In recent years, EA Sports’ expensively licensed FIFA franchise has become the Leeds United of football games – a once-great name reduced to mediocrity at best, thanks to the ever-increasing brilliance of Konami’s arch-rival, Pro Evolution Soccer. Drastic action was clearly required to redress the balance, and that is precisely what the giant publisher has done, at least with the Xbox 360 version of FIFA 07.
It literally chucked out everything from previous versions of FIFA and started all over again from the ground up, designing a new engine that could take advantage of the Xbox 360’s number-crunching abilities.
Which means that, though it may not look like it, FIFA 07 is a completely different game on Xbox 360 than it is on the current-gen consoles. It seems that the exercise was worthwhile, since it’s vastly superior. Even, dare we say it, better than Pro Evolution Soccer 6, the Xbox 360 version of which is a mere tweak and uprated PS2 port.
To ram the message home, FIFA 07 greets you with a “sandbox” designed to showcase its newly acquired skills. In which you control Ronaldinho, on a small pitch, one-on-one with a goalie. This is rather gimmicky (although you can play it while the game itself is loading, which is a great idea), but it does graphically demonstrate just how the fundamentals of FIFA have been improved.
EA Vancouver claims that it came up with a ground-up player movement engine that works upwards from the relationship between the ball (which is no longer tied to the player’s foot, but moves according to a much more rigorous physics engine) and the player's foot. Thus, players will lean like they do in real life when dribbling, can be made to address the ball with their insteps or the outside of their boots, and will automatically adjust their stride patterns.
Which is obvious when you play as Ronaldinho with a tight-in camera, but much less so when you play a full 11-a-side game with the TV-style overhead cam, it must be said. You do notice things in games which never previously occurred, however, such as balls rebounding differently from different parts of players’ bodies and, mercifully, a total absence of the vile lag that would occur in previous versions of FIFA after you pressed a button but before the current animation ended (a trait that Pro Evo long ago managed to banish).