Sports games have long been dominated by the monster that is EA. At the turn of the century, EA sports games were a given to most gamers as the sports game of choice. However, we've since seen a shift in the paradigm away from total domination to a much more competitive field of play (pun intended). We've seen it in basketball games, with 2K8 Sports really being hailed as the better basketball game in the past couple of years, and we've seen it in soccer, with the Winning Eleven series gaining better reviews and a reputation as the better, more pure soccer sim. FIFA has taken somewhat of a backseat, but they are looking to put an end to that this year. I'm happy to report that they're heading in the right direction to gain back soccer dominance. FIFA 08 on the Xbox 360 improves on its previous efforts, adds new flavors, and puts together the best FIFA yet on next-gen systems.
When you boot this baby up for the first time, you'll find yourself in control of Ronaldinho on a futuristic pitch. You can dribble around, get used to the controls, or take shots on a goalie. It's a nice touch. Once you get to the menu, you'll see that the usual options of a FIFA game are available to you. You'll have your friendly match, season, manager mode, practice, etc. These are self-explanatory, and if you've played FIFA before, these are not much different. The manager mode has a few more options and things to tweak, but nothing too unfamiliar to fans of the series. EA didn't come back this year without any new tricks, however. There is a new mode this year called "Be a Pro," and it is a very nice addition, adding lots of fun.
Be a Pro mode puts you in control of one particular player, and one only, on the field during a game. This has been tried before, but not with any kind of success. You will have to move around, pass, tackle, shoot, and even make the right runs all by yourself. Depending on the difficulty you select, you'll have arrows and helps telling you when you're out of position, tackling poorly, or offside. After each game, you'll be given a rating based on how you've done (completing passes, tackling, positioning, etc.).
FIFA's game engine was built from the ground up for the next-generation consoles, and it is only improving as it ages. The look and feel of the physics of the game are much improved, and a pleasure to experience. Players move very realistically, having to stop momentum and plant in order to turn around, for example. You will not be able to simply dribble to ball down the field and beat the goalie. This game takes real soccer tactics, and you'll have to use them if you want to win matches. The tackling is also improved, and has been made much more brutal. You'll really feel the hit, and it's very satisfying when done successfully.
All this goes into making the gameplay of FIFA 08 some of the most satisfying in a while. This is because it really is more like real soccer. You'll get most of your scoring chances off of counter-attacks, busted offside trap attempts, and the like. This is how goal-scoring opportunities happen in real life. This year, that soccer ball will no longer seem to simply stick to your foot, and this puts a premium on quick passing and movement. Scoring is a rare occasion in this game, so when you score, you know you've done well.
This game looks fantastic running on the Xbox 360. This is by far the best-looking FIFA game to date. The player models are spot-on and move extremely realistically. The stadiums and crowds are fantastic as well. Animations string together unprecedentedly well, and I don't recall every really seeing repeats of animations. The sound is great as well, with on the field sounds being what you'd expect. The soundtrack is a nice mix of world music, and the commentary is there, but it's not oppressive, and it stays pretty fresh.
As always, FIFA has all the licenses for stadiums, players, teams, and leagues. You'll instantly recognize all the stadiums if you're a world soccer fan, and they look great. The atmosphere inside them is superb. You'll hear chants from the crowds, flags will be flying, and you'll feel the pressure
Overall, FIFA 08 is a wonderful soccer game that improves on its predecessor in almost every way. It looks great, plays great, and is back on the right track for taking the crown back from the Winning Eleven series. This is an easy recommend for any soccer fan.