EA’s latest FIFA release is yet another “shot” across Konami’s bow. With Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer series having been the leader in soccer games for a while now, EA has taken a renewed effort to knock Konami off their throne. The past few years has been a bit of a cycle with every new FIFA game being boasted as “The One” from EA, and every year they finish second. Could FIFA 08 finally be the game that breaks the camel’s back, or will EA again fail to finish on top. Thankfully for EA and its legions of fans this year could be it.

From the first moment you kick off you can tell something’s changed. This isn’t your little brothers FIFA, it’s all grown up now and you’re going to need to adapt. You’re going to need to put in some serious practice if you’re going to master its subtleties and EA’s got the perfect place for you to do it, on the training field. Every time the game loads a match you get to do a little one on one practice using Ronaldinho against a goalkeeper, so you can polish your moves.

Right off the bat you can tell that FIFA 08’s pace has been toned down. Instead of just charging forward in endless waves of attacks, you’re forced to stop, look around, shield the ball, make space and try to find a team-mate while the opposition is all over you like white on rice. You can’t just spend the entire match with your finger jammed on the run button. Instead, you’re forced to sprint in short, sharp, bursts and bamboozle the opposition by suddenly accelerating past them before trying to release a team-mate with a perfectly timed through ball or pass. Thankfully the passing is no longer a case of pointing in the vague direction of another player and hoping for the best. Now you can control the strength of each pass and its exact direction. Every bounce and spin now effects how the ball leaves a player’s foot when they shoot. The level or realism has been increased dramatically in the latest version.

FIFA 08’s visuals, animations and presentation levels make full use of next gen technology.
Making it one of the most realistic virtual renditions of soccer ever released. The players actually look like their real life counterparts, lending a sense of realism to each team. The stadiums look fantastic and authentic and the improvement to the fans reactions is also noticeable. When your team is down in goals or maintains no possession the home crowd starts whistling (it’s the soccer equivalent to booing) and getting on the players cases. When you’re winning and commanding the game the crowds are singing songs praising your team. The best part is the inclusion of the teams in the various songs being sung and how they use songs that are specific to certain countries.

FIFA 08 boasts a number of new features and perhaps one of its most alluring is the Be a Pro mode, which sees you taking control of one player and mastering his position. This is an inspired inclusion, as it allows you to play anywhere on the pitch and then have your performance rated. Thanks to a superb camera system you always remain on screen, with the camera zooming in on you when the ball is close and pulling out when you’re far from the action. The Be a Pro mode makes you feel like you’re right in the thick of things and gives you a bird eye view of the game.

Interactive Leagues are also included for the first time and it’s a neat feature. You play one game a week and every win for your team is counted as a “vote”. At the end of the week the team with the most votes for that fixture is awarded three points in the table. You’ll also find the usual ranked and unranked matches, but the Online Leagues feature is the most impressive. You can create your own league and choose who to invite. Customizations include how many people can join, how high their DNF (did not finish) and/or Xbox Live reputation has to be to join. You can set up the rules of the league as well and even select one of the included logos to use as your league’s logo as well as the trophy that is awarded at the end of it. The league automatically records all of the stats, from results to the table standings.

While the game has seen some vast improvements there are a couple things that bothered me. For starters, the game is too hard on the easier difficulty settings. Defenders are impressively efficient, almost too efficient and you’ll find yourself getting frustrated quickly if you’re not used to the game. The second thing, and it’s really a minor nitpick, is the lack of authenticity for some teams. For Serie A you’ll find all the big teams properly represented, with their correct badges, kits, players, etc. but for some of the lesser teams you’ve got the name, but that’s it. For example, Genoa, Napoli and a few other Serie A teams have the correct name, but the stadiums aren’t correct. The badges are wrong and some of the players are incorrect. I hope this is something they can fix with an update.

Overall though, FIFA 08 is a vast improvement of past versions and it has the potential to beat ProEvoSoccer. The amazing graphics and air of reality really make the game special. The improved gameplay also helps make this game the best FIFA release in a long time.