Featuring 520 teams and 27 leagues from around the world, FIFA Soccer 07 is designed to imitate reality with improvements to sound, player movement, receiving, shooting, fans, AI, and ball physics over the previous year's version. Trending toward a more organic form of gameplay, FIFA Soccer 07 focuses on realistic athletic movement by altering the way players receive, shoot, and pass the ball, with such options as basic shot mechanics and a "skill shot" button for attempting a bend or backspin. Computer-controlled players are programmed to make decisions on the fly, including formation changes.
You can manage an existing team or create your own. Mold it into a million-dollar franchise by overseeing the budget, player development, wages, and league standing in "Manager" mode. As a manager, you need to keep an eye on such elements as team chemistry, job security, and fan support. You can recruit young players directly from your own academy and acquire more experienced players from other teams, and then mix and match the two to give the greenhorns a chance to improve under the watchful eye of a seasoned pro.
Internet play features room for eight players and an added Interactive League competition that is intended to add more to the online community by exploiting rivalries and competitive spirit between two teams. The league is based on real soccer teams that include English Premiership, Bundesliga, France's LFP, and the Mexican First Division. Choose a team to represent, wait until the real-life team is playing another actual squad featured in the Interactive League, and then play against online supporters of the opposing team. EA will keep track of the winners and the leading team at the end of the week is declared the winner.
Normal online games in the FIFA Lounge include a handicap adjustment so expert gamers do not discourage newcomers to the FIFA soccer series. FIFA Soccer 07 features a soundtrack with artists from around the world including Blasted Mechanism, Boy Kill Boy, Carlos Jean, Elefant, Keane, Malibu Stacy, Mellowdrone, and Muse, among others.
Though vastly improved, it's worth noting that this year's FIFA is in a different class than Winning Eleven as far as being a true soccer simulation; if that's what you're after, you're much better off sticking with Konami's AI juggernaut. FIFA's problem in the past wasn't that it lagged behind Winning Eleven as a sim, it's that it was an unrealistic button-masher with mindless AI that started to turn off even casual fans. FIFA 07 is the lure that brings the casual soccer fan back to the table.
It starts with ball physics. No longer does the ball attach itself to a player's foot, allowing you to dribble coast to coast without fear of losing control. In addition, the improved physics shine when passing and shooting. The ball reacts in a much more realistic fashion that adds a staggering amount of necessary unpredictability to the gameplay. Nothing seems predetermined, which was one of the biggest failings of the FIFA series in the past. The physics are still a shade behind Winning Eleven, but this new fluidity provides some surprises, particularly in multiplayer games, as the AI still tends to be a bit on the slow side.
It's not that the AI in FIFA 07 is awful; it's actually fairly competitive. Its problem is that it's still way too predictable. Play a game against Arsenal and they use the same style as Liverpool and Chelsea. Sure, their formations might vary, but you really can't tell the difference in how they play. The strategy is pretty much the same, and this is where FIFA abandons soccer fans who crave a simulation. To put this into American context, it would be like playing an NFL game where every team passes 35 times and no one ever blitzes, but runs a simple base cover-2 every down. It takes away a lot of strategy and strips a team of its identity.
On the plus side, the AI is immeasurably better at attacking and defending, even if every team uses the same style. It's no longer possible, unless you're a whiz with a gamepad and use a great player, to dribble through a defense and make long, solo runs. CPU teammates make sensible runs and try to actually get open rather than standing around waiting for a pass. Defenders excel at poking the ball away unless you try to get your teammates involved. Along these same lines, passing is no longer simply a matter of hitting the "through ball" button and marching down the pitch at will. The AI actually intercepts passes, and not every pass is pinpoint perfect, which are two things that have been missing in this series for years.
When on the attack, the AI no longer tries to get within point-blank range before shooting; it passes, lobs, and heads shots outside the box, which is something we haven't seen in a FIFA game in years, if ever. The improved AI makes the game not only more challenging, but with the combination of the improved physics, it makes for a competitive, engaging game.
Unfortunately, one area where the AI still needs a shot in the arm is goalie intelligence. Goalies make routine saves well enough, but if the ball is loose in the box, say on a corner kick, the goalies have a tendency to freeze, unwilling to make a move, and give up a lot of unnecessary goals as a result. It doesn't seem to matter how good or bad a goalie's ratings are, either; it affects them all, regardless of talent.
The graphics are also merely serviceable. It doesn't look bad -- until you get a glimpse of what the 360 version looks like. The player faces are muddy and the pitch is not particularly detailed. Still, unless you are insistent on playing the best-looking soccer game around, the visuals are without a doubt satisfactory; they're just not eye-popping. The audio fares a bit better. The commentary is good, although there is a significant amount of repeated dialogue. It's the crowd that brings the game to life. Not only do you get the usual singing and chanting from the spectators but the roar of the fans in FIFA Soccer 07 is better than in any EA Sports game to date. It's what you'd expect to hear -- but don't -- in a game like Madden. When the home team scores a goal, it's complete pandemonium.
Manager mode, which works as the game's career mode, makes its return with a few key additions. You can now do a "visual sim" of your game, which plays like a text simulation as you literally read the play-by-play of the match. The cool part is that any time during the sim you can hop in and play the game in regular gamepad mode. Player growth is also modeled as each player earns experience by playing, and tends to stagnate when injured or when riding the pine. Manager mode shouldn't be confused with the depth and realism of a text sim like Football Manager, but for an arcade game this is a fantastic mode of play; it far surpasses any other EA game in terms of career play.
Online play, which is a great way to play because it removes some of the AI, would be made even better if you could do a multi-user Manager mode, but at least EA is trying something different with its Interactive Leagues. In this mode you select your favorite team and play online games that follow their real-life schedule (there is a two to three-day window to get the games played). When your team is about to play Manchester United, for example, you log on to the EA servers and play a game against any Man U player willing to take you on. When you win an Interactive League match it tallies one point for your team, and after the three-day window closes, the team with the most points gets the win for that match. So it's not just you playing as your team -- you need to hope that other players in your league are using your club properly, too. It's a really novel concept, and while depending on other players to help your team advance in the standings is frustrating at times and not too many people are playing with low level Premiere teams, EA deserves some credit for offering a very different way to track online matches.
In the end, FIFA Soccer 07 is a sizeable leap forward for the series. It's still a few key AI tweaks away from challenging Winning Eleven for the arcade soccer crown, but at least EA's game is back in the conversation. For the first time in a long while, the future looks bright for EA Sports soccer.
People who downloaded FIFA Soccer 07 have also downloaded:
FIFA World Cup: Germany 2006, FIFA Soccer 06, FIFA Soccer 2005, FIFA Soccer 2004 (a.k.a. FIFA Football 2004), FIFA Manager 07, NHL 07, Madden NFL 07, FIFA: Road to World Cup 98
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