UEFA EURO 2008 Review (Xbox 360)
I think of soccer as the most creative sport in the world. It’s a sport that awards the imaginative, and thus the best players in the world play the game with that special bit of flair that truly makes them stand out amongst the rest. Now inherently the FIFA series has had issues embracing that creativity, feeling more like a static experience with very specific tactics that will get you goals.
The static experience feeling has been lessened with FIFA ‘08 and now a bit more with Euro ‘08. The improved ease in pulling off various trick moves has led to more highlight-worthy individual efforts and in general has given the game an added layer of panache. On top of that, the speed of play, overall tighter controls and the improved lead passing all help to create a more free-spirited atmosphere. And yet even as I say all of this you probably can guess that the pendulum is going to swing back in the other direction in predictable fashion.
Sure enough, the game still retains some staleness because for everything positive I’ve said it still more-or-less comes down to either ping-pong passing (passing to the feet of teammate after teammate) down the middle of the pitch and then lead passing to a striker, or playing bang-ball (hitting deep balls or long lead passes) up the wings and then either crossing the ball (it’s easier to score on headers now than it was in FIFA ‘08) or running in off the wing and then passing it off to someone in the box for a quick strike.
Bang-ball is so easy to play because the defense just pinches in too far off the wings, plain and simple. Then the second part of the bang-ball tactic (the crossing) is so easy because marking in the box is quite bad, which is odd because the marking is overly good on corners. So what ends up happening is either you cross the ball from as deep as possible, or you start creeping in from the sidelines and can more times than not find someone for a simple one-time pass and score.
The ping-pong passing method is effective for different reasons. It’s hard to stop because it’s quite hard to take the ball from basically any player on any team. But the more egregious error is how little the ball is fought over during these defense/offense showdowns; either you take the ball from the dribbler, or he gets by you, there’s really no middle ground. This is an engine problem it seems, since there’s a lack of fouls called on-ball and there seems to be no 50/50 fighting when two players’ feet connect. The game also doesn’t really push you to be very creative in terms of playing the ball to open spaces, until the final lead pass where there may be three defenders to the one striker, and yet it won’t matter in a lot of cases -- the A.I. doesn’t play passing lanes very well.
Against the computer or players online who play a “realistic” style means these problems won’t be as apparent. I still played ping-pong or bang-ball a lot of the time (or saw it used against me), but needed to pick my spots and not try to counter when it wasn’t there and so forth. Also if you start to get the hang of defense and begin to play passing lanes more, and play a little more passively on defense then these tactics can be minimized somewhat. Still, there’s so much pressure to always get the ball in the box because it’s hard to score from outside of it -- unless you let the game play for you by changing shooting to automatic, then it becomes a bit easier. As a gamer who likes to play my games though (crazy I know), when it’s more effective to let the CPU auto-shoot or auto-switch who I control on defense, that tells me that something is wrong.
Besides the on-the-pitch action, the Captain Your Country mode is the other big draw here. And I must say that it probably will be the first solo-only mode that I may play more than team-play -- assuming it’s improved and in FIFA ‘09 in some form. Right now it’s not there for me, because while the ebb and flow of the match rating system taps into that up-and-down excitement of a regular game (match rating = a score you can see fluctuating as you do good or bad things during a match), the match rating system is pretty much broken in Euro ‘08. It’s completely inconsistent for one, since a player might score a game winning goal and yet only get a 5.5 rating; and the other issue is how the rating system wrecks your team. Over the course of the mode (qualifying followed by the Euro tourney) you might see every player on your team drop in the ratings department (I presume it’s tied to low match ratings). Those things are downers but if they are hammered out and this mode is put online for ‘09, then the competitive spirit of wanting to beat your teammates while still winning matches is going to be glorious.
Really though, if you enjoyed FIFA ‘08 then gameplay-wise you should like this game more, that’s a no-brainer. If you find the right people to play against online, or can battle through the overly tough A.I. at the higher difficulty levels then there’s certainly fun to be had here, especially if you factor in the Captain Your Country mode. I’ve simply tried to point out that certain overarching faults haven’t been completely fixed yet, and it’s up to the user to decide if he or she can overlook them once again.
On The Pitch: You’re never thinking more than a pass ahead, and the game won’t inspire the strategic minds out there, but the individual player has a chance to create some dazzling moments. Don’t expect this game to cure some of the ills that have plagued the FIFA series for years though (the proper goalie balancing, lack of fouls, etc). That being said, the game still is more enjoyable than FIFA ‘08, and is making nice strides for future iterations.
Graphics: The new weather and lighting effects look great in this version; it’s also more enjoyable to play night games now. The problem of highlighting the player graphics is still a problem though, and will always be until a more dynamic camera is implemented.
Sound: You’ll be able to hear the hooligans out there and in general I never found the game to really disappoint me in this department.
Entertainment Value: There’s a good amount here in terms of modes when you consider it’s a “budget” title at $50 and it’s a mid-year title, though obviously the game is short on teams. Playing Captain Your Country mode with friends is also a good time.
Learning Curve: FIFA ‘08 vets will have a hard time at first adapting to the more rapid pace and harder (probably somewhat unfair/unforgiving) A.I. on the higher difficulty levels. If you can break through that wall though then you should be good to go.
Online: The performance has been actually very consistent even though I assume I’m playing gamers from all over the world. There’s also some tournaments here if that suits your style. It would have been nice to have Captain Your Country mode available online though.