FIFA 08: the best football game ever?

FIFA 08: Top of the table - for nowAfter months of hype and speculation, the demo of FIFA 08 has finally arrived. I’m not going to get into the whole FIFA/Pro Evolution debate (well, maybe a little bit) but I can now finally see a time when football purists will embrace the EA game and stop all the snide remarks about it being too one-dimensional and babyish.

The latest incarnation in the popular series proves to be a real monster of a sports game with several new features designed to make it play more like a real game of football and to hold the interest of serious gamers for more than just a few days. New features include manual controls, custom formations, enhanced AI, management mode improvements, the ability to create your own online football clubs, and a replay sharing facility.

However, probably the most radical new addition is the Be A Pro: Co-op Season mode, where you assume the role of a single player and join up with your friends or other online players to form a team. This makes for a real test of your individual skills and puts more pressure on you to perform for fear of a rollicking from your team-mates. With lush graphics and animations and impeccable commentary and sound effects, as well as a massive array of real teams to choose from FIFA 08 has come of age, and now has the on-field realism to match its massive bank of licensed players and teams. I would argue that right now, this is probably the best football game you could play. [Video over the fold]

I say ‘now’ because the new version of FIFA’s perennial rival, Pro Evolution is on the way, and it looks good. Really good. Although it will never be able to compete with EA in terms of licensing real-life data, Konami certainly knows how the game of football works and the on-field experience in Pro Evo has always been something special. This is largely because the players behave like actual footballers. They make mistakes. They hoof the ball into row Z when taking a shot on the spin. Defenders panic and blast the ball into touch when a big, scary forward is bearing down on them.

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Ultimately, this is what gives Pro Evolution its longevity. While in FIFA you can soon become tired of Ronaldinho scoring 24 goals from the half-way line in one match, the Konami title requires a lot more skill and reading of the game on the part of you, the player. Things look set to get even better in Pro Evo 2008, thanks to the introduction of a revolutionary new AI system called ‘TeamVision,’ which could breathe new life into the Master League and the other one-player modes.

This promises to make the game logistics even more realistic by allowing a computer to ‘learn’ your strengths and weaknesses and combat these by changing their formation or tactics during a game. For example, if you have a couple of puny defenders, your opponent will now quickly figure this out and start pumping high balls into the box for a giant centre forward to nod in, making for a much more challenging and involving game.

As every coach is keen to point out at this point in the season, it’s still early days. FIFA 08 is top of the football game table right now, but with new additions to Pro Evolution 2008, such as a wall control option, free-moving ball, new feints and dribbles, and a highly detailed editing mode set for Pro Evolution 2008, I can’t see the EA title staying the course.

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