Oh jolly, a new FIFA. Every year EA promises us the world with their latest installment in their insanely popular football franchise. And (almost) every year, we end up feeling disappointed because it can’t hold a candle against Pro Evolution Soccer. Will FIFA 07 finally be different or can we finish our review like we do every year: by telling you to buy PES instead?
Their next-gen history doesn’t bode well. In 2005, EA even made the bold statement that they had a true next-gen game lined up. However, FIFA 06: Road to the World Cup turned out to be the lousiest attempt yet, with utterly broken controls, braindead AI, pathetic graphics and plenty of bugs to top it all off. But the worst thing was it cost 20$/15€ more than the current-gen game, while only having about one tenth the ammount of content. Their second attempt, FIFA World Cup Germany 2006 fixed the most obvious flaws and thus fared a bit better, but calling the little mongrel ‘good’ would have been several bridges too far.
So, FIFA 07 then (do you still remember the days we played good old FIFA ’99?). I can start off like I do every year: yes, FIFA 07 looks better than all other football games around. This is actually the first football game that really seems to be benefiting from next-gen hardware (PES 6 doesn’t look all that good, in my opinion). All of the star players (I’m thinking of guys like Henry, Ronaldinho, Terry, Lampard, Raul, Robben, Rooney or Ballack) are instantly recognizable. The arenas are also lifelike and filled with atmosphere (well, the ones that have made it in the game at least, but more on that in a second). Too bad the audience is still made out of cartboard, but I guess rendering 75.000 jumping 3D models would really kill the framerate. Still, thàt would have really been ‘next-gen’. You hear me, EA?
The professional commentators Martin Tyler and Andy Gray are also back, with more lines than ever before. Their remarks are spot-on most of the time, but they’re not infallible. After five matches or so, you’ll already start to hear some quotes again. It’s also cool that the supporters react to what’s happening on the pitch. If their team is really delivering an abysmal performance, they’ll start yelling and whistling to vent their dismay. However, if their boys are doing fine, they’ll start singing. The audience also responds to the referee’s decisions, which makes the game all the more realistic. The soundtrack has some great artists in it (Muse, Infadels, Keane, Paul Oakenfold), but also contains quite some crap (the German song from Fertig, Los! comes to mind).
FIFA 07 uses an all-new engine, which has a tremendous impact on gameplay. Finally the ball has independent physics, which means it doesn’t feel like it’s glued to a player’s feet anymore. Merely passing the ball around by pressing the corresponding button isn’t the easy road to success anymore. You have to steer your passes and bring a lot more variety in passing depth for success. The AI (on both sides) is a lot more effective in ball recuperation and interception than in the previous games. The pace has also gone up. The notoriously slow FIFAs like 2005 and 06 are now a distant memory. With the new “smooth” flow of the game, FIFA is finally in the same ballpark as PES 6.
Another great improvement are the natural animations. Players move better then ever and respond very accurately to your analog sticks. Successive animations blend in perfectly, unlike the previous games, where a player had to finish his animation first, before commencing a new one, which made you lose precious posession. But the new system also has some nasty quirks. Though the defenders do their job more autonomously (they steal quite a few balls, even if you don’t do anything), it can lead to weird situations. It’s not rare to see a player steal the ball, only to lose it half a second later. Another frequently returning flaw: two team members colliding with each other (or one kicking the ball against the other’s back), which results in a lost ball. If this happens right outside your back area, you’ll feel like strangling the two, trust me.
The keepers are also a lot better. They have amazing reflexes (especially top keepers like Casillas, Buffon or Cech) and keep out a lot of balls. Sometimes, they’re even inhumanly good. But… they can be beaten just as easily. By adding spin to your ball (RB), you’ll hit the net a lot more easily (often too easily, even). If EA could balance this issue in FIFA 08, it would be great. A cool new feature is the noticeable difference in shooting accuracy between a player’s right foot or left foot. Even the great Ronaldinho will have a hard time scoring with his left foot.
Unfortunately, this FIFA lacks one big thing: content. It only contains the absolute best teams and leagues (French, English, English, Spanish, Italian, international and -for god’s sake- Mexican). So, that means no Belgian, Scottish Austrian, Dutch, American, Korean, Japanese,… club teams, which is a pity, considering the current-gen games do have them.
Some of you might disasgree, but a game that costs significantly more than a current-gen title should at least contain Champions League teams like Celtic Glasgow, Glasgow Rangers, PSV Eindhoven, Ajax or RSC Anderlecht. Also, divisions like the Serie B, or First Division or Ligue 2 are missing. The game still has a fun manager mode (though obviously it lacks a lot of features that are present in games like Football Manager 2007 or even FIFA Manager 07).
Something that did survive the transition is the online multiplayer. You can play with up to eight players over Xbox Live (4 vs. 4) or use the very decent FIFA Lounge. FIFA Lounge lets you play against your friends and keep a scoreboard, which is fun (and it earns you bragging rights if you’re good). The gameplay is fully lagfree, as we’ve come to expect from the wonderful Xbox Live. The interactive leagues are also still in there, which is a great thing if you’re a fan from teams in England, France, Germany or Mexico.
FIFA 07 for Xbox 360 had the potential to make PES 6′s life a living hell. After all, PES 6 isn’t the same superb game it was last year. And FIFA 07′s gameplay is better than ever, with independent ball physics and great animations. Where did it go wrong then? Well, in the neutured ammount of content. With only 110 teams and 6 playable leagues, the X360 version of FIFA 07 pales in comparison to the 510 teams and 27 leagues from the Xbox and PS2 games, and that for a higher price! Still, if you’re not interested in extra teams, you will find that FIFA 07 is a very worthy alternative to PES 6 gameplay-wise.