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Tiny Goalie by
published Wednesday, Mar 05th

Interview: Tiny Goalie — Scoring with Simplicity

Tiny Goalie

Tiny Goalie is the latest app from Brighton-based Fat Fish Games. A small team of indie developers, they have been publishing a range of software from their South-East studio for the best part of eight years. Gamebrit caught up with Anthony Barker, the teams Creative Director to find out just how Tiny Goalie may be the perfect replacement for your lamented Flappy Bird addiction.

Available for free from both Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play store, Tiny Goalie is simple to play and addictive to boot. You simply slide your finger from side-to-side, controlling a goalkeeper who is tasked with saving any balls kicked his way. Let one past you and it’s Game Over.


by
published Wednesday, Nov 17th

Championship Manager 2011 Review

As with any Championship Manager game, it’s the core gameplay that has made the series so engrossing. Thankfully Championship Manager 2011, which is an iOS exclusive this year, is no different – capturing the managerial process of the beautiful game perfectly, albeit with a few problems.

As ever players start the game as a newly hired manager, expected to meet or surpass a clubs expectations. Players must consider the implications of their decisions both on and off the pitch. Finances, player’s happiness levels and the relationship with the media must all be considered alongside the ever-important winning of matches.

Both before and during matches’ players can edit the standard options including squad, formation and set piece takers. Fortunately though the developers have seen it fit to simplify certain options for this portable version. For example, in previous games players could customize their desired playing style through a lengthy list of options. However, on the iPhone and iPod Touch players can simply select a playing style at a touch. Want to play football like the Man United of 1968 or counter attack like the Nottingham Forest of 1979? Then simply select that option. It’s a simplification that although doesn’t offer the same level of personlisation seen in the PC game, is a good fit for a mobile experience.

The matches themselves work like all Championship Mangers titles that preceded it; players are treated to text-based commentary, accompanied by the simple bird’s eye view showing goals and highlights. Despite being on a handheld device the matches flow well and are a feature that developers, Beautiful Game Studios, have got absolutely spot on.

Off-the-pitch managers must consider their many choices; a key example is found in the press conference feature.Each question asked garners a reaction from the press, the clubs fans and the board. Obviously it’s tricky to please all three, so players have to consider their answers carefully. Fall on the wrong side of one and the manager may find themselves in for a torrid time.

As you would expect games like Championship Manager tend to be loaded with a large amount of information. However, the issue with negotiating this vast amount of data, be it finding teams, players, formations, or matches, is that just finding it can be an annoyance. Scattered across multiple windows and menu systems, the reams of data on display can be overwhelming – even on a PC. So imagine playing the same title, with a similar mass of information on a tiny portable screen that’s 1/10th the size.

Truth be told this iOS iteration of Championship Manager is frustrating to navigate due to the iPhone’s touch screen. The home screen consists of eight options, which in turn lead onto numerous choices – after drilling down through this information it’s possible to navigate through a further five or six options, only to find that the information you wanted isn’t there. To remedy this information overload Beautiful Games Studios have included a quick-menu. For the most part this works, providing shortcuts to the most used features. However, due to the quick-menu’s diminutive size in comparison to other options, it seems like something of an after thought. The choice to customise menus with your most used stats is something that’s distinctly missing.

Transfers are another option that has fallen foul of the navigation issue. The transfers section covers the majority of options for signing a player, however managers must go through numerous filters before any players can be scouted. This makes the whole process incredibly slow and if it wasn’t for the prospect of that key signing, it’s almost tempting to avoid.

Football is a game of two halves and Championship Manager 2011 is no different. On the one side it does a lot well on a portable device. Scaling this data-intensive experience to a small display was no easy feat, with the text-based updates and match graphics being a prime example of how such a game can translate to a device which is limited in size. However, despite the simple touch input, there is just far too many screens to navigate through, with too much information to deal with.

The basics are here, but the iOS version of Championship Manager 2011 is one that could do with simplification. However, it’s clear that the Championship Manager series is one that is not easily simplified.


by
published Friday, Apr 30th

2010 FIFA World Cup Review

The FIFA games have long been established as juggernauts of sports games, developing more realistic character models and perfecting the control system for years through trial and error. The development of these games, as well as fans commitment, has well and truly established this franchise, allowing EA Sports to release a title every year to critical acclaim and excellent reviews. The last title in the series, FIFA 10 received glowing reviews, which included a nine out of ten here at Gamebrit.

