Are you ready for some futbol?
I’d never been much of a soccer person, so imagine my surprise at finding myself at an Irish bar on a Sunday afternoon (being at the bar is not the surprising part) watching the World Cup match between Italy and France and being transfixed by the whole deal. Maybe it was the clock counting down to Saint Patty’s Day, maybe it was the beer(s), maybe it was the shots(s), maybe it was the cute redhead in the corner … or maybe it was the room full of insanely passionate people who lived and died with every dribble, pass, and flop.
[image1]Whatever it was, I was sucked right in: suddenly, all that meandering around mid-field – which took on epic proportions for my fellow – made sense to me. What had been slow and boring took on meaning, and I was excited. So, the question is can a video game (in this case FIFA 07) draw a non-soccer fan into the game like a bar full of drunken soccer fans? Although EA’s latest didn’t have me head butting the French or watching Telemundo, it’s definitely a shot in the right direction.
For starters, the game looks great on the Xbox 360. The players look very lifelike and move in a natural way, and more importantly you can FEEL the game as it’s played. There’s no disconnect between the controller in your hands and what happens on screen. What I mean by that is that when one of your players runs, you FEEL the impact of his sneakers hitting the grass. When one of your players slides, you FEEL the ground. When one of your players kicks the ball, you FEEL the ball. Yet when one of your players gets his ankle shattered by a flagrant tackle, you don’t FEEL that. The sharp, realistic graphics and engaging rumbles make this hands-off game feel very hands-on.
In terms of gameplay, shooting feels (not FEELS) about right. It’s very difficult to score goals as the goaltenders are nearly impenetrable, which from my limited experience watching soccer is spot on. I mean, why else do they score less than I did in my late-teens?
[image2]The main problems with the gameplay occur when passing. For starters, on shorter passes when you pass the ball to another player they wait until the ball reaches them instead of running to the ball. This happens despite your being manually switched to the player receiving the ball. Also, on longer passes you can only pass to another player, instead of being able to kick the ball into an area and have a player chase it down. This takes away any chance at fast break attacks based on switching to a player and sprinting to the ball. Both of these are annoying because it takes away the feeling of being in control and impacting the game, which are so important in sports games. Sometimes this lack of player control feels as if you’re playing foosball, not futbol.
The sound is something of a mixed bag, with the music and in-game sound being excellent while the commentary is somewhat lacking. The crowd noise is appropriately rowdy and the home team fans in each stadium chant specifically for their teams. The soundtrack is full raucous music, perfect for stirring up soccer goons (though the lack of fan rioting was mildly disappointing). The commentary is like that in most sports games: seemingly perfunctory, often prosaic, and generally behind the actual game play. I generally play sports games with the commentary turned off, but if you’re big into hearing canned reactions, this may be a negative.
The game features 117 teams from all around the world, including top leagues from Germany, the UK, Spain, Mexico, and Italy. There are also thirty-seven international teams included bringing the total number of teams to a whopping 117. I know it sounds like a lot, but that’s actually not a huge number for a soccer game. You can use points earned by playing games to customize your team, which adds a little incentive to sticking with, and building up, a particular franchise.
[image3]Also included with FIFA 07 is a nifty Lounge Mode that allows you to compete for online supremacy against up to nineteen of your friends. This is great because, personally, I didn’t know there were nineteen people in the United States who liked soccer … I kid, just making sure you’re still with me. The Lounge creates a sense of legitimacy in the otherwise nebulous world of online match play by allowing you to set up standings screens and track results. After all, what’s better than having stats to back up your trash talk? With Lounge Mode your domination of friends isn’t just dust in the virtual wind but actually put down on wax.
One problem with the Lounge Mode, and with the menus in general, is that on my non-HDTV I can barely read the text without straining my eyes or leaning into the TV. This is actually a problem I’ve had with most of the 360 games I’ve played, and I have a 36” Sony. I know we’ve got a foot into the next-generation gaming era but give a brother a chance to catch up (read: talk his wife into buying a ridiculously overpriced TV)!
In the end FIFA 2007
did draw me – a non-soccer fan – into the game of soccer. In so much as I can tell, the game of soccer is largely one of strategy and playing FIFA gave me a sense of what people love so much about the game. Maybe there’s not a lot of scoring, but that’s what makes it so exciting when something does happen. All in all, I found myself jumping for joy after a hard fought goal more often than I found myself wanting to headbutt my 360 out of frustration like Zinedine Zidane
. It was a lot like being in the bar that Sunday, all that was missing was the beer. Oh yeah, and the redhead.