Reviewed: October 26, 2006
Released: October 3, 2006
Are you feeling a huge void in your life now that the World Cup is over? Has Major League Soccer left you crying for a high quality game? Can’t manage to get up early enough to see English Premier League games on satellite? Then EA might just have the fix for your addiction with FIFA 07 for Xbox.
Over the years, the FIFA series has been slammed by the hard-core soccer fans who were craving a more realistic experience. Year after year I would hear people screaming about stupid player A.I., goals consistently being scored from mid-field, and other annoying glitches. Konami and other publishers have brought innovative and realistic games to market which put pressure on EA, and they wisely responded by listening to their customers.
As their “THIS IS THE SEASON” tagline suggests, this year’s edition of FIFA offers something for everyone. The arcade gameplay has been spun off to FIFA Street, but everything else is here. FIFA 07 offers greatly improved A.I., innovative online gameplay, an enhanced manager mode, and tons of little tweaks to make this the best FIFA game I’ve ever played.
I played soccer for over 20 years and EA Soccer in its various forms for almost as long. I’ve strayed occasionally, most recently to Konami’s Winning Eleven 9, but I’ve always been lured back by EA’s tempting candy of “more licensed teams” and “improved gameplay”. This year was no exception. The first step is admitting I’m addicted.
As soon as I booted up this years FIFA, I immediately noticed the rosters are as of 8/27/2006. This meant several major EPL players were with the wrong side. But EA is giving us updated rosters via Xbox Live! So Ashley Cole is correctly playing with Chelsea instead of Arsenal.
Upon first boot, you are asked for your favorite team – which will be the default team when you just want a quick game. The first item on the opening screen is “Kick-Off” which puts you into an instant match with your default team and their biggest rival. So if you pick the USA national team, Mexico will be the opponent.
The game settings are numerous, allowing you to pick everything from the location and look of the scoreboard to how you view the condition/status of each player. There are 4 different control schemes available which cater to the classic FIFA gamer and converts from Winning Eleven. Eight camera angles are available which have custom height and zoom settings.
Cameras include: Action, End-to-End, Sideline, Broadcast, Dynamic, Widescreen, Tele, and Overhead (which must be unlocked with challenge points). While most of the views provide enough vision of the pitch to play well, I found myself using the overhead view most often. It reminded me of Bethesda’s old Wayne Greztky Hockey PC game. It was much easier for me to see open players and get around opponents in the overhead view – especially while playing online.
There have been some marked improvements in player A.I. Players will collide and push each other around while trying to win balls. I tried playing at Amateur level and it’s probably best left to introduce kids to soccer. Several times I pursued an opposing player just to watch him waltz the ball straight out of bounds or into his own goal! Moving the skill level up changed things dramatically. There are 5 skill levels including a top level of “Legendary” which must be unlocked by completing many challenges. You will probably need to spend some significant time in practice mode to win at the higher levels.
Players act intelligently – making runs and shielding, and there are strategies and plays which the players execute when ordered. Players even wave to get your attention when they are open. Thankfully the goalies have improved and seem to have personalities of their own – Casey Keller has a significantly different playing style than Oliver Kahn. Even the ball physics have been improved. This is one of many areas where EA’s team has caught up and perhaps passed Konami’s Winning Eleven.
Once again I am impressed with the number of teams included in the game: 27 leagues, over 500 teams including two unlockable World all-star teams. Leagues include: Austrian Bundesliga, Belgian League, Brazillian League, Danish Superligean, Dutch Eredivisie, F.A. Premier League, Football League Champ, Football League 1 & 2, French Ligue 1 & 2 Orange, German Bundesliga 1 & 2, Italian Serie A & B, K-League, Mexican 1st Division, MLS, Norwegian Tippeligaen, Polish Ekstraklasa, Portuguese Liga BWIN, Scottish Premier, Spanish Primera & Segunda, Swedish Allsvenskan, Swiss Axpo Super League, Turkish Super League, and various teams in the Rest of the World.
There are also 41 International teams. Nobody else comes close. Unfortunately when you look at the actual teams included, there are some stunning omissions. Most notably 11 of the 32 teams that were just in the World Cup! EA did not include Costa Rica, Trinidad & Tobago, Ivory Coast, Netherlands, Iran, Angola, Ghana, Czech Republic, Japan, Togo, or Saudi Arabia. Let’s say you wanted to second guess (former) USA coach Bruce Arena and add Taylor Twellman to the squad… just to see how the USA would do in the World Cup. Well, you can’t. Ghana and Czech Republic were in USA’s group of death but not in FIFA 07. It’s the biggest sporting event in the world. Ghana and Netherlands qualified for the round of 16! Apparently if it’s in the game, it’s not necessarily in this game.
While we’re on the topic, the Women’s World Cup is in 2007 yet there is no representation in FIFA 07. EA has the FIFA license. Would it really be that difficult to include women? The women’s game has a huge following and even has growing support in England. Perhaps it’s time to give them their due. ‘nuff said.
If your system is plugged into the Internet, “Interactive Leagues” is a new online feature which shows promise. This online mode allows you to play your club against supporters of their real-world opponents. So if you support Reading, and they play Spurs this week, that’s what you play online. Your results are reflected in the standings table. You can do this for the English Premier League, Bundesliga, French League, or Mexican 1st Division. This is a great idea, which just needs a little work.
