previews\ Oct 25, 2006 at 8:00 pm

FIFA 07 - 360 - Preview

One step closer.

For years, the Winning Eleven franchise has held the crown when it came to actualizing soccer in video-game formats. FIFA has been gaining ground, most noticeably within the last few iterations. The ball physics have gotten much better and the animations are wonderfully done, and adherence to the rules and strategies of the game has gotten closer.

With the release of FIFA 07 on the 360, EA Sports has created a game that is closer yet to scoring the golden goal in the head on matching with the WE franchise. But some of the FIFA franchise’s biggest steps forward on the next-gen platform have also been some of it downfalls. In previous iterations, there was a marked lack of a consistent collision path. The ball would, on occasion, sail through players en route to its intended target (mostly the goal mouth). FIFA 07 has corrected that with collision paths that, when coupled with the improved ball and player physics, create game that comes close to the real deal, but can also – if the play is sloppy enough – starts to resemble bumper pool.

FIFA 07 Xbox 360 screenshots

Is this a failing on EA’s development team? Absolutely not. It is a failing of the years of conditioning that previous releases have fostered, creating a mindset where strategy was important, but you could always take that free kick and place the ball through the wall of defenders. Not anymore. FIFA 07 is still reflexive, but it is also a game in which players will be required to engage the brain and see the field, thinking about strategies on the fly.

EA has taken the old FIFA model and revamped it from the ground up. The AI is smarter, and not above bumping the player-controlled character off the ball. Attacks must be built, working the ball against the defense to create overlaps and gaps in coverage – gaps that can be exploited.

The game itself sports clubs in the top divisions in six nations, plus 37 national teams and 22 licensed stadiums. Player skill levels are obviously in place and EA has even gone so far as to allow players to take cheap shots at opposing players. Team momentum also plays a big role, as does endurance. Keep the sprint button pressed too long and players will lose stamina and your team game will suffer.

Ok, FIFA 07 does not have the team depth of current-gen platforms, but the game is far more intelligent and the vast array of players is easily overlooked when you take into consideration the gigantic leap forward this game has made. There are an array of game modes and the multiplayer is strong, with Live support and same-machine game play.

As a soccer freak (not only from the player perspective but also coaching), the hallmark of a good game is when players are skilled but the game revolves around thinking about how you can best defend or attack. That is what EA Sports has brought to the fore with this title. One player will not run the field. The AI won’t let that happen. Nor will another player. Get online in a league play and no lead is safe if you start being the kind of player that rushes thoughtlessly into the attack.

FIFA 07 Xbox 360 screenshots

Graphically the game scores. The physics and animations are truly wonderful. The sound sports musical tracks from a host of bands from throughout the world, many which you probably have not heard of before (like Fertig, los! from Germany, or Suferosa from Norway). The game truly has an international flavor to the sound.

The game’s controls are more in-depth than in previous releases. The controller’s buttons can often be used in concert to create different results – such as using the B button (for shooting) with the right shoulder button for a finesse shot, or the left or right triggers for a chip or driven shot. Be prepared for a learning curve if you want to master the control scheme.

Much like its releases on other platforms, FIFA 07 for the 360 is a solid and entertaining game that brings the franchise into the next generation of console gaming. Is it mind-blowing? No. But it is a next-gen game that creates the foundations for where the series will, hopefully, be going. This should be a solid purchase for soccer fans that happen to own a 360. Look for the game to release to retail at the end of the month.

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