FIFA Soccer 08ESRB:
Platform: Xbox 360
Developer – EA Canada
Publisher - EA
Up to 10 Players Online
Dolby Digitial 5.1
While my first love of any videogame sport is hockey, soccer titles are a close second. I fondly remember the brilliant 3DO version of FIFA, where fellow reviewer Kirby Y and I went gaga over the cool bouncing ball intro. Fast-forward roughly a decade or so and EA is still publishing the FIFA series. The last few versions have made me somewhat concerned as the inconsistent control issues and online play have been issues for me. So as I started to review FIFA Soccer 08 for the 360 I wondered if my concerns had been addressed. Well, read on to find out.
The graphics in FIFA 08 are extremely well done. The stadiums look great as the fans adorn them with ticker tape and signage. Each stadium looked very different and it is my assumption that they are all modelled after their real life counter parts. The reason I assume so is that I have never been to any of the stadiums in the game, but knowing how EA has taken steps to maintain the FIFA licence it is a pretty safe assumption that they would not risk generic looking stadiums. The pitches also look very good as the majority of them are lush and green. On the flip side some also look a little parched and dusty which I think is EA’s way to show each region of play. All the players look good too as they seem to mirror their real life counter parts. This is very evident with the big name stars like Beckham or Ronaldinho to name a few. Each player also animates quite well to, and I bet that developer EA Canada really utilized their mo-cap facility at their studios in Burnaby, BC to get the lifelike movements. As I played I found that the game has lost any of the stuttering and framerate issues that I remember from games of past. I found no drop in framerates even when online. Overall, the setting and presentation are what set this title apart from previous versions and the competition that exists out there. Overall I commend EA for really making the effort to continue their visual polish in this long running series.
Sound in a sports game of is very important and really helps to bring one into the game. I find the better a game sounds the better the overall experience is. By accurately creating an ambiance it takes the individual playing the game a point where it is almost like being there. EA has really done a fantastic job of the sounds and voice work in FIFA 08.
The games music, usually heard in the menu screens, and can be pretty diverse. If you are playing in a certain part of the country, I found the game would try to play music that would reflect that part of the world’s ethnic soundtrack. The music is never boring although you could turn it off in the menu if you were so inclined to do so.
FIFA 08 easily boasts some of the best play-by-play available in sports gaming today. Martin Tyler and Andy Gray do a superb job of painting an accurate picture of the ebb and flow of a match. The duo get emotional at just the right times raising and lowering their voices with the flow of play on the pitch. They also seem to have a pretty good vocabulary, not repeating too often and having some great stories mixed throughout. I did find they lagged a bit behind a few times, but what sport games play by play doesn’t?
Where this game really excels is in the crowd atmosphere. I really love the chanting and singing and how the crowd’s enthusiasm builds as the home team begins its attack on an opponent. The realism is fantastic! While I couldn’t hear the players per se, I could definitely pick up the ref’s whistle, or the sound of leather clad feet on the ball. If you are playing this game through a Dolby Digital set up then all these sounds are even better. The use of surround sound is great and all the speakers become active during play. Overall I would have to give props to EA Canada for adding such great sound and atmosphere to this game.
For me player control is most important when talking about a soccer videogame. For a few years now EA has a lock on licensing for FIFA which is good for them but not so good for the gamers out there. The lack of competition in the market has hurt some of the gameplay and control of some of the past titles as they seemed to be comfortable releasing their yearly update to each series. I found that in pervious versions of FIFA ball control was always very difficult to master. It was so frustrating to see the AI have such perfect control I would struggle to pull off even half of what they did. FIFA Soccer 08 continues to have some frustrating control problems but they have addressed some of the issues in this area and have managed to make it less troublesome then games of past.
Passing or shooting the ball in pervious titles has always been difficult. They all seemed to have a very stiff and unforgiving system. EA has tried to correct this by adding a new control scheme similar to the stick control system that is utilized in the NHL series. While hockey has had a couple of years to tweak the scheme this is the first time it has been in any soccer game by EA. This new Stick Control allows the gamer to improve the path of the ball or player by guiding the pass with the analog stick. The stick is tough to get a handle on but perseverance does yield good results. I found that the control factor took about an hour or so until I began to feel comfortable with it. I’m not sure if EA consciously made star players flow with better control than some of the second tier stars or lower, but it seemed like it. After playing the game for awhile I thought that stars like Ronaldinho or Cristiano Ronaldo had more control over the ball, making some spectacular plays and passes that regular players couldn’t or wouldn’t even attempt. I suppose this would make sense though as these guys do possess way more talent then the average player.