The latest game in the series takes us into the World Cup setting rather than football leagues to coincide with the 2010 FIFA World Cup, which will be held in South Africa this June.

For those new to FIFA games, the prospect of managing an 11-player team may seem daunting. However, the in-menu narrative guides players through all the different match types and how to play. There are several match types on offer.

‘Kick-Off’, can be found on most football titles. This match type allows you to have a one-off match with the computer, online or with a friend. There is also the actual tournament mode, which lets you decide which teams you want to play. Tournament mode also includes an incredible amount of interactivity when selecting teams and the pitch you want to play on. ‘Captain Your Country’ allows you to play as a created player or an established footballer as you rise the ranks to captain your team in the World Cup. The challenge mode called ‘Story Of Qualifying’ sees you trying to reach certain targets or goals in allotted times, or to a certain standard. There is also a penalty shoot out mode if you want to practice your technique or precision when scoring as well as a training mode for anyone looking to brush up on skills. Lastly, the scenario mode allows you to play out situations and games from previous world cups.

New players will want to try the ‘Kick-off’ mode first to test their level of skill and to also get to grips with the controls. After picking your team, you will be straight away thrown into a game. The immediate reaction is how clean and detailed the footballers look. Visually, this game is excellent and you’ll find yourself watching the replays of footballers scoring just through sheer intrigue of the visuals.

The control system is incredibly easy to use, yet versatile enough to adapt your own technique and style whilst playing. Despite the easy to use controls, you may find yourself struggling to win the matches, due to the level of skill needed to win requires persistence and practice. The computer characters are smart, and take the offensive if given the chance and take the defensive effectively if you advance towards the goal. They have real skills and aren’t just aimlessly running towards your player.

The online aspect of the game allows you to play in a league style system, where you gain points depending on wins and losses. Not only this, but you can play online with friends, which can be much more rewarding than playing against the game.

One of the other things that is surprising about this game is the quality of the soundtrack. With artists like Florence and the Machine, Basement Jaxx and Damian Marley contributing, it truly creates a vibrant atmosphere and fits in well with the multi-cultured theme of the game.

2010 FIFA World Cup has 199 out of the 204 national teams that actually took part in the qualifying process, making for a more realistic take on the proceedings. You also play the game in the genuine arenas that the real footballers will play in, come June. The level of detail and work gone into this game shows that this isn’t just a re-hash of FIFA 10 with national teams added. There are separate statistics, skills and weaknesses for each team.

Overall, there are no major flaws in this game and a fan of football games will definitely enjoy it. If you have never played a football game before, this is the perfect place to start. The nationality of the game makes it so you don’t have to be an expert in football to know what team to choose and the controls are easy to master in a few matches. Passion and emotion is what the world cup is about, and it seems that EA Canada know this just as much as anyone. Once again, they have successfully managed to make a game which is both a celebration of the sport and the event, whilst maintaining the high quality that the series has established itself as.


by
published Saturday, Nov 28th

FIFA 10 Review (PS3)

First Touch! Off the Ball! Target indicators for Free Kicks!!!! The back of the annual FIFA game case always fills any football fanatic up with both hope and dread. The story goes that ever year, EA chuck in some fancy few words in a vain attempt to persuade the generic football fan that their game is the best yet. Remember when FIFA 07 once said “This is the Season”. It wasn’t. Flash forward 3 years however… and it finally is. The truth is that Pro Evolution Soccer has faltered in previous years, going from being the purist’s choice like Christiano Ronaldo, to acting like Joey Barton being sent off in the opening minutes of a Tyneside derby. If last years FIFA and PES games were playing in a match, then FIFA 09 scored the winner in extra time, but this year, FIFA 10 has the potential to comfortably win 3-0 in normal time.

So what’s new? The big new feature this year is the 360-degree dribbling. Almost a godsend to everyone who plays football games and one that unlocks a new sense of freedom. This upgrade dramatically improves gameplay and allows for some brilliant, Arsenal like football. While in the past, football games felt restricted due to only allowing the player to run in predetermined directions, this new approach to dribbling makes that feeling of beating that last man even more satisfying. Of course there are one or two drawbacks, including the fact that if your winger receives the ball on the touchline, its difficult for them to keep the ball in play due to ball being harder to control. However, that is the case in real football, so why shouldn’t it be included?

