Crispy Gamer

FIFA Soccer 08 (PS3)

Are you ready for some Futbol? EA Sports is as ready as ever, and once again FIFA brings soccer action to living rooms everywhere. This year it promised to do a better job simulating the sport than ever before in attempt to take the crown from the competition. Let's take a close look at how they did.

For the PlayStation 3, EA Sports has made significant refinements over FIFA 07. The game just doesn't play the same as before, and that's a good thing when it comes to realism. The game's pace is far more realistic than ever: They've slowed the action down, and now running long distances on the pitch feels like running long distances. This is especially true in the new Be a Pro mode described below. Other improvements include the graphics. These guys look realistic and the motion capturing is fantastic. Your favorite players don't play like carbon copies of each other. They play like individuals, and many of the stars move eerily like their real-world counterparts.

All 30 licensed stadiums look real and ooze authenticity, and it's nice to see replays of the action on huge, stadium-sized screens. Clothing moves naturally and players' faces are covered with a sheen that almost, but not quite, looks like sweat. The field looks green and lush, and play is super smooth.

As mentioned, FIFA 08 plays realistically, but it is more difficult than before, and many would argue that this is a good thing. For players who miss the more accessible FIFA, we wish we could say they included an 'arcade mode' or easier difficulty, but they didn't. This is soccer, and the game plays like it more than ever before. The proof is in the artificial intelligence (AI). It's much harder to score goals, which leads to more realistic scoring. EA claims this is because players are now modeled with their own AI; they react to the ball and each situation the way a real player would. Whatever EA did, it worked, and now you spend less time thinking 'Wow, I'm glad that shot went in!' and more time feeling proud to have outfoxed the defense and gotten past the goalie. That's great stuff!

The soundtrack is fun -- mostly Euro-dance tracks -- and Martin Tyler and Andy Gray handle the commentary. As always, commentary grows repetitive fast, but these guys are pretty entertaining to listen to.

Now let's talk about Be a Pro mode. This mode lets you take control of a single member of the team and drops into a gorgeous third-person over-the-shoulder perspective. At times this is a bit dull: Being a Fullback on a brilliant team means waiting a while for the opponent to come threatening. Being a Forward, however, can be a real thrill. The first thing you'll notice about this mode is what happens if you go out of position. Take your defenseman forward with the ball and watch the enemy's fleetest players run you down, steal the ball, and make for the place you were supposed to be. It also encourages passing and setting up plays. Glory hounds won't do as well as more generous players. This mode is pretty cool, and it's a great way to study positions in soccer, but most of the time you'll still be in control of the entire team. It's also a great way to try out the new trick system installed in the game. It works just as well in a regular game, but in Be a Pro mode you get a better visual of exactly what tricks do in real-time.

The main game in FIFA 08 lets you play a season of any length or one of the many, many real-world tournaments, or you can create your own tournament. You can even make your own World Cup, which is a generous touch, considering that EA Sports doesn't include that tournament in this game, but does release another version of FIFA just for the Cup. Also available is Kick-Off mode, which lets you set up a quick instant-action game with up to three friends on the same TV. There's also a fairly deep management simulation in which you coach your players.

FIFA is also no slouch when it comes to online play, as well. There are interactive leagues and custom leagues with fewer teams and players. There's a wealth of databases tracking your performance online and you can use ESPN Soccernet integration to keep up with the real-world version of your favorite team. On a broadband connection, online play was smooth and lag-free. You can even challenge fans of your favorite team's rivals to matches prior to real-world matches. All scores and results are tabulated, and just before game time the 'winner' is announced. It gives one the feeling they're helping their club, even if only in a small way.

FIFA 08 comes to the pitch redesigned and ready to take on rival Winning 11 at its own game. Some might lament the loss of their kinder, gentler and easier FIFA series of old, but most fans will appreciate that the best-looking soccer sim also stands tall with its gameplay and features.

This review was based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.