You have to play your match the week of the real-world match. Unfortunately it’s not that easy to find a match in this mode. I rarely found more than 100 players online and the majority of them are playing Chelsea or Man U. EA does provide a “peak hours” timetable, which helps, but it’s still hit-or-miss if you get a game. There continues to be ranked and unranked online games with the teams of your choice. Talking smack with a Brit is always fun. As with other EA Sports games, you can opt to have an email sent to your computer or SMS enabled phone when a game is completed – again, a great idea, but unfortunately the email just confirms that you did play a game, it doesn’t give you stats.
The addition of Online Anywhere adds the great feature of ESPN real time soccer scores and news from ESPNSoccernet via scrolling ticker at the bottom of the screen. You can choose between real scores or in manager mode you can get the results of your own league. However it doesn’t get other sports, just soccer. You can also automatically download a weekly soccer podcast – which at the time of review was a somewhat informative interview with the developers. There is great potential with this feature. It would have been nice to have a real podcast such as World Soccer Daily, but that would require a change in the ESRB rating!
One of the features that keeps me coming back month after month is the FIFA Challenges (similar to Madden Football). This year brings some new challenges as well as new unlockables. Challenges range from scoring a hat trick to various scenarios such as winning a game after being down 0-2 in the 80th minute.
The USA challenges are a bit of a joke – for some reason EA included the US Open Cup - which is basically a dream tournament for all USA teams. A small USL club could theoretically take on a Major League Soccer team for the championship – as happened a few years ago when Rochester won. But there are no USL teams in the game, just MLS – so it’s basically an MLS tournament unless you make your own team.
When you complete the challenges you get points to spend on unlockable features, which range from a useful “overhead view” to entertaining “silly sounds”. Items also include Adidas balls, special kits (uniforms) for various teams, EPL and German league highlight reels, stadium and celebration packs, and historic World All-Star teams.
I’m usually not much for in-depth manager modes and all the little details like scouting and staffing – at least not in other sports. But the manager mode in FIFA 07 is just flat out fun. It’s all up to you to decide how involved you want to get. You can be a hero by managing a small team to big league promotion, or start out with the best team money can buy. Both have their own set of problems and rewards.
You can even create your own club, right down to the logo. After you pick your team, you compare sponsors and sign with the one you think will best fit your financial and team goals. The fans, press, and team governing board give you constant feedback – and there are consequences to your choices. Make a few bad moves and your fans don’t attending games, or your players don’t give you 100% on the field, both of which impact your job security.
You can choose to send out scouts to look for players or shop the transfer market to buy some young talent to develop. You can also draw from your youth academy. You might just need a player on loan to cover for an injured player. Players are called away to national team duty and may or may not come back healthy. Player morale goes down if they don’t get enough playing time.
Upgrading the various staff positions will improve various player attributes and you can even renovate your stadium to hold more fans – thereby increasing revenue. Every game you can choose if you want to actually play the game, watch a visual simulation (you control subs and can intervene by switching to play mode if your team isn’t performing), or you can do a quick sim which will give you instant final stats. If you don’t meet the expectations of the board, you’ll be sacked. You could spend weeks in this part of the game and still be discovering new things.
Custom teams and players are another thing that keep the game fun. Players are customizable right down to the color of the tape over their earrings. Once saved, you can import them into a created team or simply copy one of the included 1,073 players into your roster. The only shortcoming here is you can only create 2 custom teams – so it’s impossible to create the old NASL or other leagues. Still, you could spend hours tinkering with the custom settings.
This is another area where EA tends to play leapfrog with the competition. This year they have improved slightly over FIFA 06. While not a huge improvement, they did tune things up enough to take a good game to near excellence. The 720p graphics are some of the best I’ve seen on this platform.
I usually find the fans and other stadium details to be somewhat distracting – it’s kind of cool the first few times I see it, but usually the fans look like flat paper cutouts and anything more might kill the framerate. EA opted to make the fans more generic – so you won’t find sections of fans in red or blue and there’s no colored flares, streamers or other eye candy. Some people might find that to be a bad thing, but to be honest I prefer they focus on gameplay. The game does include over 40 stadiums – some of which must be unlocked via challenge points. Even the perpetually under construction Wembley Stadium is included in all its future glory.
Player models have once again improved – the zombie look is a distant memory! They’ve even improved the hair textures and skin tones. The overall movement and atmosphere of the game has come a long way, and they have again jumped past WE9.
This is where FIFA 07 really shines. I continue to be stunned by the level of immersion EA is able to accomplish with “the little things”. Back again this year are announcers Clive Tydsley and Andy Gray who do an admirable job (though at times they seem overly concerned with which foot was used to score). The crowd is where this year’s biggest sound improvement appears – they react realistically to your performance.
You hear authentic chants unique to each team, and if you waste time passing the ball around in back you get the obligatory crowd whistle. If you score a goal at an away game, the crowd is often stunned into silence. Small stadiums sound completely different acoustically than large stadiums – especially in Dolby Digital surround sound. All these little details really bring FIFA 07 to new heights.
This is by far the most in-depth soccer game I’ve played. If you just want a quick game, you’ve got it. If you want to get into the business end, you’ve got it. The management mode alone offers tons of different avenues to pursue with your club success or failure riding on your financial and player signing decisions. If you get bored, go online and try to push your club team to the top of the table. The possibilities never end. I’ll be playing this for a long time… at least until FIFA 08 arrives.
Despite a few annoying omissions, the overall gameplay is as good as it gets on Xbox. The wealth of settings and ability to play a quick match or dive into the deep end of team management is a complete thrill and well worth the price. Everything has been tweaked to push this just ahead of the competition.
If you’re still hanging on to your Xbox this may be the last year for this series. But you’re being rewarded with the best EA soccer game ever, and it even surpasses Winning Eleven 9 in most areas. I can’t wait to see everything turned up another notch on the next-gen systems.