Thursday, June 5, 2008

UEFA Euro 2008 Review (PS3)

When it comes to EA Sports and their soccer (football) titles, I know them quite well. I have played every edition of the game that has been released in North America since FIFA 98: Road to the World Cup. I've seen the highs (FIFA 99 on PC and FIFA 06 on PS2) and the lows (The US version of FIFA 2000 all versions and FIFA 2004 (off the ball was a bad idea)). When I knew that the Euro 2008 version of the game was coming out, it was a no-brainer that I would pick it up and after two weeks, leading my country and helping another one win the Championship, I feel that I've accomplished my goal, but I wish I didn't spend as much as I did.

Unlike the FIFA editions of the series that contain both domestic clubs and countries from around the world, Euro 2008 focuses solely on the 50+ nations that make up Europe. Most of Europe is represented here, with a few omissions. Countries like The Netherlands and my home-country Serbia lack official kits and official players, since EA couldn't obtain their federation licences, but other than a small batch, most of the nations are represented really well. The players look like their counter-parts and their kits (jerseys) are correct. What is also nice is that all the nations have a large selection of players, so while the main 22-23 players might not be correct as they are in the real world, you can simply move players to make it correct. Also, for those of us who don't have authentic players for our countries, you can edit all the players to make them more accurate.

Considering the small selection of nations (if you consider 50 nations as small) there are plenty of options to play with in this game.

The major mode in the game is your Captain Your Country mode. Almost like an RPG, where you can either create your own player or take an established player and lead them from being just a regular squad member on your B side to leading your country in the finals and lifting that trophy in the end. This is a really well done mode since it takes both the Be A Pro option and the Qualifying and lets you try to create a perfect story. To really enjoy this, you need to create your own character.
In this mode, you’re competing against 3 other players to get that spot. What’s really nice is that if you have 3 friends with you, they can take part of it as well. The better you play, the better your rating which gives you more experience points. Then you can take your experience points and develop your player to a true superstar. The ultimate goal is to have you lifting that title at the end of the tournament and it will take some time to accomplish this. I absolutely loved this mode and hope they can continue this with FIFA 09 and the club scene (which has so many more options and can last multiple seasons).

You also have what EA is calling Battle of the Nations. When you start the game for the first time, the game asks you to pick a country to represent. Of course, you’re picking a European nation, so if you’re not from Europe or have no country to support, this already will throw you off. When you select a country to represent, you’re now playing for bragging rights. Regardless of if you’re playing offline or online, the game tracks your play. The better you play, the more points you get for your country. If your country leads at the end of the day, the game rewards you with treats. While you can represent any country, they want you to play as a lesser nation so you can get more points. For example, if you play as England or France, you’re not going to get as many points in comparison if you play as Cyprus or Iceland, since the quality of players are so much better with the former rather than the later. Since I chose Serbia, I will probably never see what you get for winning but it’s an interesting way of earning bragging rights for your country…except for the fact that this ends on June 30th. The game was only released in North America two weeks ago, and this mode only allows us to participate for only 45 days, so those in Europe already have the leg up on the rest. Also, after June 30th, there is absolutely no reason to play the game for any extra incentive. It’s a nice mode in theory, but they’ll need to work on it if they ever use this again.

I’ve gone at length about what the game has to offer, but now what do I think of it as a game. To be honest, it’s a Good game but not for the price you’ll have to pay for it. At 50 dollars, it’s overpriced considering you’ll only be playing it from now until the end of June or maybe July. FIFA 09 will be out in October, so while you might dabble in this here and there, once October comes, you’re going to forget about this one. Also, the Battle of the Nations mode also hurts since it becomes useless after the end of June. Had this been 29.99 or even 39.99 then I wouldn’t complain, but it’s 10-15 dollars over priced. Other than that, the graphics are great. The stadiums, both the real ones for the tournament, the stadiums for some of the nations and even the made up ones are done really well. I’ve already commented on the detail on the players and jerseys, so you’re getting a really nice looking game. On the field, the player animations are well done and quite fluid; the coaches/managers look good and the addition of the ability to control your goal scorer after scoring a goal is a nice touch and should be around for a while.
The sound is again top-notch. Clive and Andy do an excellent job as their regular duties in the EA series, so you’re getting the feel of an authentic experience.

The only problem I have with the game play comes from the adaptive AI. EA touted that teams are more realistic. Strong teams will play tough while weaker sides will compensate by playing more defensive. While this is nice, it does ruin the fun for some gamers who are looking for an easy victory. This doesn’t bother me except for the clear fact that while weaker nations will typically play defensive, they are rated poorly for a reason. If they wanted to make it more realistic, smaller nations like San Marino, Estonia or even Cyprus, should still be no problem for a nation like Germany, France or Italy since those smaller nations are more prone to making mistakes. Those smaller countries shouldn’t be as fast as the bigger nations, should not have high passing percentages or control of possession. They should be easy to take the ball from and more realistic. This essentially forces you to try to play against teams of equal class since that is the best way to have a great or equal match.
My problem with the AI doesn’t end there. I noticed that teams also play quite differently in Kick Off mode depending on the selection you pick. If you play a friendly, you will easily win your match, regards of the difficulty. But if you decide to play a qualifier, group stage or any of the knockout rounds, the computer AI explodes. I took my Serbia and destroyed Italy 5:0 in a friendly (which is highly unrealistic), but when I played against lowly FYR Macedonia in a group-stage match, our game went to penalties, something that should not have happened. Hopefully EA will improve this. I like the fact that teams won’t be cookie-cut, but they should still play realistically (strong sides should ultimately win, unless the player controlling them sucks).

So in the end, if you’re looking for a soccer (football) title to play before the release of FIFA 09, you can’t go wrong with UEFA Euro 2008. You might want to wait until after June 30th and buy it at a lower price, since right now the cost just doesn’t seem fair. Had they released this game back in April as they did in Europe, then the cost would have made more sense, but at the end of May, it just seems like they released it because they knew footie fans like me would be dumb enough to buy the game. While I have a problem with the price and a bit with the AI, it still has a lot of great options, excellent graphics and the feel of a true football match, you can’t complain there. While I can’t see my country win the Euro, at least I can have them win in HD and there isn’t anything wrong with that.

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