FIFA08 is a rich, filling meal. After an hour of playing FIFA08 I start to feel very full up.
FIFA08 is an uncompromising, rugged simulation of the game of football. This much is already well-known, although I’d bet there are still plenty of PES fans who believe in the ‘same old FIFA’ slogan that we’ve spent a decade confidently repeating to ourselves. It’s no longer true, but the news is taking its time getting out there.
The astounding thing about EA’s effort this year wasn’t just that they caught up with PES in simulation terms, but leapt over PES and streaked away into the distance. This doesn’t necessarily mean that FIFA08 is the better football game, of course. FIFA08 has certainly not been to everyone’s liking. FIFA08’s very simulation-ness is the reason so many PES fans dislike it so much.
It really is possible to play several dour, technical 0-0 games in a row. It’s pretty common in FIFA08 to play games in midfield for most of the time, with the AI grimly holding onto the ball or just as grimly wresting the ball away from you. For me, it’s a reason to like the game, and to celebrate EA’s belated arrival on the field of serious football games. (Maybe that should be EA’s re-arrival—I thought some of the mid-1990s FIFAs were pretty good for their time. Particularly FIFA97.)
I’m still playing my second career in FIFA08 Manager Mode with Dagenham & Redbridge. I’ve already taken them from being the absolute worst team in the English leagues (which is why I chose them) to the brink of promotion to the Championship.
I’ve quickly assembled a very good squad, which is one of the game’s great failings in my opinion. If you want a player and you’ve got the money, you’ll get that player in all but a few instances. The only way to make it even remotely realistic is to implement House Rules, which is always a bad sign. I think FIFA09 has got to have a proper transfer market, the tougher the better.
I’ve finally got off my lazy behind and moved up a difficulty level. I’d spent most of my FIFA08 play-time since September on Professional, with occasional peeks over the wall at the World Class and Legendary levels. I soon rushed back when I found a game that was so difficult it was very little actual fun to play. I’m not the kind of gamer who usually demands that a game should be fun above all else, so what I saw in World Class on FIFA08 really spooked me.
Three games from the end of the season, with Dag & Red sitting in third place in League 1, I took a deep breath (as much literal as metaphorical) and changed the game difficulty to World Class. I braced myself, and plunged in.
At first I was pleasantly surprised. One of the features of FIFA08 at Professional difficulty is the regular recurrence of 1-0 scorelines. That’s okay, really—it’s one of the most common scorelines in real-life football. But it’s often frustrating to see the AI carve itself out a great chance in front of goal only to ridiculously shoot wide or head over (from two yards). On World Class, the AI is proportionally deadlier in front of goal. The AI rarely, if ever, tries long shots on Professional; on World Class, it scores beauties from distance quite regularly.
I lost my first game on World Class 3-1. It was the worst defeat I’d had in FIFA08 for a couple of seasons. I was pretty frustrated by the AI in this game. One of FIFA08’s worst features, in my opinion, is the AI’s rather transparent keepball script. With the ball at an AI player’s feet, he’ll often turn and turn, and run in tight little circles, automatically evading any and every effort to get at the ball.
Professional fouls don’t work in FIFA08—or better to say that they don’t work as well as they do in PES2008. In PES it’s pretty easy to hack a player down if that’s what you really, really want to do (and you’re happy to accept the likely red card). In FIFA08 the AI player just ‘knows’ when you’re trying to scythe him down, and he jinks from side to side and speeds up accordingly.
As in PES, in FIFA08 the AI goes into overdrive when it’s behind. Things aren’t nearly as bad as PES’s God Mode. Your own players don’t lose the ability to trap the ball, dribble, pass, and shoot. But the AI’s keepball script frequently gets ramped up to preposterous levels. It can get very ugly out there when you’re trying to defend a lead.
I recovered from the defeat to win the next game 2-0. It was a very satisfying game that featured a FIFA08 rarity—a goal straight from the kickoff:
It’s pretty straightforward to dribble past a player or two from the kickoff, even on World Class. But I’ve found it tough to score that kind of goal. As anyone who has played FIFA08 (or UEFA2008) would testify, getting the right timing, power, and placement to execute a long-range shot is one of the most challenging (and rewarding) aspects of the all-new FIFA engine.
After this I drew a game 1-1 with a last-minute equaliser. I’d won promotion and, as it turned out, the League 1 title. I’m happy to be playing in the Championship next season. But I’ll have to play extremely well, and concentrate very hard, to have any chance of making it into the Premier League. World Class took its toll on me in this short play-session. I felt as if I’d spent my time almost strangling the controller. Did I enjoy the games more than I would have enjoyed Professional? Yes, absolutely. As a gamer I love games with depth, subtlety, strategy, all those things. It’s no wonder the instant gratification crowd have largely shunned FIFA08.
Ah, but will I enjoy a full season on World Class difficulty? Now that is the question. I’ll know more by next Sunday.