A guest review by Barnsey

It's probably easier to start this review with a brief history lesson... Kick off, Kick off 2, Dino Dini's goal, sensible soccer, Kick off 3, FIFA International Soccer, FIFA 96 through to FIFA 02, Pro Evolution 1 to 6 via ISS Soccer, then finally Fifa 07 and now Fifa 08.

Now I'm sorry that just looks like a list of names but basically you've just joined me on a timeline through my footballing career. I played a bit of Sunday league and for my school when I was younger, but I realised at a young age that my aspirations of lifting a trophy at Wembley were going to be slightly restricted by the fact I can't do anything talented with a football to save my life.

So I switched to playing football on computers, starting on my Amiga 500+, via my PC then through the various consoles I've owned. Now granted, my playing skills on screen are almost as bad as my real life attempts to kick a football around but at least this way I can't get hurt or dirty.

What I'm trying to say is that I know football games, I've played them a lot, a HELL of a lot, I'm not ashamed to admit I'm not the best player in the world, but then I like to think that some of the guys I play with are pretty damn good and the hidings they deal me are countered by the occasional sweet win that I get 'a la giant killing a premiership team', I remember certain goals, I remember where I was, I remember who scored them and I remember how great it felt to score them (25yards, turning chip shot playing as Rangers vs. Inter Milan, on a Saturday afternoon 21st October 2005 playing

Pro evolution 4).

Now I'm sorry I've rambled on but I just want you to know my history and know how excited I was about getting FIFA 08, you see, ever since Pro Evo 5 and FIfa 06, I've felt disappointed with football games, I've felt that games just lost something. Fifa went too serious and simulation and Pro Evolution no matter what some people say was a completely different playing experience on Playstation vs. Xbox, the Xbox was slow and choppy and the playstation maintained its fluid playing style. Basically my friends and I, with a few exceptions, stopped playing football games. So I was looking forward to the new fifa because I felt that 07 had potential last year.. it didn't quite deliver, but it was better, they'd built the game from the ground up and it was a good start.

What made me want 08 more was the fact that finally on a console, I could play as the lower league teams, I'd been waiting years to finally play as the real teams I support, forget the clash of the titans of United v Chelsea, I wanted to get to grips with a grudge match between Wolves and West Brom, I wanted to play Notts County Vs Nottingham Forest, Wednesday Vs United.

Football's about the grass roots and the lower leagues and I'm pleased that the big franchises are finally recognising that there's more football going on than just the premier league in this country and all around Europe and the world too.

Anyway, all in all forget the history, let's get down to business with the new game.

Fifa 08 continues down the road that 07 started with making Fifa more of a simulation game and stepping away from the arcade past of quick pickup games that its always had in the past. in all honesty it's fair to say that Fifa is not a pick up and play game, it has a learning curve that depending on your style and experience can be anything between half an hour to a few hours. Its not easy, infact I'll be honest, my first impression was I hated it.

The first thing you'll notice when playing against the AI is that its not easy. far from it, its pretty damn difficult! goals are few and far between, gone are the days of long jinking runs up the pitch with one player, gone are the repeated tapping of pass pass pass pass through ball goal. its a completely different animal to any football game I've played before. It takes time and control to build play slowly, work an opening and create chances, its like real football its true.

The tricks that you can get your player to execute all rely on flicks and twists on the right joystick, its a hit or miss system that takes a lot of practice to get right now granted I've seen some brilliant moves pulled off against me but I've not really ever managed them myself, its part of the steep learning curve and makes me want to spend more time perfecting them as they really can change the flow of a game skipping over a challenge with a quick nutmeg.

But my initial problem with it was, if I want real football I'll go down the part and kick a football poorly around a pitch against 10 other equally as incompetent, bad players as myself. The point of football games as with most games is to let you lose yourself and do something that you normally never could in the real world.

