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Sean Pettibone


FIFA 07 (Electronic Arts for Xbox 360)

Bringing a number of interesting features and gameplay modes to the pitch, EA's FIFA 07 is a decent installment on Xbox 360. The game has been enhanced with better ball control that improves aiming and increases shooting accuracy. Its AI makes for more realistic, aggressive opponents, which makes for a more realistic soccer title. Visually, FIFA sports some impressive character model upgrades, though the limited camera angles are annoying. Additional online modes, player creation and management modes add depth and longevity. Disappointingly, FIFA doesn't feature as many leagues and teams as you'd expect it to. However, this is still a decent soccer title with above-average play mechanics that's undermined by problems in key areas.

FIFA 07 is EA's latest soccer title for the Xbox 360 and includes dozens of licensed leagues, teams and players, though not as many as seen in some other versions for some baffling reason. features, modes and extras players have come to expect from the series. In addition to its basic solo matches in practice or competitive modes, players can peruse a number of other options and modes. You can set the difficulty level of each match, adjust the length and difficulty and also edit your lineups before each game begins. You can also choose different formations and strategies before each match, change players and make adjustments to your tactics as well. The game offers a number of other options including weather and time of day as well. Players can choose to play either solo against the AI or with friends online or via a split screen mode. What's really impressive about the online mode is that it supports up to eight players total, which shows how impressive this can be. FIFA 07's Lounge is nicely implemented and winning games here lets you unlock extras when you play the game, including classic teams, extra uniforms and stadiums. When you log in, you can also catch up on the latest soccer news as well, along with updated stats and news. These standard gameplay modes are complimented with a cool challenge mode, where you have to complete certain tasks, such as winning without getting a red card or allowing a goal which adds to the overall depth of the gameplay. You can also create custom characters for use with your teams, with an extensive editor that allows you to change their appearance, physical size and attributes and positions, along with name and number. It's quite impressive and you can spend a lot of time tweaking and adjusting these characters to create the perfect player. This definitely adds some versatility and depth to the usual modes and extends the game's longevity. In addition, those who want a more cerebral approach can play the game in management mode.

When you are enlisted in the Manager mode, you can play through a single or multiple seasons with the same team. You can control virtually every aspect of your team including player contracts, team budgets, ticket prices, trades, scouting and transfers. You can choose to play matches in real time or simulate them so you can concentrate on your decisions. When you win games, you'll earn more money for matches, increase you job security and prestige. As you win points, you'll be able to upgrade your coaching, medical and specialty staff in order to build on your success. You can also purchase upgrades for your player skills, which makes them more effective on the field. As you play through the mode, you'll also have to make decisions, such as allowing players to rest before big matches or how many autographs they'll sign. Making mistakes can prove costly, since attendance and sponsorship declines can create a vortex that sucks you in, making it hard to transfer players and turn things around. If you don't meet expectations, the team won't hesitate to fire you, so you can't rest on previous accomplishments. FIFA 07's Manager mode is an enjoyable diversion and that can be surprisingly addictive once you get into it. However, the menu-based gameplay becomes a bit dry after awhile, and you'll probably find yourself craving some on-field action.

When you're on the pitch, you'll find many things to like and some that will probably annoy you. One of the best features in FIFA 07 is that you can change tactics on the fly using the d-pad to change. This system is effective and lets you change attacking and defensive styles to forward players. You can also substitute players fairly easily, and the game allows you to edit formations and tactics fairly easily. The game's controls are superb and allow you to move around the field easily. Most of the basic controls like dribbling and running are failry easy to use and give the gameplay a good flow. You can perform some cool moves using the first-touch method that allows you to control the direction and pacing once your player gets the ball. Some of the moves are fairly elaborate and you can use the first touch to switch directions quickly, change direction and to perform cross shots. Using these moves is the only way to consistently keep control of the ball, since the AI is smart enough to take the ball from you. You can perform either short or long passes which adds to the strategy. Passing between players is fairly easy to accomplish, though you need to be careful; the opponents always seem to be waiting in anticipation of your next moves. FIFA 07 features several levels of difficulty and while the lower levels offer little challenge, the harder difficulty settings are next to impossible. At these levels, the play can be ferocious since you need to work hard to defend possession and move down the pitch. When an opponent attacks, you need to keep them off balance and try to knock the ball out from under them by tackling or kicking it from under them. However, this can lead to penalties if you're too aggressive so you need to approach these encounters carefully.

As in real soccer, a key element is keeping the ball on your side of the pitch, while on defense tacking is a key strategy. Mastering the tackling moves can be difficult since the game doesn't give you much margin for error, frequently resulting in penalties and yellow cards. It makes for a somewhat frustrating game that penalizes even the smallest amount of aggression, which is very annoying. Another key element in FIFA 07 is coordinating your team's movement and position to enable set pieces and goal shots. It takes some practice, but keeping an eye on the radar helps to see the full field better. When you make pass-through shots, you need to aim the ball at your forwards and strikers, which keeps the goalie off balance and increases the likelihood of a goal connecting. Switching player under you control is fairly easy to perform and doing this allows you to move in front of the ball and head off passes, but the defensive mainly involves trying to keep up with the computer AI opponents. The game succeeds in creating an straightforward control system, but most players will have trouble with some of the key mechanics which aren't as intuitive or effective as they could be. Pressing down increases the shot strength indicator, the longer you press, the more the shots go higher. When you approach the net, you need to be careful not to let the ball get away from you, since the keepers don't hesitate to grab loose balls. Shooting is also something you need to practice, since the goalies are smarter this time around, it makes lazy shots into wasted shots. You definitely need to think ahead and try and outsmart the AI this time around. If you do get into position, you need to worry about overshooting the net. The direction your character faces and length from the goal means you need to be careful at these points. It can be an exercise in frustration and learning the precise timing is harder than you'd expect it to be. While there are many good points in FIFA 07's controls, there are also many flaws that can become frustrating leading to a mixed result where some elements are better implemented than others.

Unfortunately, there are other key areas where the game falls a bit short of the mark. Surprisingly, the game doesn't offer as many leagues and teams as you'd expect. While the big European clubs are included, many others have been excluded. For example, while Landon Donovan of the LA Galaxy appears on the cover of the US version, neither that team, nor any other in the MLS appears in the game. This is a huge disappointment that makes the game feel very limited in its scope, which is doubly annoying since other versions of FIFA 07 have the MLS, even the humble DS includes the league. From a visual standpoint, the cut scenes between rounds look fantastic as usual, but the in-game graphics are disappointing, and don't deliver the high definition title you expect. The game locks you into a limited number of camera angles, all of which are fairly distant and lack the detail and vivid animation you'd think they would have. The game looks decent, but still doesn't offer much improvement from EA's previous soccer titles on the console. FIFA's in-game commentary is well done, but it can't save the title from feeling a bit empty in many aspects. You'd think, as the company's third FIFA release in a year, that the 07 edition would offer more depth and polish in this department, but this title still falls short of expectations. In the end, these flaws drag the title down. FIFA 07 offers some interesting modes of play, but doesn't add significantly, in terms of gameplay, depth or visual quality from previous Xbox 360 titles. There are some decent elements in the game, but FIFA 07 still suffers from the same glaring flaws that keep it from claiming the cup despite repeated attempts.

- Michael Palisano


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