Competition is good, but it hasn't been kind to Electronic Arts' squillion-selling franchise. FIFA Soccer's fall from grace as the number one soccer title in the 16-bit generation has been well documented. Sure, it has always sold well, usually remaining in the top 5 games well after its release on a yearly basis, but it's no secret that for the football purist, Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer series has been the "go-to" game for the most satisfying soccer fix for some time now, despite FIFA's hard grip on official league licenses (bought for a seven figure sum last year).
Despite this, last season's effort was certainly a step in the right direction. Vastly improved gameplay meant that FIFA 06, whilst still being no Pro Evo beater, was a good game that stood up on its own. The official licensing was merely the icing on the cake.
It's easy to approach a review of any FIFA game with a very cynical attitude. After all, it has been the scapegoat for most of "hardcore" gamer's wrath for a long time. In Europe, FIFA's name is almost synonymous with "re-hash", "cash-in" and the like, with most who call it that not even playing the game before judging it. Personally, I've always disliked that close-minded fan boy attitude, so with that, I take my cynical nature and put it away. I'm certainly not here to defend a bad game, but it"s a series that deserves an unbiased, fair review.
Sure, David Beckham's facial hair may be sculpted perfectly, but if I can't time a header in a crowded penalty area then I could do without it.
Unsurprisingly, the match presentation is still untouched by any others. A slight squint and you are watching Match of the Day. The players are meticulously detailed, from haircuts down to trivial things like Christiano Ronaldo's earrings. A large selection of stadiums from around the world are also recreated faithfully. Stuffing Chelsea two-nil with the mighty Newcastle United on their home turf of Stamford Bridge just makes victory that little bit sweeter. The authenticity that EA paid a great deal of money for justifies its cost – this looks like soccer. It sounds like soccer too, with the best commentary found in any soccer title to date and fantastic crowd sounds that react to the on pitch action.
Saying that, you'd expect it to for the price they paid, right?
Which is why I can't understand the flaws I found within the first hour of play: players' hair glitching through their faces during goal celebrations, the touchlines disappearing during the corner sequences and the slowdown – lots and lots of slowdown. Sure, David Beckham's facial hair may be sculpted perfectly, but if I can't time a header in a crowded penalty area then I could do without it.
As I said above, the commentary is the best in any soccer game – it still features loads of random calls and a few often repeated phrases that will have you removing it after a few games. Whilst on the subject of removing sound, FIFA is jam-packed with the now standard EA Trax – 20 odd "hits" ranging from "soccer-sounding" dance, Brazilian samba to tedious indie twaddle, all horrid soccer clichés. I'll give them a point for including Polysics though. The control you have over the players is, unbelievably, still digital – 8 direction movement. Hello, EA! It has been TEN YEARS of 3D gaming and consoles with analogue sticks as standard. This is completely unacceptable.
The branding everywhere turns the menus into a garish mess at times. It's not the second analogue stick, or the c-stick, is the "trick stick". The slogan for this season's release, "This is the Season", is plastered over every loading screen. Sure, football by its very nature is full of advertising, but these menus are like my worst McDonald's nightmare.