For the last few years the FIFA franchise has slowly fallen further and further behind Konami’s Pro Evo. This decline hasn’t been through a lack of cash. In an Abramovich-esque way, EA has thrown heaps of money at the series, in the hope that it will buy their way out of trouble. They’ve got all the official teams, kits, leagues, stadiums and cups so that when you play the game, you recognise the world of football that we see on our televisions and read about in our newspapers.
As those of you who are familiar with football gaming history will know, EA’s plan of attack has been largely unsuccessful. Pro Evo has beaten FIFA in the sales charts every year through a combination of its own brilliant gameplay mechanics and difficult learning curve, and FIFAs awful attempts at mimicking it. In the last few years FIFA has been consistently caught offside.
However, time has moved on: another year has passed and here I am sitting with the latest rendition of FIFA in front of me. This time, though, things are a bit different. New features have been promised - better online integration and improved in-game physics to work alongside all of the official content. There's a managerial mode to supplement your league and cup experiences and, of course, the traditional brilliant presentation from EA games – great music and slick interfaces. I’m actually quite excited by a FIFA game… a strange and slightly unnerving experience.
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So what is the first thing that jumps out at you when you start up FIFA 07? The initial menu system is once again chock full of options and features, which is typical of any EA game. There are traditional modes such as tournament play or exhibition matches, as well as the (now usual) appearance of challenge modes, where the computer sets tests such as winning a game by scoring a hat trick or getting your goalkeeper to score.
New, innovative and interesting is a podcast from FIFA's developers and ‘gaming experts’ that starts playing when you load up the game. This is an absolutely brilliant idea, with the programme giving you information on updates made to gameplay, news from the online community and tips and tricks for getting the most out of FIFA. It’s the first time I have seen this used in a game and I have a strong feeling that developer podcasts could be the future for PC games.
Following through to the actual gameplay, the in-game engine will feel dramatically different to any other FIFA game you have played. In previous games the emphasis has been placed on adding huge amounts of player animations whilst ignoring the physics of the football. It was the equivalent of having a really nice looking Ferrari but having no engine with which to drive it. In this new version, the ball ricochets realistically, players' interaction with one another has been greatly improved and it all feels far more like the real game of football than any previous FIFA.