I was worried that Fifa had gone too far in the simulation direction to allow me to feel that anymore, ill be honest I was getting frustrated. My biggest criticism of Fifa 07 last year was that it felt like you were playing underwater with the speed of the game, everything just felt slow, at no point during my games against the computer on 07 did I ever feel in control of what I was doing, and that really ruined my enjoyment of it, 08 has improved on this, I still feel that they've maybe made it a bit too slow, the speed at which the game can move does still feel a little stunted. the sprint speed of players feels still a little slow. you just don't get the sense of urgency of being 1-0 down in

the dying seconds of a cup final that players really want to push themselves to commit all or nothing to getting an equaliser.

Having said that my opinion of the game changed when I played against my friends, the game takes on a completely different style when you're playing against real people, they make real mistakes, react at the same speed you do, and generally the game takes on a different feel. This leads me to believe that the AI on Fifa's computer controlled playing is set too high, the easiest setting on the game is probably what I would have considered medium at least.

As well as the standard exhibition matches, the season/management mode where you can play through a year as a team, buying and selling players and generally helping your team of choice through a season as best you can and the cup modes (including the create a cup mode so you can add as many teams and options as you like).

Also there are a few new modes, the most interesting of which is the "Be a pro" mode, where you play a full match controlling one player only, its an interesting gameplay mode, and I feel if the predicted "five a side online" comes out in the new year then this mode will really help set that up.

Basically the be a pro mode gives you a third person shoulder camera control on one player only, for anyone who's played Fifa 07 its the same kind of camera work we got in the lobby last year, during the game you're expected to hold a position on the pitch, and depending on the position either tackle, play ball distributor or give a goalkeeper a run as a centre forward, depending on the position you play and the team you choose, it can be a lonely game of not much possession but in the attempts I tried as Christiano Ronaldo at Man United

it can be quite an involving mode. its definitely something new, its worth a try and EA should be commended for giving it a go, I look forward to the 5aside option online in the future.

Talking of online its a decent time to discuss the Xbox live elements of Fifa, I must admit to struggling more with Fifa than I have for a while in locating a game online, maybe I've been spoilt recently in my choice of games I played but it seemed pretty tricky to get into a lobby with someone, I seem to be spending as much time trying to locate a lobby and an opponent as I do actually playing, now granted I accept as its a 1v1 game its going to be tricky to find people but surely it can't be that tricky I found myself questioning just how many people were actually online playing fifa when I was, you can't tell me this isn't a popular game!

Put that aside when I did get online the games I played were pretty universally lag free and ran like my opponent was sitting next to me in the room, I didn't suffer, the framerate didn't drop and the graphic quality was 100% true to the local play speed and style, its enjoyable to play online, granted I'd enjoy it more if I wasn't getting beaten 9 times out of 10 but

that's a failing with me not the game!

So stepping away from the modes and the style the game as a whole is a very well crafted one, graphically its fantastic, the players movement, animations, style are all fantastic! The game looks beautiful, the real scale of playing at Wembley, The San Siro, Emirates or Old Trafford is bought to you perfectly, this really is a good looking game I can't stress that enough!

The Audio is brilliant too, Fifa has always been good with its commentary but this steps it up a notch, banter between Andy Gray and Martin Tyler is fantastic, they'll discuss the style of a specific team or the history between two rivals, overall the range of the audio that you'll hear during the game is wide and its very well executed!

Overall its fair to say EA are heading down an experimental road with Fifa, they're trying to distance themselves from Pro Evo and head in a different direction, its a risky business as you've got two very distinct fanbases between the two games and its easy to take a big risk and lose that, I've swapped between the two franchises over the years depending on who's version

was better that year.

Which brings me to another point I want to make, with games like Fifa, Tiger woods, Madden, its difficult sometimes to justify making us pay 40-50 a year for basically what is an updated squad list and strips, with the boom of Xbox live its also difficult to swallow when we could just download an update every season to the rosters to make these changes, EA have put a fair few new additions into 08 to make it worth purchasing, however I worry what they'll have to put into 09 to make it worth justifying another 40.

I do worry that sometimes the old adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" doesn't apply when computer games are being made. The danger is that something that is fantastic can be scrapped to make way for the new "all singing not quite as good, looks mostly the same but we're still gonna charge you money for it" game.

This year Fifa 08 is well worth a look, and it'll keep many of us happy for a long long time, but I'm wary of what will happen next year to justify the yearly release of an expensive game when maybe it won't be necessary.