FIFA Soccer 07 Review
|Developer: EA Canada||Publisher: Electronic Arts|
|Release Date: October 31, 2006||Also On: None|
Soccer has always had a difficult time making inroads in North America. Baseball, basketball, football and hockey have been the main sports titles for years, but something changed in 2006. The World Cup in Germany took place earlier this year, advertised across the networks and broadcast on ESPN. As a result, EA raked in the money for their FIFA World Cup 2006 across all platforms, including the Xbox 360, with total unit sales reaching over 500,000 to date. Unfortunately, the product wasn’t very well received from critics. The game lacked the game modes that make soccer enjoyable (season) and the graphics were not exactly up to next-gen standards.
The over-riding goal for EA in FIFA Soccer 07 is to create a true next-gen experience on the Xbox 360 (the PS3 version is being pushed to next year), which was obviously lacking in the past two iterations. As is always the case at Electronic Arts Community Days, I had a chance to personally get my hands on their product before release. I can say that EA accomplished what they set out for. FIFA is no longer a franchise where the player is constrained with a ball tied to their ankle. The ball and the player are independent of each other with real-time collision detection.
You may be wondering to yourself how you can change the way you play FIFA. Afterall, FIFA has always been a franchise that excels at being the accessible soccer game on the market. Ever since Winning Eleven hit North American shores, EA has begun to feel the heat from Konami and according to them, they welcome the competition. The two have been branded differently by their respective marketing departments and they logically have distinct consumer bases. For those players that expected a pick-up-and-play soccer game, FIFA was your only choice. Conversely, if you wanted a simulation-style soccer experience, Winning Eleven was the way to go.
That’s all changing. Starting with FIFA 07, EA is tightening up the defense for computer AI and imposing a new control scheme that allows realistic movement and footplanting. At the same time, FIFA 07 will have the same user-friendly screens employed by all EA Sports games and lacking from Winning Eleven. Don’t get me wrong, this is by no means on the same simulation level as Winning Eleven, but for those of you that want a more forgiving experience, FIFA 07 is the way to go. That’s not to say FIFA 07 isn’t difficult in its own right.
In a way, EA seems to want it both ways. They still want the pick-up-and-play gamer, but they also want to make you work hard at getting good at the game. Don’t think of it as mixing water and oil. It’s more like mixing liquor with strawberry. Mastering the game and finding all of the nuances is hard, but the sweetness of playing an inexperienced friend and still making a game out of it is there. We are all used to the lopsided 5-0 matches against computer opponents in FIFA. Not anymore: your score is more likely to be 1-0 or 2-2 with a shootout than routing an opponent. For the record, I won 2 and lost 2 against the EA team.
The AI is the most obvious change to the game. No longer will you just run a route to the goal, kick and score. The computer is unpredictable, responding to your movements, aggressively tackling and defending their turf. It was once an affective strategy to sit on your lead by playing a little back-and-forth between your players near your own goal, letting the clock slowly tick down. This kind of AI that was present in the older FIFA games was a sore excuse for an athlete. In FIFA 07 for the Xbox 360, the computer is going to come after you aggressively to steal that ball and score a goal. You get the sense from this game that there is urgency in the computer’s actions.
The action on the field gets even more complex with the fact that referees can make mistakes, momentum can affect players, 35 different player attributes and 43 behavioral traits determine how each player will play, as well as the fact that you need to regulate player stamina. Stamina is perhaps the most important aspect of your player’s abilities. Not only will he become tired throughout the game, he will also become more prone to both injury and penalties. It is important to replace tired players with fresh ones throughout the course of play.
Yet another change to the franchise are the controls. Instead of pressing the A button (or X on your PS2), you switch players with the Left Trigger on the Xbox 360. Using the right analog stick while passing, you can kick the ball a greater distance. The player can also move at a 90 degree angle with the left analog stick, stopping and changing direction on a dime. You can apply pressure to the offense with a defensive computer player by pressing and holding the X button (depending on your button configuration). The developers explained to me how many options you have and it will make your head turn. Learning all of these new moves means you have a lot of room to improve your skills as you play. With all of these moves at your disposal, you definitely are not limited in your options.
FIFA Soccer 07 for the Xbox 360 is the next-gen soccer experience that its predecessors are not. While EA and 2K Sports have struggled to pivot to the next-generation of sports games, the folks at EA Canada have scored a goal with FIFA Soccer 07. Whether it is the graphics, physics engine, realistic movement of players, increased level of difficulty or a greater dependence on strategy instead of pure aggression, FIFA 07 delivers on the key points that most gamers should expect. Game Freaks 365 will have a full review of this title once it launches on October 31, 2006.
You can view pictures from the FIFA Soccer 07 Community Day by clicking this link.