STAFF REVIEW of FIFA 07 Soccer (Xbox)

Saturday, October 28, 2006.
by Adam Rivard

FIFA 07 Soccer Box art The FIFA Football games have been with us from what seems like the start of time (1994 to be exact) and most of these games have been highly successful and worthy of any football fan's time. The first and arguably only real rival for the FIFA series is Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer which has gone from strength to strength in recent years.
It's no secret that EA have a reputation for only making minor modifications to sequels and FIFA has received much criticism in the past for that very reason. This time around; let?s just say Pro Evo's gotten a bit cocky, and FIFA 07 is ready to ruffle a few of its feathers.

As always, pinpointing why a football game feels right isn't easy, but in FIFA 07's case it's a combination of ball physics and player AI. It's by no means a complete overhaul from 06, but in 07 you'll notice that the ball moves more realistically, with everything from passes to saves by the goalies looking right, and team-mates will actually make smart runs off the ball - something that can't be praised highly enough. When playing as a team with good chemistry, team-mates will make overlapping runs down the wing, and your strikers will make darting runs through the centre of defense. FIFA has always been a fun game to play, but this year it feels serious at the same time.

The rather excellent first-touch system returns, once again highlighting the leaps FIFA has made when compared to PES. If you're new to FIFA the right analogue stick on your controller is basically what differentiates the game from other football titles, especially this year where the basic controls and feel of the game are remarkably similar to PES. Upon receiving the ball you simply push the right analogue stick in the direction you want to take the ball - it's that simple. It works brilliantly, and allows you to move the ball with a fluidity that is lacking in other games, fooling defenders or taking the ball from the air and delivering a blistering half volley shot.

Tricks and skills are also handled with the right stick, but rather than simply being gimmicky moves, they actually add to the gameplay. At times it's hard to believe this is the same series that regularly received a good kicking from the video game press, never matching the greatness of PES. Shooting, an area which has been open to abuse in the past, has been refined too, with timing and player skill far more important than in previous games. Apart from goalies exhibiting a weakness against free-kicks (I'm not just talking about Cristiano Ronaldo's fluky blasts), it's another area where it feels just right.

Game modes certainly aren't lacking, either. You get the usual bunch, along with the FIFA Lounge, which lets you and a few mates play together; an addictive Management mode complete with a number of sim-like options, such as transfers and the ability to watch or play as your team; team creation, multiple official tournaments, such as the Premier League and FA Cup; and online play including online leagues. The online leagues are brand new to FIFA 07, and have been heavily promoted by EA, but aren't really as innovative as they seem.

Online play is by far the biggest draw for players looking to get the most out of the game, but EA has crammed in a number of tricky and not so tricky challenges, which when completed earn you points. These can be spent in the fan shop, giving you access to bonus kits, new balls and a small selection of game 'enhancements', such as an overhead camera view and a selection of silly noises.

Sound thankfully has seen some major advances since last years FIFA game. Clive Tydsley is this season's commentators. The commentary is overall a lot more convincing and can often be mistaken for commentary off the TV. Each team appears to have there own chant which is a nice touch but that same chant happening for the duration of matches tends to get a little frustrating after a while. In the menus the ever trusty EA trax return with songs from various artists around the world. Some menus even have famous commentary from real life footballing events. FIFA games have always been good at capturing the essence of 'the beautiful game' usually not through first class gameplay but mainly through presentation? but this year EA has a good balance of both.

So, time for the big question. Is FIFA 07 the new king of football? To put it bluntly, no - but its !&%$@#* close. It's something I've thought long and hard about, but when the question is asked, PES still reigns supreme. FIFA 07 most definitely beats PES in a few areas, most notably in presentation and the brilliant first-touch control, but it's still not PES. While PES ambles along though, FIFA is making huge strides, so while in the end this might not be "the season," Pro Evolution Soccer's fall from the top might not be too far away. Still, FIFA 07 is a great game in its own right, and the best alternative players have had to PES in years.

Overall: 8.0 / 10
Gameplay: 8.4 / 10
Visuals: 8.2 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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