Reviewed: November 15, 2007
Released: October 9, 2007
EA has really learned how to milk the soccer cash cow. FIFA 08 just hit the stores and they’ve already announced FIFA Street 3 and I would presume that UEFA Champions League will come back for another season. One would think that NCAA Soccer wouldn’t be far behind.
Last year I had the task of reviewing FIFA 07 and UEFA Champions League on the 360 and PSP. FIFA 07 was a good game, but it lacked so many features that I couldn’t stand to play it after the review period. UEFA was a big step forward, but I’ve been waiting for FIFA 08 Soccer to arrive since I finished the review of FIFA 07!
WOW! What a difference a year makes. EA has really built on a good foundation and addressed almost all of my complaints from FIFA 07 and added a bunch of new features.
The overall look and feel of the menu system remains unchanged. Once again you pick your favorite player for use in the arena. The arena is basically a little practice mode, which also is used to pass the time when the game is loading. It is good, but it might be a little more fun if EA incorporated some of the mini-games such as the juggling and breakout style block games that are on the PSP version.
Leagues, teams, and players are out of this world. Last year EA really embarrassed themselves by offering only 6 leagues in FIFA 07. It was a mess! Someone at EA actually was foolish enough to put the worldwide FIFA brand name on a product that didn’t include any North American leagues! Not so in FIFA 08! EA learned their lesson.
FIFA 08 has an astounding 576 teams in 30 leagues including leagues from Australia (A-League), Austria (Bundesliga), Belgium (Belgian League), Brazil (Liga Do Brasil), Czech Republic (Czech League), Denmark (SAS Ligaen), England (Premier, Championship, League 1, League 2), France (Ligue 1 Orange, Ligue 2 Orange), Germany (Bundesliga, 2 Bundesliga), Ireland (FAI Eircom), Italy (Serie A, and B), Korea (K-League), Mexico (Primera Division), Netherlands (Eredivisie), Norway (Tippeligaen), Poland (Ekstraklasa), Portugal (Liga Portuguesa), Scotland (SPL), Spain (Primega Division, Liga BBVA) Sweden (Allsvenskan), Switzerland (Axpo Super League), Turkey (Turkcell Super Lig), and last and arguably least the USA (Major League Soccer).
There is also a catch all of “Rest of the World” with 22 teams including some greats like Boca Juniors, Kaizer Chiefs, and Olympiacos. Then there are 2 all-star teams including the Classic XI (Beckenbauer, Zico, Cantona, etc.), and World XI with current stars (Kaka, Terry, Ferdinand, Ronaldinho, etc.).
Then we come to the International teams. This year they total 43 which is an improvement but they still have some strange omissions including some teams that were just in the World Cup. That brings the total to 620 licensed teams and more than 15,000 players.
Regrettably, with all the teams they packed in there, EA has yet to include any of the recent Women’s World Cup teams. This was a world cup year yet EA has chosen to completely ignore the women’s game again. I would imagine there are quite a few people out there who would like to know what possibly could have happened if Hope Solo were in goal against Brazil. EA spent all the time and money doing motion capture on male players yet didn’t think it was worthwhile to include women in the mix.
Game modes have been significantly improved. Tournament Mode now lets you compete in one of over 50 official trophy tournaments. All 30 leagues included have at least one trophy right down to the US Open Cup. The US Open Cup is supposed to be an ‘all comers’ tournament but unfortunately the game only includes MLS teams for the USA. You can replace teams with clubs from other countries but that isn’t really the US Open Cup. You can also create your own tournament with various settings for group stages and brackets.
Manager mode has been tweaked so it is even more in depth. It’s certainly not as in depth as EA’s FIFA Manager (not available here in the states) or any other manager program, but it does provide a significant portion of the replay value for FIFA 08. Scouting and contract negotiations have been improved.
In lounge mode you can have some friends over to have a little fun in a point system tournament. Basically you get points for achieving various tasks during a game. With a nod to UEFA Champions League, FIFA 08 includes a reward system using 100 virtual stickers to increase your points. For example, if you play a lounge session game, getting a clean sheet (the other team doesn’t score on you) will get you a 500-point sticker. It’s not quite as fun as UEFA where you ‘bought’ virtual packs of cards, which had players to build a team, but the virtual sticker concept does add some value to the game.
Challenge mode is a region based achievement system where you pick a region and are assigned certain objectives to complete the challenge. There are 10 levels with increasing difficulty. For example, your objectives for a single game may include “win by 2 goals”, “keep possession percentage 50% or higher”, and “complete 5 short passes in the first half with X player” (the player is assigned by the game and it can be really difficult when it assigns a defender to score a goal and you must win by 2).
Xbox Live play is a completely new animal this year. The shipping version of FIFA 08 is missing the new Be A Pro feature. It is available just as an offline training module. But thankfully early in November, EA released what quite possibly is the best post-release add-on ever! Be A Pro features online play with up to 10 people in a single game. This is just a preview of what’s to come in future versions - rumor is they may have full 11v11 play in FIFA 09. But for the time being 5v5 is an amazing add on.