The pressure sensitive buttons in FIFA 08 can also be a bit tough to get used to, especially for a new or casual gamer. I was constantly hammering the ball over the net shot after shot but after awhile this started to decrease. The best advice I can give here is that make sure you don’t press too hard and be patient as you learn the nuances of shooting. Veterans of the series shouldn’t find anything to complain about as improved control really helps to control the pace and direction of the shot. Free kicks are also easier to control than in previous versions as the ability to add top, side, or backspin makes for a lot of fun. Once you gain control over your shooting you will find that you can scoring a lot of goals from around the outer perimeter. That being said, as I played the game I found that for some strange reason there were a lot of near misses within the six-yard box. Crossing the ball in from the outer flank and trying to finish with headers and volleys is an effective strategy, but I nearly threw my controller with amount balls that just missed. Overall the control scheme for FIFA 08 stil has a bit of room for some fine-tuning but at least EA is making the effort to no only improve the series control, but innovate it as well.
There is a ton of stuff and features in this latest FIFA game and if I was to get into any detail this review would most likely be much longer then I would want it to. So in a nut shell, and for you viewing pleasure, the features found in 08 are as follows:
-Clinical Finishing: A true next-generation ball-striking engine calculates shot success by combining an almost infinite number of different contexts, including ball spin, pressure from defenders, player attributes, and even air pressure to recreate the drama and unpredictable nature of shooting.
-Intelligent Soccer: 08 now features an AI with a 35-point decision engine which enables players to process 1,000 potential options and reactions every second in real time -- more than 60,000 options every minute -- via a dynamic 'Threat Map' system to capture the excitement and realism of soccer.
-Be a Pro: Offline Training - Play the entire game as a fixed player while getting real time feedback and analysis on the fly. A unique camera angle keeps both player and action in focus, zooming in when you're on attack.
-Pro Skills: A new, organic building-block system enables you to combine tricks and skill moves together to recreate signature moves from the real-world superstars or define your own style of play. Animations can be interrupted at any time to transition into a new move, just like real life.
-Manual Controls: As discussed earlier in the review, the new control system allows you to dictate the play with new manual controls for through passing and crossing. You will use the right-stick to quickly switch defenders and choose exactly who you want defending.
-Online Leagues: Create and organize your own multiplayer Friends Leagues and tournaments with all the tools in game.
-EA SPORTS Interactive Leagues: Represent your club online against your rivals throughout the season in the F.A. Premier League, Bundesliga, French League or Mexican 1st Division.
-Video Upload: Capture your best goals and highlights in-game and bring them online for the world to see. Upload your highlights to the FIFA 08 website to create the ultimate highlight reel.
-Real World Soccer News: Receive up-to-the-minute soccer news and pod casts from media outlets.
-Complete Authenticity: Dramatically more authentic and exhilarating with 620 licensed teams, 30 official leagues, and more than 15,000 players.
-Tournament Mode: Play 60 tournaments, including 35 officially licensed ones, or create one of your own.
Online is my favourite way of playing any sports title as I am happy playing anyone at anytime. I love the real person-to-person chess match strategies in sports games can create, and soccer is one such game. As mentioned in the list of features above, FIFA 08 has interactive leagues where players can jump online as their favourite club and fight it out through a full season with up to 32 players vying for top billing. Players can search for other leagues or create a new one, and they can team up with five friends in a single match through the Be-a-Pro mode. A central data-tracking system provides tons of league and team details, while fans can keep abreast of real-world clubs using the ESPN soccer net functionality, including TV-like updates and real-time ticker read-outs at the bottom of the screen. I’ve always been an Xbox live user and love how it’s evolved over the past five years. Unfortunately, I have always had some sort of EA server problems when playing any of their titles online, be it Burnout, Hockey or even Madden. Lag and connectivity issues have been major issues for EA titles online. However my time with FIFA online was pretty good. After connecting the menus are somewhat easy to navigate and I found most games that I played were without any debilitating lag. In fact I connected every time and didn’t get bumped out. Obviously EA has done some work with the online component of their games which makes for a better online experience.
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