Last year, FIFA 08 took a huge step forward, while Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 took a small step back. This resulted in the two football franchises scoring exactly the same on PALGN (7.0 for those playing at home). Suddenly, it wasn't quite so easy to answer the question of which the best football game was. Here we are six months later, with UEFA EURO 2008, or FIFA 8.5, so has EA's football franchise scored a goal or have they simply failed to qualify?
UEFA EURO 2008 is the official tie in game for the EURO 2008 championships which take place between the 7th and 29th of June. EURO isn't as big as the World Cup, but it's still a huge deal in the football world, with sixteen European teams fighting it out to take the EURO 2008 championship. As the game is based around the EURO 2008 championship there are significantly less teams than in FIFA 08 or the upcoming FIFA 09. Of course, the A League isn't featured in the game, nor are top power house teams such as Brazil or Argentina. It's obviously to be expected, but it's a bit of a shame that the game still retails for full RRP, despite the fact there are less teams.
Despite the fact that there are less teams, there are plenty of single player and multiplayer gameplay options. Those that just want to have a quick kick can play a quick match in kick off. There is also a chance to play through the UEFA EURO 2008 tournament (while starting at the finals qualifiers or playing a full campaign) as well as an online Euro 2008 knockout cup. There is also a Story of Qualifying mode. The Story of Qualifying takes you through some of the dramatic matches from the UEFA EURO 2008 qualifying. It's like a scenario mode with different matches and it's worth completing because completing all of the levels results in a bonus level being unlocked, which features UEFA EURO 2004. But, the true highlights of the package are the Battle of Nations and the Captain Your Country modes.
At the very beginning of the game players will have to choose a country to represent, (Australia, unfortunately isn't included). After selecting a country to represent, every match played offline and online will contribute to an online leaderboard. So, for every match you play, as long as you are connected online, you will earn points which contribute to the leaderboard. At the end of each day the players and the nations in the top finishing positions will earn bonus points. These points then go toward an overall leaderboard which will determine both a champion player and champion nation. It's a brilliant little concept that will probably appeal a little more to European nations than Australians, but we would love to see it expanded upon for FIFA 09.
The Captain Your Country mode is an expansion of last year's Be a Pro mode. In the captain your country mode you take control of the one player and try and work your way up to the captaincy. First you'll need to create a player, and then work with your team to win. It isn't all about scoring, or even setting up goals, but remaining consistent. The game awards points, based on how well you pass, position, shoot, dribble and tackle and then gives the player a real time rating out of ten, which changes as you perform. By passing consistently, or staying in the correct position you'll have a higher mark, which in turn means you will play better. Once you do work your way up to captain your country, there is a little more control over your team as well, so it's worth the effort. We're also pleased that EA is expanding upon the options for those who like just taking control of the one player.
One of the neat little touches in the game is the gamer controlled celebrations. After a big play or a key goal you can push a button to celebrate (Y for example with raise two arms). Any of the four face buttons will execute a gamer controlled celebration, but there are also advanced celebration controls, for those who really like to gloat after a goal.
Where EURO 2008 really impresses is in the gameplay. The developers have obviously started with the FIFA 08 gameplay, but just about everything feels upgraded in some way, shape or form. The AI is now a lot more realistic and a lot more strategic. The game also adds in weather, which actually makes a difference. If it's raining the ball will obviously move slower, which forces the player to change their approach to a game. Those who decide to play a passing game in the rain will quickly find themselves behind. In comparison to Pro Evolution Soccer, EURO 2008 is a better title, so it is now Konami's turn to catch up.
The presentation is second to none in EURO 2008. The game looks simply phenomenal and the stadiums are faithfully recreated. The players look sensational, the crowd is even more vocal than ever before and the attention to detail is absolutely spectacular. This doesn't mean the title escapes unscathed though, as there are still some random glitches and the crowd could do with a bit of work visually, but overall EURO 2008 is a very polished game.
EURO 2008 is a better title than FIFA 08 and Pro Evolution Soccer 2008. The tweaks to the game have resulted in a more realistic game of soccer and the upgrades are enough that if you go back to FIFA 08 the game does feel inferior. Those that forked out for FIFA 08 when it launched may be a little hesitant to pick up a title that will be made redundant in about six months, but if you've previously shied away from the FIFA series then EURO 2008 is a brilliant re-introduction.