiny; from passing to shooting, from defending to tackling, even something as simple a maintaining the proper position on the field is rated. And while it is easy to run the meter to a solid green by tricking and scoring as a star forward, playing as a defenseman is a true exercise in restraint.
Sadly, at the time of this writing the Be A Pro® mode is being held to single-game only. However, EA has already promised a free downloadable package that will open Be A Pro® up to online leagues – something that could prove very interesting.
FIFA also includes their popular Manager Mode, which successfully blends the standard sports-title dynasty modes with the simulation aspects of Europe’s wildly popular Championship Manager titles.
FIFA 08 features more teams than ever before – boasting in excess of 500 licensed teams worldwide, comprising 30-plus international leagues, and over 15,000 players. Those are some big numbers, people.
As for any negative issues, I had a heck of time finding a comfortable setting for the defensive auto-player selection. No matter what setting I chose – even the ‘off’ position – the game just seemed overly aggressive in its player control hopping to follow the ball movement. It didn’t help that the manual cycling was re-mapped to the L1 position making manual changes a bit awkward, and even the addition of right analog stick player selection did not help a bit.
Still, this is only a minor quibble in an otherwise awesome game, and definitely the best FIFA to ever hit the consoles.
FIFA games can be a bit difficult to judge on the visual level for a number of reasons. Not the least of which being the sheer size and scope of the playfield and the resulting camera distance needed to capture the action – which together make it easy for developers to omit many of the details we come to expect from the other sports titles (clothing textures, sweat, grass, etc.).
In fact, of all the sports series we have in the gaming world, the soccer genre (FIFA in particular) has seen only relatively minor improvements as compared to the NFL and MLB titles. But that is really because FIFA titles have had a knack for good looks and fluid animations for nearly a decade, now – so they haven’t had to make all that many changes to be on top of the visual department.
That being said, FIFA looks better than ever on the PS3. The color palette, ambient lighting and shadowing, player animations, and texturing all look great – especially in HD. The player models are all quite recognizable (although some models seem to be repeated a bit on the lesser-known players), and there is not a bit of difference in play action from any of the dynamic camera angles, and as mentioned, I have yet to experience the possession-change stutters that some of the previous iterations have exhibited.
And as frosting on the cake, FIFA receives the “See…It Can Be Done” award from GCM by being the first EA Sports title on the PS3 to not be plagued with the massive slowdown, clipping, and/or visual artifacts that is currently crippling everything EA Sports has released on the PS3. FIFA 08 is the first EA Sports title to look and play nearly identical to its Xbox 360 counterpart, and to maintain a constant framerate throughout.
FIFA games always do a wonderful job capturing the excitement of the big European soccer arenas – and FIFA 08 is spot-on. The crowd noise is just plain awesome as it floats from deafening white noise to controlled chanting, it just sounds incredible. The fact that the game sometimes decides to include this crowd noise during empty-stand games and practices is another story, but we won’t let ourselves get too hung up on details, right?
You gotta love the sound of the ball being punted across the field, or the groans as a player takes a cannonball to the gut, or the sound of a shot on goal slamming against the goalposts, and EA once again manages to pull it off perfectly without letting the crowd drown things out.
The announcing is superb as always with top-notch English play-by-play by series vets Martin Tyler and Andy Gray – who still have the knack for dropping insightful and entertaining tidbits of information without lagging too far behind the onscreen gameplay.
Like any sports title, FIFA 08’s value is going to be in the eye of the beholder, as the solid gameplay is limited only by the attention span of the gamer. There are quick play, leagues, seasons, tournaments, online tournaments, and more – and then when you throw in the offline and online Be the Pro® and Club Manager modes, plus hundreds of teams from leagues all around the world, and FIFA begins looking like a nice meaty package for soccer fans. And capping it off with the knowledge that FIFA 08 is EA Sports’ first title to not chug, glitch, and skip on the PS3, well that equates to something a little extra in my book.
But for those pigskin players who might not find enjoyment in “Lawyer Ball”, FIFA 08 – with its newfound dependence on special moves and jukes – are never going to find merit in EA Sport’s premiere soccer title.
I hate to look like I am fawning over a game – much less a sports game – but FIFA 08 is by far the best release in this long-running series, and one of the best sports titles on the PS3 thus far.