Software Review: On the field & behind the scenes

This is the 10th edition of Football Manager, and it is by far the best.

fifa disk 88 (photo credit: )
fifa disk 88
(photo credit: )
FIFA Soccer 2008, a DVD-ROM in English by EA Sports, distributed with an 18-page Hebrew-language user's manual by Hed Artzi Multimedia, requires Windows XP or better and a 1.3 ghz PC or higher, for ages 10 through adult, NIS 219. Rating: **** The guys at Sega are really on top of it: When you play as the manager of the Betar Jerusalem soccer team - one of hundreds around the world - you get an e-mail message from owner Arkadi Gaydamak about a game that is scheduled for "Teddy [Stadium]." Betar and the other 11 Premier League teams are there. And when you look at the Chelsea team, you notice that it's being managed by our own Avraham Grant, who was hired only a few months ago. This is the 10th edition of Football Manager, and it is by far the best - although it's strictly for soccer fans who care less about the actual gameplay and more about micromanaging teams, from players' morale and tactics to training schedules and handling the media. The only details you don't have to worry about are what snacks they're selling in the kiosks and and the price of tickets. The series has much improved since the software team from Eidos abandoned that company and moved to Sega, which purchased the rights for the title. Although most teenage boys and men who buy the game are probably not first-time users, there is an optional tutorial that explains how to play but can be turned off by the veterans who have no need for it. While the public relations people at Sega claim the 2008 version has "100 new features," you won't easily notice most of them. There have been no drastic upgrades since the last one; rather, the programmers have added subtle improvements such as detailed explanations of what a team's fans expect and smoother graphics. But since the focus is on statistics and communications rather than actual gameplay, these can't really be drastically enhanced. You are, however, better prepared for a match with a wide variety of relevant data about your team and the opponent and detailed coach reports. They've also added a face generator that produces visages for novice players that have emerged from the youth system and appear more adult as they become older. Despite all the "tweaks" introduced to induce fans to buy the new version even though they have last year's, I was most excited by the opportunity to pit an Israeli team against a Palestinian or even a Libyan one. Israel is absent from FIFA Soccer 08, not due to discrimination but because our teams weren't good enough; maybe we'll be there next year after we just beat the Russian team. More than 12,000 real-life players and hundreds of teams are represented in the disk, which has a small managerial mode to pacify those who like to micromanage but is aimed at playing soccer against the computer. Using a gamepad instead of the keyboard is recommended, and you'll quickly learn how to manipulate a dozen buttons to make the game flow. This version, the 15th since the series' inception, has running commentary from the tried-and-true Clive Tyldesley and Andy Gray team, who sound so realistic it seems as if they are narrating a real game. The only things that prevent it from being a completely realistic soccer experience are the lack of fans throwing firecrackers, shouting obscenities and being violent. The graphics engine has barely been improved. While the spectators and stadiums look very good, the players look a bit boxy and no better than the previous version. One innovation is the "Be a Pro" mode in which you can control a single player through the game, as well as "Zone Play," in which you represent the offense, defense or midfield players. In addition, you can set separate levels of difficulty for your side and the computer's counterplay. You can cancel time-consuming features such as offside and injuries. Points are awarded for carrying out challenges such as ending a game with your team a certain number of goals ahead of your opponent, and you can use these to go to the Fan Shop to buy outfits and balls or even to introduce "funny side effects" such as whistles and whooshes when the ball is kicked. But if you have the 2007 version, the minor improvements are not enough to justify plunking down your money for the latest one.