Another big addition is the Be A Virtual Pro (BAVP) mode. Building on last year’s excellent Be A Pro Season (BAPS) mode, BAVP invites you to once again create a footballer to a design of your choice, place him in your favourite team and build him up to be the next best footballer in the world. In short, this is mode is brilliant. Unlike BAPS, for every game you play, online or offline you are rewarded points for certain objectives in a match. Whether it be scoring a goal, or perhaps performing skill moves round players, or maybe playing 10 match’s in the snow (another new feature, which is long overdue, but still a welcome addition) these objectives reward you with new customisations opportunities for you player like gloves or shirt designs as well as improving the skills of your creation. This adds a well-implemented, new dimension to an already great feature, adding almost a RPG element to the game and giving a sense of extra playability and longevity.

A past issue with the Be A Pro model of building a football superstar in previous FIFA titles was the tedium that set in after several games. Playing as only one player is fun for a time but eventually the monotony sets in due to nurturing just one player and not being able to be able to build a player while also progressing with a full club. Fortunately this years Virtual Pro lets you do exactly that and it’s great fun every step of the way. It’s also worth mentioning that BAPS does also return, but it’s less predominant and has the possibility in to be included in every other EA sports title out there. What’s more, if you head over to the EA sports website you can download what they are calling a ‘Gameface’. By uploading a picture on their website, you can have your face ‘scanned’ into the game to complete the feel of being an professional footballer. EA should be commended on a wonderful feature that is due to be expanded on in the future in future titles, as well as other EA games.

Manager Mode is still a big part of the FIFA package and once again it doesn’t disappoint. As with previous years, various small improvements have been made throughout but ultimately you still pick any team, work with them through tactics and go through the latest bargain windows. A new inclusion is the fact that there are two budgets to work with, a transfer funds budget, to search for the latest players, improve the squad, scout for new players or improving the training or the facilities, and a wage budget, which naturally allows you cast an eye over what you are allowed to spend in order to attract the world’s superstars. Sadly many bugs have been reported within the mode especially when it comes to players not accepting new contracts but hopefully a patch will shortly sort this out.

In terms of game play, a lot has been improved. From masses of new animations, to more freedom in physical play when it comes to challenging for the ball and better player urgency with your team mates calling for the ball more often. This makes it so refreshing and absorbing playing a ball to a player who is pointing to his feet or spooning a one-on-one with the goalie only to see your team jumping up and down in frustration. The play-on rule has also been improved and will irritate players less often. Sadly the referee will still have a tendency to cause frustration for his decisions on daft fouls. The shooting has seen improvements, although that can be sometimes seems unbelievable, especially when you end up hit the post 5 times in a match. That said, scoring that 35-yard screamer is certainly easier.

The commentary is very impressive, with Andy Gray and Martin Tyler banging on about the former glories days. From Manchester City’s silly spending spree, to a big derby between Liverpool and Manchester United. All of this history helps build the atmospheres and allows for a more enjoyable experience. The crowd also contribute to this by chanting everything from club anthems to England’s “God save the Queen” and when it comes together it makes you believe you’re part of a big match environment. The music, as with previous FIFA titles, is on the money once again, and with the likes of The Enemy and Wyclef Jean, guarantees it to be stuck up your head for weeks.

So is FIFA 10 worth another £40 pound? In truth, yes. It’s a very enjoyable game and with so many modes, trophies and BAPS achievements to unlock, you’ll be playing this past FIFA 11. It will frustrate in places due to bugs in the manager mode, the shooting proving to be utterly baffling on occasions and the CPU being virtually unbeatable on the Legendary difficulty, but ultimately EA have succeeded in producing another winner. From the great new modes to the introduction of Ultimate Team mode (due in January) and the updating of squads every week through Live season. FIFA 10 is poised to be the best football game out this year and now the pressure is on for Konami to see if they can get this to extra time.


by
published Saturday, Oct 10th

FIFA 10 Review (Xbox 360)

It’s that time of the year again where the next round of sports titles floods the genre. The FIFA series, now indulging in a 17th annual title, has been recognised for its effort to maintain a sporting simulation with in-game statistics, presentation and gameplay. With every title a new bid is made to improve this by implementing new ideas.

