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Sunday, October 15, 2006

PlayStation Review: FIFA Soccer 07

Why do I play this, you ask?

It goes something like this:

I, like most of the rest of you, have a job that is challenging and occassionally stressful and frustrating. It's a job where we talk about goals and objectives, and it's a job where sometimes you can lead a team to an outstanding result and sometimes when the moons aren't aligned it resembles a cat-herding exercise. It's an international job, too, so it helps to know international cultural aspects to let your colleagues know that you care about their culture. I don't know if the prior sentence logically followed the one that preceded it, but I write this to give a backdrop as to why I play this particular game.

First, the kids started playing soccer at the age of 3. They've since taken a break from it because the soccer locals are intense about it and are seeking commitments at ages before the talent truly separates that my "renaissance" kids (my joking term, not anyone else's) don't want to make and neither do we. Travel soccer at 7 1/2 seemed a bit much and also seemed predicated on a parent's willingness to drive as much as a kid's ability to play, and that, to me, is a mixed message. Kids on competitive teams should play because they're the best players, not because their parents can do the driving. Otherwise, it's tough to win if you can't put the best team out there all the time (that is, you have to play everyone because everyone has been willing to make the trip, and kids who travel will get discouraged if they join the team but don't get to play). Anyway, I wanted to learn more about soccer, so I took up this game several years ago, first playing FIFA Soccer 05.

Second, I wanted to learn the international game. It goes without saying that soccer is the most popular sport in the world, and I wanted to know who the key players are and what the key leagues are. With the World Cup coming up in '06, I wanted to get a sense of which countries were the countries to watch and who were the key players. Ultimately I learned about players like Zidane, Cannavaro, Buffon, Cech, Dida, Robinho, Ronaldinho, Henry, Owen, Rooney, Figo, Deco, etc.

Third, I wanted something to relax with at the end of the day. I quickly learned that I could score goals every day if I played the game at its lowest level ("Amateur") took a good team (such as Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, AC Milan, Real Madrid, Juventus) against a bad one (such as Guegnon, Valenciennes, anyone in the English second division) and played at home. Initially I was winning 5-0, and then I started to win 8-0 or even once 11-0. How? I became adroit at dribbling, at passing, at handling the "set pieces" and at corner kicks. It was a great reward when I could center a ball from the wing and have an Henry or Rooney or von Nistelroy convert it into a goal. I don't get tired of the English announcer's exclaiming, "They just can't stop scoring." Occasionally I play the game in Spanish so I can hear the play-by-play announcer yell "Gooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooool!" in a fashion that makes my son and I smile widely every time I hear it. That type of enthusiasm is infectious.

Anyway, the 05 game was fun, and the 06 version took some getting used to. The quality of the graphics was better, but you had to adjust to the game and think a few more split seconds ahead. The set pieces also got easier to calibrate, for in the 05 game despite the best of my trying I usually sailed a free kick so far over or beside the goal that it caused the broadcaster to say "they could have had a goal next to the goal and he still wouldn't have scored." Yes, the broadcasting was realistic and frank, even if the set pieces weren't.

The 06 improved the graphics and fixed the set pieces and seemed a marked improvement over the 05 game. Also, the referees were more wont to give red cards for initial egregious fouls in the 06 game than in the 05 game, and that has continued into the 07 game. Still, in games that feature, say, Chelsea hosting Scunthorpe or Swansea or Arrington, you aren't likely to have that many cards, because the players from Chelsea are so much better that they run laps around the players from an average Football League Two team.

The 07 game is an excellent game, with some of the improvements being that you can play the game from the vantage point of varying camera angles. I have chosen the "Dynamic" angle (resembling a realistic broadcast), changing the default from an overhead camera that seemed rooted in an old U.S. basketball arena than in a football stadium. The sun for the day games seems a little bit bright, and there's no option (as there was in 05) for playing on a rainy day (actually in 05 the rain was randomly generated -- you couldn't ask for it). The fields look more realistic, even with worn patches around the goals. You can play games in various famous international venues, but it was a bit disappointing not to be able to play Arsenal at Tottenham at Tottenham's home pitch (apparently the EA people can only tailor the game to so many different stadiums, so yesterday I played that match at London's Wembley Stadium; Arsenal's, Chelsea's and Manchester United's home pitches are featured). That's a minor knock, however, because you can pick teams from an increasing number of international leagues (last year they added the Polish league, this year the Turkish). The 07 game is an improvement over the 06 game, but not as big an improvement as the 06 game was over the 05 game.

Overall, FIFA Soccer remains a winner and is a fun way to play computer soccer and to learn who the players are on what team. There is one word of caution for beginners: be patient, as you have to learn all of the different buttons on the PlayStation controller and how they can work in combination with each other. It takes time. Dribbing comes easily, as does basic passing and shooting. But when you want to lob, hit a hard cross or get an extra boost on your first touch, well, you need to play the game for a while to learn the nuances. Give yourself a few months, and you'll be playing the game well.

That said, don't let this pastime detract from your day job. For me, it's a good occasional diversion when I need to wind down.

After all, it's fun to achieve goals, and it's fun to score them too.


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1:51 PM  

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