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FIFA Soccer 07 Review

Developer: EA Canada Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: November 1, 2006 Also On: PS2, PSP and Xbox

I had a chance to play FIFA Soccer 07 at EA Canada a few weeks before it launched on the Xbox 360 in October 2006. After a rather disappointing stint with FIFA World Cup 2006, EA Canada is ready to take the franchise to the next-gen level. The goal of FIFA Soccer 07 is to create the first true next-gen soccer experience on the Xbox 360 (the PS3 version was pushed back to next year due to time constraints). EA accomplished what they set out for and positioned themselves well to challenge Konami’s Winning Eleven franchise head on.

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FIFA is no longer a franchise that constrains the player with a ball tied to their ankle. The ball and player are independent of each other with real-time collision detection now, something that’s never been attempted in a FIFA game. It does take a bit of time to get acclimated to the new controls. FIFA has always been a pick-up-and-play type game, and it still is. You’re just not going to be someone that’s experienced if you have never played before.

Part of the reason for this is the new ball physics. You have less control of the ball in the sense that it is now easier for defenders to snatch it away from you, since the ball is no longer an extension of your body. But you have more control of where the ball is going to go. For instance, when you pass it, you can determine how far you are going to kick it as well as which side. You may decide to kick it past the player as to avoid a defender or you may just kick it to the side of him. For the slight price of needing to adjust the way you play FIFA, it pays huge dividends in the strategic value of the game of soccer.

It may feel odd for FIFA to go in this new direction. FIFA has always been the soccer franchise that is accessible to anybody, whereas Winning Eleven is a soccer simulator that is less user-friendly. Both games had a market of their own, which is why EA moving FIFA towards Konami’s market is kind of weird, but still makes at least some logical sense. FIFA is still far more forgiving to every day gamers than Winning Eleven, but taking on a more simulation-style gameplay allows them to eat into Konami’s piece of the pie.

Aside from the new controls and physics engine, probably the biggest change is the computer AI. 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. You are no longer allowed to just run a route to the goal and score.

The AI can be unpredictable, it responds to your movements and will both aggressively tackle and defend their turf. Even cooler is that each team, indeed each player, has their own set of attributes and traits that determine how well they play and how they will respond to the action on the field. It used to be that you could score a few goals and then run out the clock at your end of the field without the defense coming after you as the clock ticked away. They are going to come after you now, leaving little breathing room anywhere on the field. You get the sense from this game that there is urgency in the computer’s actions.

I have talked a lot about controls and AI so far, two important parts of a soccer game, but what everyone wants to know is what game modes they have to choose from. You have a quick mode where you can play against the computer or up to three of your friends can join in. Returning from every FIFA that I can remember recently are the Challenges. One of the biggest factors in replay value is multi-player, and EA was smart to allow for up to 8 players online on Xbox Live. If you don’t have a friend on the couch to play with you, there will always be someone online.

Then you have your single-player Manager mode. This is obviously the deepest part of the game. Does it pale in comparison to Winning Eleven as far as options go? You bet, but it’s also easier to manage and in my opinion, more fun. You play as your favorite team throughout the course of a season, signing players and managing the team’s budget. You can hire staff to improve parts of your team and with Experience Points earned from playing matches, you can improve your team’s abilities. The only suggestion I have for EA to make this experience better is for the Experience Points to be applied almost like an RPG where the game does it automatically after each match, instead of giving you X amount of points that you can dump in any particular skill area.

The PS3, Wii and Xbox 360 are all on the market The next-generation is here. So is the next-generation of FIFA Soccer. Even though this is their third attempt now on the Xbox 360, EA Canada stepped it up a level with FIFA Soccer 07. They have room to improve with the implementation of a better experience system, and possibly a “create-a-team” type mode where you can take a team and its manager from high school to collegiate and beyond, but those are all wants that can be fulfilled sometime later. What we have right now is a very solid experience that is going to keep you coming back for more. It may even get people interested that would not have given the sport a second thought.

Graphics: 8.5
Sound: 8
Gameplay: 9
Creativity: 8
Replay Value/Game Length: 9
Final: 8.7
Written by Kyle Review Guide