Right on the ball

With the autumn rains, soccer fans will have to reach their most important annual decision: Whether to buy the latest version of EA Sports' FIFA football simulation game.

fifa disk 88 298 (photo credit: )
fifa disk 88 298
(photo credit: )
FIFA 07, a DVD-ROM in English by EA Sports, distributed with an 18-page Hebrew-language user's manual, requires Windows XP and a 1.3 Ghz Pentium 4 PC or better, for ages 10 through adult, NIS 219. Rating: **** 1/2 With the autumn rains, soccer fans will have to reach their most important annual decision: Whether to buy the latest version of EA Sports' FIFA football simulation game. This year's fast-paced edition is certainly much improved over last year's (which itself was very good) - although there is always room for improvement. The new one, which has separate, more expensive versions for Xbox and PlayStation 2, enables gamers to play soccer in 27 leagues and hundreds of teams around the world (but not Israel, which did not score high enough in the Champions League and thus was left out). The PC version, with its overhauled game engine, works fine with a gamepad but less well with the keyboard. From the first moment, you might find it difficult to pick out what is new. But once you get into it, you'll find that it offers quite a different level of soccer than its predecessor. Scoring goals is, fortunately, more challenging than in FIFA 06, and you won't see fantastic shots every few minutes. Instead of the ball just lying on the ground, it authentically bounces and moves around. Team members hit their speed realistically, as they turn more slowly when they suddenly have to change direction. There is a much greater variety of trick moves to confuse competitors, and these look very natural; in addition, the balance and position of the player you represent determines how well your shots and passes will be. Fans in the stadium emit real-life cheers when their favorite team succeeds and voice their disapproval when they go wrong; this - absent from the previous version - adds to the atmosphere. The field in each stadium looks so real that the grass seems worn down in the center and at the goalposts. The licensed music that you choose for playing in the background is also varied and full of zip. This year's sports commentator team are the same who have narrated the games for some five years in succession, but their voiceovers are witty and relevant. I am always amazed at how these varied, pre-recorded remarks are always so perfectly suited to the actual play that they manage to name your players in control of the ball without error. A performance meter, which appears in the upper-lefthand corner of the screen, indicates how well your team members feel the game is proceeding, as determined not only by the current score but also by recent events on the pitch. This year, EA Sports upgraded its "manager mode," in which you not only play soccer but also have the option of running leagues and teams. Gamers who prefer intensive control and like to pull the strings should, of course, invest their money in Championship Manager and Football Manager, which stress behind-the-scenes administration. But those who want to spend most of their time playing and only a minority on managerial decisionmaking will prefer FIFA 07, as it places these two functions in the proper proportion. In the manager mode, you choose among 21 faces (including four women!) to manage teams and determine their date of birth and nationality. Scout the world to build your teams, negotiate deals, choose sponsors, process a lot of e-mail and handle the press. Fake front pages of well-known newspapers will display your decisions and performance in banner headlines. Determine team chemistry and work within your budget. But while handling these minutiae, you must always keep your board and stockholders happy or they will give you the axe! A completely superfluous new feature is the "visual sim" option that lets you hear play-by-play commentary without playing the match and suddenly take charge if you're unhappy. This split-personality feature is just confusing and impractical. There is, however, a new challenge mode that presents specific tasks such as winning the Swiss Cup. And winning a certain amount of points entitles you to purchase upgraded team uniforms, stadiums, balls and camera angles at the Fan Shop. The on-line mode lets you play one competitor at a time in cyberspace, not more, but it also updates you with actual news in the world of soccer in a ribbon on the bottom of the screen.