Replay Value: 9
For as long as I've been playing FIFA, which is probably since FIFA 99 on the PC, I have always loved the series for its accessibility and fun. FIFA, despite being one of the very few soccer franchises out there, has perhaps been the longest running fun soccer game. It achieved a lot of that seeing as how it wasn't very heavily based on simulating the sport, yet still maintaining the dose of realism. Well, now the competition between FIFA and Winning Eleven has become fierce. Gamers are actually starting to gradually demand a proper take on the sport, and EA has listened. FIFA 08, arguably, marks the series' first radical change - some may hate it, but the franchise is better off for it.
First thing's first: FIFA 08 now has a pretty steep learning curve, one which will take you a few hours to adjust to. For me, it took me about 4-5 games (on amateur, no less!), to actually play a proper game. I still lost 4-2, but I was happy to have finally carved my way into the gameplay. The gameplay is now more situated towards realism than ever before. Gamers coming from previous FIFAs will immediately notice how much, well...slower the game has become. Turbo sprints don't give runners The Flash-like speed anymore, and so strategy becomes an integral part of organizing your runs. Three defenders up ahead? You can either change direction, or hope you have teammates nearby.
Forget about all that fancy footwork tomfoolery that was so prevalent in the past; it's still there, but don't even try to take advantage of it when those three defenders come running at you - Houdini you are not. So balance has now been tweaked, as you can see, and FIFA plays much better than it ever has. Additionally, foul calling has become more frequent - so sliding tackles will almost certainly yield a card. Where as in the past, you could easily get away with a number of slides before getting burned; FIFA 08 will dock you almost immediately.
The A.I. in particular has gotten brainier, overall. In past FIFA games, I'd be able to win each game by a scoreless blow out when playing on amateur, or put good distance on semi-pro. Such isn't the case with FIFA 08. As I mentioned earlier, it took me something close to five games on amateur before I was actually able put up a decent fight, and yet still lose. FIFA's challenge isn't extremely hard, so much as its new learning curve takes some time to adjust to.
Utilizing the controller properly also helps greatly, especially the sprint button. It's best to sprint with the ball when you're approaching the net, seeing as how doing it prior to that will wear out your runner. Moreover, sprinting helps fend your defenders off a little more, which will allow you to avoid steals and tackles. Passing properly can be a little complicated, but the game has various assists to help you, which you can toggle off, and which I admittedly use. Precision focused gamers who really master FIFA will likely keep the assists off, as well as put to use EA's new, and more advanced, control scheme. But again, EA has kept the classic control setup.
My biggest complaint about FIFA has always been the control latency. For instance, it's annoying when you're trying to steal a ball, you keep pressing X in order to make contact, and when you do strip the ball, your player will kick it away, most likely back to an opposing player. I don't like the fact that the game registers control inputs for a player before he even has the ball. It needs to become an option that you can either turn off, or control the sensitivity of. For instance, controlling sensitivity would only register command input when the ball is very close to the player its intended for - and not when it's still 20 feet away. Make it happen, EA - I can't count how many golden opportunities I've screwed away because of this.
So the game plays great, there's no question about that. Now what about its value? By now you should know that it's typical of EA to cram their games with a truck load of modes - enough to tide you over until the next iteration. Be A Pro mode puts you into the shoes of a specific player whom you will solely controller throughout his career - as opposed to controlling an entire team. Once you fall into Be A Pro, it's very hard to stop.
Then there's the whole Team Management option which gives you access to control kick takers, formations, team mentality, transfers, and much more. Multiplayer can consist of seven gamers offline, and four online. And the rest of the gameplay modes include Tournament Mode, Manager Mode, FIFA 08 Lounge, and Challenge Mode. Clearly, no shortage of replay value here.
Aesthetically, FIFA 08 is a slight step-up over FIFA 07. Player models have been improved a bit, as faces aren't as pale as they used to be, and jersey textures have a bit more luster to them. Definition for each footballer's physique also seems to have been boosted a bit, seeing as how EA has had some extra time to work on their new engine. Interestingly, the engine has now been re-optimized so that each player in the game is now able to calculate up to 1000 options and reactions per second. Which translates to 60,000 real-time player calculations per minute.
For more quirky number talk, the game engine doesn't seem to fall into the industry standard, as it runs at 60 frames per second, while rendering at 720p. But the framerate does get choppy during replays and the match introductions. FIFA also looks pretty when you're running around the field when it's lit by the stadium's lighting. Shadows cast beautifully on the grass, and are also quite smooth. The grass itself looks nice from a distance, but its still flat when you look at it up-close during replays. Lastly, the animations look nice and the collision detection seems to be spot on.
The audio is as loud as you'd want your soccer game to be. The audience really loses it when their team scores, and I love that. Unfortunately the commentary doesn't have that level of polish that EA's other sports games have. Commentary consists of solely play-by-play, which isn't bad, but can get stale fairly quick the more you play the game.
In the end, those who have long wanted the FIFA series to turn pro will be ecstatic to know of the progress FIFA 08 makes. The game is leaps ahead of past iterations, and is without question the finest footy sim out on the market. The tweaks to the gameplay and A.I. really make FIFA 08 stand out from the pack. Furthermore, the bevy of gameplay modes makes this one punchy and valuable package that you'll be deep into all the way until FIFA 09. Visually, it's pretty good stuff, and I really wish we could have more sports games (especially football/soccer) running at 60 frames per second. Footy fans, FIFA 08 is the game for you.