Basically Be A Pro allows you to take control of the player in a specific position for the entire game. Or in the online mode you can pick ‘any’ and you will automatically switch to the player nearest the ball. Playing as a single player the entire game introduces a completely new feel to the FIFA series. It brought back memories of my playing days trying to beat an offside trap.
There are a few glitches in the Be A Pro. The main problem I’ve found is if you select to be “any” player, you are cycled to whatever unassigned player is closest to the ball. Which usually works well, but when the opposing team is on a breakaway and you are sprinting back to help out, often I found my player switching to one of the CPU controlled defenders who then starts sprinting toward the goal. It often leads to near own goals.
Also on Xbox Live there are online leagues and tournaments. You can also participate in Interactive Leagues where you play your favorite club against your rivals during the season (limited to Barclays Premier League, Ligue 1 Orange, Bundesliga, Mexican Apertura, Serie A, Primera Division, and MLS). You can also capture your best goals and highlights and upload them to the FIFA 08 Internet website for everyone to see.
There is a ‘create a player’ mode, which is once again very in depth. You can assign such things as ankle tape, gloves, and even specific goal celebrations.
The fan shop now includes 3rd kits (jerseys) for 37 teams. 35 Footballs (soccer balls) from Adidas, Diadora, Nike, Puma are also included. There are also 34 boots (shoes) from Adidas, Nike, Pume, Diadora, Hummel, Loto, and Umbro. An interesting addition is will allow you to upgrade your arena player with 10 different experience packs. Lastly there are 15 add-ons for the create-a-player zone including new goal celebrations and even a mullet hairstyle!
Overall, the gameplay and extras are the best ever in a soccer game. Player animations, textures, and even the wear on the pitch is just astounding in detail. When you perform a special move, it is seamless with regular play. What an upgrade from last year.
That said, player models have improved considerably. Peter Crouch looks like Lurch from the Adams Family moving around on the pitch… so it’s spot on! Some players such as Michael Carrick even have the correct color boots. There are a few minor errors such as Fulham’s Brian McBride having black hair, but the bottom line is FIFA 08 has the best graphics I’ve ever seen in a soccer game.
The 28 included stadiums are rendered with good details. The fans once again leave much to be desired. In most games I see on Fox Soccer Channel the stands are like a party. Streamers, fans jumping, drums, and all the beer guzzling fun of a great football match, but not in FIFA 08. This is one minor area that Winning Eleven seems to capture the spirit of the event and FIFA does not.
If you are used to watching MLS games, the commentary on FIFA 08 will seem very dry. For some reason we Americans have gotten used to having commentators talking constantly during the broadcast. Most of the time they talk a lot but say very little. English broadcasts are considerably different – and I much prefer their style. They actually talk about the game – announcing player who have the ball and praising good play – but rarely do they go into the whole production about all the movie stars in the stands and player personal lives.
Ande Gray and Martin Tyler return from last year and they do a very good with their minimalist announcing style. It’s brilliant in its simplicity. The commentary has changed from last year. Gone are some of the repetitive quips. Instead they have been replaced by a good solid ‘radio’ style which is a welcome and refreshing change. It’s not about the audience or off-field antics, it’s about the game and this is as it should be. Yes, it could always be improved, but this is a solid effort that adds to the gameplay. Some of the fans do specific chants for their teams, but it doesn’t seem like anything has changed from last year.
FIFA 08 includes 50 EA Sports Trax songs ranging from Splendid Isolation to La Rocca. It is a global mix of tunes that while interesting at first, I found to get irritating rather quickly. Thankfully you can turn them all off!
FIFA 08 has 49 achievements available for 1,000 points. Some of the achievements are laughable – you get 20 points just for creating a tournament. There are 9 secret achievements including one which you get 0 points for scoring 2 own goals in a single game. Most of the achievements are winning leagues and challenge games.
With all the above features, plus the additional bonus of ESPN sports ticker and various podcasts, FIFA 08 is probably the first soccer game that might actually be worth $60. I’m serious. There is room for improvement, but EA really packed a lot of major features into FIFA 08 and it will take months to play through everything.
I’ll have a comparison chart between FIFA 08 and PES/Winning Eleven 08 when PES finally makes it across the pond. PES was released in late October in England but will not be in the USA until “early 2008”. The demo is available already on Xbox Live Marketplace. Normally I don’t put much weight on the demo of a game, but since that’s all I have at the moment… I must say that Konami has left the door wide open for EA. FIFA 08 is poised to take the trophy as World’s Best Soccer Game.
When I reviewed UEFA Champions League earlier in 2007, I really thought it was the game FIFA 07 should have been. Now FIFA 08 has trumped all previous soccer games. It is the best there is and from what I’ve seen of Winning Eleven, EA’s FIFA series is going to be the best for years to come.
There are still a few areas to improve, but very few. FIFA 08 is the first soccer game on the 360 that I actually feel like I got my money’s worth.