You've got to hand it to EA Sports--whatever the platform, the developer knows how to take advantage of the hardware. FIFA 08 for the PlayStation Portable offers pretty much everything you could ask of a handheld football game, with local and online multiplayer, multiple game modes, and the ability to transfer data to and from the PlayStation 2. It also plays a solid game of football, and while it's not up to the standard of the home console versions, it's definitely fun to play.
EA Sports has crammed a lot into the game this year, and much of the content is exclusive to the PSP. While there are the usual quick match and tournament options, the supplementary modes really add a lot of longevity to the game. Take the football IQ mode, for example: It's a football quiz where you answer questions to score goals. If you correctly answer successive questions, your team dribbles the ball toward the goal, and if you answer incorrectly it comes back toward your own. Reach the goal and you have to answer two difficult questions in order to score, and if the other team is in a similar position you must give the right answer to save it. The game begins with easy questions about your favourite team and league, then moves on to other leagues and countries as you progress.
The football IQ mode won't last too long, but there are plenty of other games on offer. Like the other console versions, the PSP now offers interactive leagues, allowing you to head online and represent your favourite team against people from all around the world. Fixtures occur at around the same time as the real-world matches themselves, and the overall results are fed into a central database that tracks all the versions of the game. Every result has an effect on the virtual standing of your team, and for fans it's a nice accompaniment to the real football season. You'll find that there are a lot more people who want to play as popular teams such as Manchester United, but you can play as many matches as you like as long as you can find opponents.
In fact, the interactive league is just one part of a very accomplished online mode. If you have a Wi-Fi connection to the Internet, you can create an EA account and log in for various game modes and live ESPN score updates. The simplest is the "play now" option, which automatically pairs you up with someone else who's looking for a game, but there's also a lobby system if you want to type messages to people before you begin. It's a sophisticated system when compared to other PSP football offerings, and the only downside we saw was the limited number of people playing when we looked for a game. While the general online performance was good, with relatively little lag, we did encounter a high number of disconnections during the game. It was difficult to determine whether that was from users quitting or from a technical problem, but it did sour the experience.
Even if you don't have an Internet connection, there's plenty to keep you occupied in FIFA 08. Many features have been carried over from last year, including the challenge and manager modes, but both have been tweaked and expanded for this outing. The challenge mode now offers 61 matches with preset criteria, so you might be starting the match 10--or even 45--minutes in with the aim of winning the game by two goals. The manager mode gives you a much more hands-on role at your club, with player training and transfers as well as the board and the media to deal with. You get e-mails from the board of directors and scouts and receive actual newspapers such as The Sun with headlines from your league. It's not as deep as the dedicated management sims, which really let you get into the nitty-gritty of formations and tactics, but it offers probably the deepest challenge in the game. The new addition this year is the opportunity to arrange up to four preseason friendly matches. It's not a big change, but it lets you better adapt your training and final player lineup ahead of the main season.