FIFA 08 review

£25
Price when reviewed

A few things are guaranteed every year. The trains will stop running when it gets too hot/cold/wet, the England football team will come agonisingly close to glory and EA Sports will put out yet another iteration of its legendary FIFA franchise.

There certainly isn’t much missing in the latest version. Literally thousands of players and hundreds of clubs are at your disposal. So, you can opt for the easy life and start with an in-form Manchester United, or you can pluck Bournemouth FC from the lower reaches of League One obscurity and propel it to the unlikely heights of the Champions League a few seasons later.

FIFA’s manager mode remains as well, in which you take control of a team for seasons at a time – buying, selling and cultivating talent. For football fans, it’s captivating stuff. Supporters of West Ham are unlikely to see their real-world team lift the FA Cup in the near future, but with FIFA 08 you could be there at the cost of just a few weekends.

Screenshots taken from the game fail to do it justice, but not in a good way. While plenty of time has gone into face mapping and texture details, once things start moving there’s little doubt that you’re playing with a bunch of not-terribly-well-co-ordinated pixels. Players take twice as many steps as necessary to get anywhere, and ball control – which EA claims is the most natural yet – plays havoc with the laws of physics.

A final kick in the teeth for the programmers who hours of work spent on the graphics engine is the soft-focus, fuzzy rendering of replays. They’re supposed to look like TV broadcasts, but in reality the jolt between the in-game graphics and the replays is jarring.

EA, in the spirit of being down with the kids, has introduced a huge amount of fancy footwork and tricks. You’ll need a twin analogue controller to make it work (swiftly ported Xbox 360 game, anyone?), and played in the right way the animations work well. But, as PC Pro’s PE teacher always said, goals aren’t scored with fancy footwork, and unless you time your move absolutely perfectly – and we mean perfectly – you’re more likely to lose the ball than make meaningful progress.

That’s realistic, of course. Games played on windswept pitches on the darkest of February evenings aren’t won by step-overs and bicycle kicks, and fans of realism and Sunday morning football will be in heaven. Games with many more than four goals are rare unless you play on the easiest setting, and tactical geeks have plenty to tinker with.

In the hunt for tactical realism, FIFA 08 goes too far the other way. The fancy tricks don’t work and very often the only way to score goals is through lengthy, painstaking build-up play. Get a decent break going and you’ll often outsprint your own team up the field, necessitating holding up the ball while you wait for the others to arrive. It isn’t the ticket if you’re after a quick football hit.

As a simulation, the game works reasonably well. It’s possible to forgive the graphics after a while, and the breadth and depth of modes takes ages to explore. But as pure entertainment, FIFA is a solid game that, while mirroring its real-life counterpart, is too serious to be enjoyed by all but the most ardent of fans.

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