If you're an Xbox-360-owning fan of the FIFA series, you've no doubt been hotly anticipating the arrival of FIFA 07. Not only because the Xbox 360 version shipped to stores almost a month after other versions, but also because FIFA 07 is purportedly the first soccer game that EA Sports has developed from the ground up for Microsoft's console. The good news is that FIFA 07 is undoubtedly the best Xbox 360 game in the series to date. The bad news is that, in some ways, it's still inferior to its PlayStation 2 and Xbox counterparts.
The emphasis in FIFA 07 is on passing rather than beating opponents with skill moves and tricks.
After loading FIFA 07 for the first time, you'll be prompted to select your favorite team from the 117 clubs and 37 international sides in the game. Then, if you wish, you can jump straight into a match against one of your chosen team's rivals or another player simply by clicking on the kick-off option. Other gameplay options--which we'll talk about in more detail shortly--include online play, manager mode, challenge mode, and the FIFA lounge. The lack of any customizable league or tournament options is a little disappointing, but the FIFA lounge mode is such a great way to play with friends that they'd likely be redundant anyway. Regardless of which mode you opt for, you'll find that FIFA 07 plays quite differently from recent games in the series, including those that bear the same title on other platforms. Unfortunately, not all of the new features and changes have been made for the better. There's certainly no question, however, that EA Canada's latest offering plays an enjoyable game of soccer.
As was the case in other versions of FIFA 07, one of the first things you'll notice when playing the Xbox 360 game is that the players move more convincingly than those in previous games. The excellent player animation can take some of the credit for that, but what really affects the gameplay is the fact that players now accelerate and decelerate realistically. When players are running with the ball at full speed, it's now much more difficult for them to turn sharply without losing possession. By the same token, defending players charging in for tackles will have a harder time tracking opponents who are doing anything other than simply running in a straight line. The upshot of the more realistic player movement is a greater emphasis on passing the ball. And combined with FIFA 07's very limited arsenal of skill moves, this certainly isn't a bad thing.
Retaining possession of the ball against skilled opposition can be quite challenging because making tackles in FIFA 07 isn't very difficult and the CPU-controlled players on your team don't always seem too concerned about making intelligent off-the-ball moves. It's very satisfying to manually trigger another player's surging forward run then pick him out with a perfectly-placed through pass. FIFA 07, however, walks a fine line between giving you plenty of opportunities to do that and just surrounding you with teammates who do very little unless you tell them what to do. However, the most frustrating thing about the guys on your team is the way that they refuse to move toward a ball that's been passed to them. Regardless of whether or not an opposing player is well placed for an interception, they prefer to stand there and wait for the ball to reach them. This problem isn't unique to FIFA 07 by any means. However, it's more noticeable here than in other versions of the game and certainly has the potential to cause frustration.
The shots that fly off into the crowd after you've worked really hard to create a chance on goal for your team is even more frustrating. In FIFA 07, you'll be seeing a lot of these horribly wayward shots. This is not because there's anything wrong with the game's shooting system but quite the opposite. When you take a shot, its accuracy and pace will be determined by the skills of the player you're using. This includes his balance, body-shape, and to what degree he has the ball under control at the time. Bicycle kicks on the end of crossed balls are the surprisingly frequent exception to this rule. For the most part, however, shots have a far greater success rate if your player has the ball under control and takes a moment to beat the goalkeeper with the position of his shot rather than the power of it. Chip shots that are performed by using the modifier button are an especially satisfying way to beat keepers who rush off their lines. The finesse shot modifier (which we've found to be far more useful in this game than in other versions of FIFA 07) also makes your attempts on goal more accurate but less powerful. Shots that are off target in FIFA 07, then, are frustrating in a good way because they're realistic. And no matter how much you curse about it when playing online, they're your fault. It's true that many of the most spectacular goals in FIFA 07 are scored without using either of the modifier buttons, but they're rarely the most satisfying ones.
Blink--and you might miss the only replay of the best goal you've ever scored.
One of the most enjoyable moments in any soccer game comes right after you score a goal. This is especially true when you're playing against a friend or a rival team. The commentators get excited, the crowd roars, and you get to relive the whole thing in slow motion while manually controlling the camera. However, this isn't always the case in FIFA 07. The commentary from ITV's Clive Tyldesley and Sky Sports' Andy Gray isn't always delivered in a timely fashion. Either the noise from the crowd cuts out or becomes occasionally muffled. And you only get one brief replay of each goal, which is often delivered from a somewhat awkward camera angle. The fact that these aspects of the game feel rushed or unfinished is made more disappointing by the fact that they were all handled so well in other versions of FIFA 07. The commentary on the Xbox 360 can become especially grating after a while. Although it's well delivered and contains some genuinely interesting tidbits of team-specific trivia, there are times when the play-by-play talk is accurate only slightly more often than a stopped clock.
Like most (if not all) sports games, FIFA 07 is best played against human opposition. The four difficulty levels that are available for matches against the CPU offer a decent challenge. The game's artificial intelligence, however, becomes quite predictable after you spend a lot of time with it and comes with a few odd quirks. We came across one of these quirks the first time we played a match against the CPU. With about five minutes of the match left, we were really impressed when our opponent decided to waste some time by making a late substitution. At the time, we were a goal down. The commentary team quite shrewdly pointed out what the other team was up to, presumably experiencing a moment of clarity. But we were less impressed when we realized that CPU-controlled teams always make substitutions within the last 10 minutes of a game, regardless of the score line or anything else. It's mildly irritating only because it's so predictable. It also doesn't help that the players coming onto the field have already managed to accumulate 80-minutes worth of mud on their uniforms while sitting on the bench.