Goals like the aforementioned one are great to see when you're playing against a CPU-controlled team, but they're even more satisfying when scored against a human opponent. The GameCube version of FIFA 07 lacks the online play found in other versions of the game, which in turn means that one of EA Sports' biggest innovations for the series this year, Interactive Leagues, is also absent. Other differences between the GameCube game and its PlayStation 2 and Xbox counterparts are few and far between, and the only one that impacts gameplay is that Nintendo's official controller isn't as well suited to the game--especially since it has one less button. FIFA 07 looks great on the GameCube, and it very rarely suffers from any of the slowdown that we experienced on the PS2. When shadows fall on players, they're much too dark, though, and no attempt has been made to re-create the depth-of-field blurring that's used to good effect in other versions of the game.
The good news is that while FIFA 07 on the GameCube lacks a number of features found in other versions of the game, the excellent FIFA Lounge mode isn't one of them. FIFA Lounge remains one of the most enjoyable ways to play the game if you're in a room with up to seven of your friends, although some questionable changes have been made to the feature this year. The idea is that a group of you can play each other across multiple gaming sessions and have the game keep track of your results in a league table. Furthermore, you'll collect power-ups (or opponent power-downs) known as "cheap shots" as you play that can be used to level the playing field in your favor before a subsequent match. In FIFA 06, these cards were allocated in such a way that losing players generally had more cheap shots available to them. In FIFA 07, however, the opposite is true, since winning players are almost always rewarded with better cheap shots.
In manager mode, picking and subsequently pleasing a sponsor is crucial for your club's finances.
It's still possible to level the playing field to some extent before FIFA Lounge matches, but doing so is now achieved by awarding goals to a team before any cheap shots are activated. It's neat that when awarding goals to a team in this way, you can actually see a visual representation of how much it's likely to improve your chances of winning based on previous performances, but the system feels like a step in the wrong direction after last year's game. Winning a match against a superior player because you were able to bench his star forward or give all of his players a level of fatigue before kickoff is still rewarding, but beating that same player with a two-goal head start is a hollow victory at best.
When you're not playing against your friends head-to-head or in the FIFA Lounge, you'll likely be putting your management skills to the test in FIFA 07's manager mode. The manager mode lets you assume control of any team in the game (or even one of your own creation) and then tasks you with leading them to glory while making decisions that can affect your club both on and off the field. After accepting a job at a team, your first duty will be to select a sponsor for the season. These sponsors won't replace the real ones on your uniforms when you play, but they're an important source of income, and you'll find that the sponsors offering you the most money are invariably the ones that will be the most difficult to please.
Next up will be an e-mail from your club's board of directors detailing their expectations for the season. Predictably, clubs that are currently enjoying a lot of success in real life expect it to continue, so choosing to manage a top-flight team can be more challenging than opting for one that's accustomed to midtable obscurity or relegation battles. The expectations are a little more varied in FIFA 07 than they were in FIFA 06, so in addition to achieving certain league and cup positions, you might find yourself tasked with improving club finances, reducing player salary bills, or extending the contracts of certain players. The board will also let you know which players are the fans' favorites, hoping that you'll find room for them in your starting 11 as a result.
As in last year's game, your three main considerations in manager mode are keeping the fans happy, maintaining job security by keeping the board happy, and having good team chemistry. One of the new features for this year's manager mode is the player growth system, which lets you pluck upcoming players from your youth squad and then, by playing them alongside the first team, encouraging them to develop. Every player in your squad will gain experience points at the end of a match based on his performance, and you'll notice that the number of points awarded to young players is generally much higher than the number given to experienced pros. The flipside is that to nurture a star for the future, you have to spend multiple seasons fielding a player who isn't really good enough to be playing alongside the rest of your team.
The other significant new feature in manager mode is the "visual sim" option for matches. If for some reason you don't want to play a match yourself (we're not sure why that would ever be the case, frankly), the visual sim option lets you watch play-by-play commentary of the match and intervene with tactical decisions or by jumping in and assuming control at any time. The text-based commentary and match statistics that you have access to while in visual sim mode are adequate rather than impressive, and we can't help but wonder why there's no option to watch the game being played out using the regular, great-looking match engine. Fact is, the management portion of FIFA 07 works well in between matches, but it's not nearly deep enough to play purely as a management sim, which makes the option to "quick sim" games and get a result instantly even more redundant than the aforementioned one.
Quite why you'd ever want to play out your manager-mode matches in visual sim mode is a mystery.
Regardless of the fact that the management in FIFA 07 isn't particularly deep (though it can be very engaging), to play the game without actually playing the matches yourself would be to miss out on some of the best soccer visuals that we've seen in a game to date. The players in FIFA 07 are instantly recognizable for the most part, but it's their animation that really stands out as a huge improvement over last year's game. In FIFA 06, the player animation was difficult to fault, but in FIFA 07, it's nigh on impossible--you'll see players controlling the ball with different parts of their bodies, you'll see them losing their balance and falling over occasionally, and you'll certainly notice them bumping into rather than clipping through each other when areas of the field get busy.
FIFA 07, then, is a game that undoubtedly improves upon FIFA 06 in a number of ways, though it also has a few quirks of its own. This is an easy game to recommend if you have any interest in soccer, but it's not a giant leap forward for the FIFA series in the same way that other recent iterations have been, and the GameCube version doesn't compare favorably with those on other platforms. FIFA 07 is a must-have if you missed out on FIFA 06, and it's definitely worth a look if you enjoyed last year's game and are ready for a change.
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