FIFA Soccer 07 Review (PS2)

Soccer is the only sport that I can honestly say video games played a large part in making me a fan. I did play some soccer as a kid, but never grabbed onto the sport like I did with the four "majors". It has actually taken video games and, really, video game communities to introduce me more and more to the real world of soccer. The more I play the games, at least the good ones, the more I find myself drawn to finding matches on TV.

I was a big fan of EA Sports' last soccer effort – 2006 FIFA World Cup. I actually found myself watching more hours of soccer on TV during this year’s World Cup then every other year of my life combined. Getting more involved in the game and its players really had me looking forward to getting a hold of FIFA 07. I was ready for another look at EA’s soccer efforts, with the pomp and circumstance of the World Cup stripped away. Could it still not only hold my interest, but also further stoke the flame?

Having picked up FIFA 06 after my time with 2006 FIFA World Cup sparked my interest, the first thing that jumped out at me when I fired up the PS2 and played FIFA 07 were the physics. The development team at EA Canada appears to have gone into the year with a desire to create a realistic moving, looking and feeling soccer experience. The best way to describe my take on the physics is by saying the game had a new and accurate weight to it. The moving parts, players and the ball, react properly in line with physics and momentum. There’s a sense of gravity that wasn’t always there before. The speed of the game has been tweaked to feel more like you’re really on the field and not looking at a screen. Starting and stopping on a dime is just not the way human beings move, yet too many sports games still have their players move in that manner. Not in FIFA 07.

The ball also feels more logical and independent instead of an extension of a player that travels on a line from one man to another. The combination of the two make ball handling an active part of the game versus merely a mechanism for getting back and forth along the pitch. Momentum and positioning are a factor in the quality of passes in FIFA 07. This forces you to actually think when you’re dribbling more than years past, with the end result being a lot more turnovers and less end-to-end runs.

The new ball and player physics will also affect the number of quality shots you get off in a game. Like passing, it’s hard to get your player into a full sprint, do a deke around a defender and still get off a precision shot at full power. It is tough to do in real soccer, so it’s tough to do in FIFA 07. However, EA has added the ability to take finesse shots this year. These shots are far more controllable and easier to aim, but they do not have the heat behind them.

While I know the fast-break style and booming goals are probably more appealing to the arcade crowd that many EA titles seems to cater to, it was nice to see an effort to move in a more realistic direction.

As happy as I was to see these advancements, you can’t lose sight of the fact that you’re going to spend close to half of the game without the ball, as well. While the players themselves move with the new and more realistic physics, you can still go crazy with the slide tackles with very little risk. Your AI teammates play a pretty solid game, but nothing has really been put into place to force you to play smart as a defender. Maybe next year.

I’ve already mentioned momentum as it pertains to the players and the ball, but momentum is also used effectively in FIFA 07 in the “other” way we’ve come to speak of momentum in sports. Momentum is actually tracked with a meter and definitely plays a role in the output on the field. You can actually feel momentum building in a much more logical way then we’ve seen in other EA titles. For example, the momentum meter in the latest NCAA Football game always feels like a simple equation being played out over and over. Score a touchdown, get four bars. Intercept a pass, get two bars. It feels much more dynamic in FIFA 07. The team at EA Canada should be distributing this code to the rest of the company.

The beauty of this title is that not only are you getting a great game to play, you’re getting a great way to play it with FIFA 07’s Manager’s Mode. In this mode, you’ll take control of your favorite club (real or fictional) and attempt to guide them to a championship. It starts by selecting a sponsor. The sponsor’s can be very laid back or very demanding. Generally speaking, the old adage applies – more money, more problems. After that, the Board will contact you and the expectations will be laid out. These can include both on- and off-field goals for you to achieve. They will also make sure you know which players the fans want to see. Make sure they see them (hint, hint) because keeping the fans happy is one of the cornerstones of success in Manager’s Mode. You also have to keep the Board and the players happy. Oh, and if you find the time, you should probably win a few games.

I found myself really enjoying this mode a lot more than I did in FIFA 06. It wasn’t necessarily deeper; it just played like it was. There wasn’t much more to do, but it kept me interested longer. Combine it with a great playing game and it’s one of the better modes that EA has created this year across all its sports titles.

But, you don’t have to go it alone. You can take FIFA 07 online for some action. And, even more importantly, you can do it in the new Interactive League mode. Now, don’t be fooled by the title, this mode is actually more of a mechanism for matchmaking then a league as we traditionally think of one. You, basically, commit to a team to use in your online match and the engine attempts to find an opponent that has committed to playing the next team on the real-life schedule. Like any online game, you’re going to see a lot of people hitching their wagons to the big guns like Manchester United, but it’s a great way to find matches that feel far less random and actually produces some viable statistics. Unfortunately, the conditions for the games on the PS2 were disappointingly choppy and sometimes featured unplayable lag.

The graphics have changed very little from last year’s version, although the newer physics give a feel and flow of more natural movement. The audio, on the other hand, has really taken a nice jump forward. The play-by-play is some of the best in any sports title to date. The action is called spot-on in terms of timing, and lacks the repetitiveness that hampers so many sports titles. As good as they are, the commentators don’t touch the smart audio attached to the crowd. The crowd sounds feel like they have an equally impressive momentum engine, as you can actually here it build in direct correlation to what is happening below. From a sound standpoint, it’s EA’s best effort on any sports title. Perhaps the game's developers can share this code with the rest of EA, as well.

I like soccer.

There, I said it.

I’m becoming a soccer fan. It took me thirty-some years, but it is finally starting to capture my attention. And I can comfortably say games like FIFA 07 will continue to make me a bigger fan.

Thanks, EA.

FIFA Soccer 07 Score
out of 10