Here we are again, at the end of the year, with EA’s seemingly endless wave of new sports titles. Save for the US (where Madden NFL is king), FIFA is by far the best selling title in the annual line-up. Despite three earlier next-gen attempts (06, 2006 World Cup and 07), EA hasn’t gotten FIFA right yet. Have they finally succeeded in bringing forth a game that’s better than the current-gen versions in every way?
Let’s start with the good news. For the first time in the next-generation era, EA has implemented the full range of leagues, clubs and players that have been in the PS2 versions for ages now. I won’t dazzle you with numbers, just know that it’s a lot. The only quirk is the Dutch national team
, which still uses imaginary names, which is very surprising, seeing how the actual players (Robben, Van Nistelrooy, Van der Vaart…) are in the game with their respective clubs (Real Madrid and Hamburg SV). But at least you can edit the names manually to set it straight. And for what it’s worth: the official license is still much wider than the one in Pro Evolution Soccer 2008.
The new physics engine from FIFA 07 has been further refined in 08, a bit too much even. The physically realistic behaviour of both the ball and the players can lead to some nasty quirks, like defenders kicking the ball against each other way too often.
FIFA 08 doesn’t feature such a huge overhaul in control as in last year’s edition and instead builds on those foundations. The pace in this year FIFA, however, is even lower than last year, which leaves more room for ingenious tactics and cleverly timed dribbles. However, the difficulty level in this year’s edition has been significantly ramped up and is arguably the highest ever to grace a FIFA game.
This is both a blessing and a curse. While the standard setting (professional) encourages you to discard your trusted sprint-past-defender tactics and try out the new trick system (L2 + right stick), it also makes this the least accessible FIFA game to date,
to the extent that the new simulation-style approach is very comparable to Pro Evo, for better or for worse. FIFA’s charm has always been that it was much easier to get into than PES and that’s exactly what EA decided to something about. Still, the added challenge and realism gives you all the more satisfaction when you finally beat the noticeably overpowered goalkeepers.
As always, FIFA is by far the best looking football game out there. Last year’s animation system has been further improved, with even more fluent moves as a result. Most known players look a lot like their real counterparts (Raúl, Puyol, Drogba, Ronaldinho, Kakà to name but a few) and they even have some signature moves.
The football stadions are always filled to the brim with enthusiastic supporters, which gives the game an even bigger wow-factor, especially at night. Unlike most of EA’s other sports games (Madden NFL 08, NHL 08,…), FIFA 08 has the same high framerate on both PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, which is a testament to developer’s talent and devotion. Commentators Martin Tyler and Andy Gray once again do a good job and the licensed soundtrack is very enjoyable. Not the best OST in the series, but a good one nonetheless.
New to FIFA 08 is the ‘be a pro’ mode, the first step towards EA’s big 11 vs 11 dream. In be a pro, you control just one player and you try to fulfill your role as good as you can, be it as a defender that has to keep strikers at bay or the other way around. Furthermore, the whole array of modes is back, such as the ‘tournament’ and ‘manager’ modes or the quick and easy ‘kick-off’.
And let’s not forget FIFA’s biggest selling point: its multiplayer. It’s still the ultimate game -bar none- to play on the couch with several of your friends. The lagless online mode offers both ranked and unranked matches, tournaments, leagues (with up to 32 players this time) and what have you. Once again, the ‘interactive leagues’ are a very interesting online feature, thanks to its link with the actual football fixtures.
FIFA 08 is certainly an improvement over last year’s next-gen FIFAs. Despite being the first football game on PlayStation 3, FIFA 08 manages to do most things right. However, some changes are clearly a double-edged sword. The increased realism and difficulty makes it a very worthy alternative to PES (especially with EA’s truckload of official licenses), but it also makes this a tough nut to crack for beginners. And that’s something I never thought I’d say about a FIFA game.