About a month ago, EA released its current-gen iteration of the FIFA series, with FIFA 07 on the Xbox, PlayStation 2, and Gamecube. If you read my review of that game, you already know that I was very pleased with it. It kept the same great FIFA gameplay while taking significant steps forward in physics, animations, and visuals. EA really pushed the limits of the current-gen machine. A month later, EA is having a go at next-gen 07. If you remember, FIFA 06 on the Xbox 360 was a disappointment, to say the least. The World Cup addition was a huge improvement, although it still did not truly feel next generation. Now, in their third attempt on the 360, how does EA fare? Well, they’ve done a pretty good job. Not great, but pretty good.
One of the things that really stood out in the last-gen versions was the ball physics. It really felt like you were playing with a ball, and that it was actually separate from the players that were controlling it. Thankfully, these great physics fully made it into the 360 version. A soccer ball does strange things. It takes funny bounces and deflects in any given direction—sometimes right where you want it to and other times right where you don’t want it to. The ball in this game is just so—it feels like a ball—not some polygon with a pre-determined path for a given action. FIFA 07 has accomplished this, and let’s hope soccer games from now on utilize this system.
The ball’s not the only thing that looks good and moves well and realistically. These are the best looking virtual soccer players you’ve ever seen. They move very smoothly, and the player animations are strung together very nicely, avoiding the usual hiccups in changing from one position or action to another. The idea of momentum is something that hasn’t really been a factor in video games since, well, it hasn’t ever really been a factor. In FIFA 07, you’ll have to take all of your movements into account. You can’t just be sprinting one way, stop on a dime, and be running the other way. This time around, you’ll have to plant, turn, and then pick up speed. This adds a level of realism never before seen in a soccer game. However, it can also potentially add a level of frustration never before seen in a soccer game. In my opinion, the physics, momentum, and “realistic” feel to this game are its make or break factor. If you enjoy the challenge of getting used to it, and are able to use it to your advantage, it will be a blast. However, if you don’t like the change and get frustrated easily, it may be hard for you to enjoy this game.
The graphics look fantastic on the 360’s engine. The fields, stadiums, and players all look great. This is definitely the best looking FIFA game to date. The cut-scenes and replays are especially a treat to watch, and they move in and out of each other seamlessly and smoothly. Along with this goes the presentation. The menus and areas in between actual gameplay are all very professional and classy. They are easy to navigate, and flow together nicely. If a next-gen menu format is possible, this game is it. The sound is right up there with the visuals as well. The announcing, crowd noise, and sound effects are all top of the line. One thing I’ll say about EA—their games sound pretty darn nice.
As far as gameplay is concerned, I can’t really say that it is better than the previous versions, just different. It’s really a matter of preference. If you like realism, you’ll enjoy this game. If you enjoy a more arcade feel, you’ll find this version may not hold your attention. For example, on defense, you’ll actually have to—you guessed it—play defense. If you just slide tackle or run at the ball constantly (a tactic that worked more often that not on previous versions), you’ll find yourself getting beat of drawing a host of cards from the referees. You’ll have to use strategy, something a lot of gamers don’t have the patience for. Likewise, offense is much more challenging, and thus rewarding. In last year’s game, for example, the high cross would score on a header more often that not. This time around, you’ll have to set up an attack early. You won’t be able to dribble past defenders and put it in the net. It takes patience, as not any shot will do. This game will reward you for smart shot selection and making the extra pass. Controls are very simple to discuss. If you’ve played the Xbox version of the game, you already know the controls. That was easy.
As far as options and game modes are concerned, FIFA 07 on the 360 is pretty standard. You’ve got your normal friendly, tournament, practice, and challenge modes, which are basically untouched. Manager mode made it to the 360 this year, which is a relief for FIFA fans. It is a very deep manager mode, with plenty of options for you to mess with as the manager of your favorite team. But is your favorite team even in the game? One serious problem I have with this version is the lack of a large number of teams that are included. One issue that I surely don’t understand is why the current-gen systems have so many more teams to choose from than the next-gen? Who knows, but that’s the reality. Either way, the manager mode is where you’ll be spending most of your time.
The online play of this game is a definite highlight. The lobbies are pretty much lag-free, and there is a “Lounge mode” where you and your buddies can hang out and set up game. If you don’t have any friends, however, you can easily set up a quick match, as there are seemingly tons of people playing this game online. It’s all, for the most part, smooth and easy.
If you’re a soccer game fan, then you’ll either really enjoy this game, or really hate it. If you only have a 360, then it’s a definite must buy as a soccer fan. However, if you also have an Xbox or PS2, I have to recommend that you stick to the last-gen version. That said, it’s all about preference. If you are up for the challenge of realistic momentum, physics, and a gameplay style that rewards patience and strategy, then get the 360 version. This is a great looking game, with excellent control and realism. If you’re up for a challenge and are not easily frustrated, pick this one up.