There are no new game modes to FIFA 10, and despite changes to these game modes, the only one that has been significantly improved is the manager mode. A problem with the FIFA 09 manager career was the unrealistic and often unfair simulations that left perfectly good teams rock bottom of a league whilst clearly less able teams are unsettling the top clubs too often. The revised version has a few attributes that, if left to its own devices, will let the table pan out the way you think it should.

A ‘live season’ type player statistic tracking has been applied within the manager mode alone, which follows and changes all of the players through their characteristics depending on how well they perform in games. If enabled, an assistant manager will interchange the in-form players, and automatically remove tired, injured or suspended players from the oncoming games. Other clubs will automatically do this – organising a lesser group of players for matches against poorer clubs. This also allows for even the most inexperienced player in a squad to be played at least a few times a season, so that they improve and transfers would actually be used- things that rarely happened in last year’s title. Financial and transfer policies restrict from doing what you want – a club board will set a limit on all of the funds whilst incoming players are much more demanding on salaries, especially at the beginning of the career. A free choice of clubs is available at the beginning of the managerial mode but the ability to switch clubs freely at the end of each season and has been removed and replaced by a dire list of available positions, at least at the beginning of the campaign. This makes the decision of which club to take control of first crucial as the game will give unappealing offers, and will often never offer the club that appeals the most. However, all of this combines to make this integral part of the game deliver a much enhanced and faithful simulation.

The Create A Pro feature has been renamed Virtual Pro, and includes the same selection process of creating a personal player, but adds an ever more common user face-likeness option, and the opportunity to place this character in the manager, be a pro, quick game, tournament and lounge modes. The game-face can be rendered on the ea sports website, using photographs, and downloaded to the connected account and virtual pro within the game.

Purchasing the additional ‘Live Season 2.0’ packs joins a specified club to an online league running parallel to real world football. Each league match can be replayed online and the outcome added to an online table which is followed and compared each week. This Live Season also features friendly matches where the particular fixture can be practiced as many times as desired in time for the big game.

The overall menu layout and appearance have not been altered – ease of use with just the left analogue stick, but within the manager and be a pro modes there are significant presentational changes that streamline the system. A billboard style layout has been implemented, removing an in-depth menu with a scrolling list which displays the information and statistics you want without searching through different options. Despite a number of stadiums seemingly missing from the game (being replaced by generic stadiums), particular attention has been given to the weather – often changing the state of the pitch with each game. Where the rain effect does not look particularly convincing the appearance of a waterlogged pitch with each sliding tackle is very realistic. At winter portions of a campaign mode, or if it is set to be so, is when the snow effect makes this game stand out – as playing on a snow felled pitch looks very realistic and adds diversity to each match.

The action on the pitch, with a colourful palette and convincing environments, focuses the attention on an area of view, disregarding the crowds composed of ‘cut and pasted’ uninteresting and repetitive figures in the stadiums. Due to this attraction the imperfections are hardly noticeable and the characters are so detailed with nonstop, flowing composition, it makes this game great to control and great to watch regardless. There is a significant lack of stoppages that remove from each game, largely due to a number of refereeing decisions happening, and then with cautions and quick free kicks accounted for without a cut scene. This creates a style of play that incorporates constant anticipation and on the edge of the seat moments especially in online leagues and competitive standalone matches.

The audio and in-game commentary is certainly less of a thrill ride. Despite the availability of downloadable packs the default Andy Gray and Clive Tyldesley are bland and uninteresting in what they say – primarily due to most of it coming straight from FIFA 09, and even if it isn’t, they are extremely repetitive regardless. Nevertheless, when out of a game diverse music and sporting podcasts fill the time scrolling through team sheets and formations to full effect.

FIFA 10 is a solid, free-flowing football title that brings a vibrant setting and a convincing atmosphere. As an improvement to last year’s game, it doesn’t change a lot in the way it can be played but it does bring a fresh, light feel that makes it fulfilling. It will certainly entertain at every angle, at least until FIFA 11.


by
published Monday, Aug 31st

Madden NFL 10 Review (PS3)

Known as America’s Game, American Football, or as American’s call it ‘Football’, is one of the most watched sports in the world. The season’s climax, the Superbowl generally receives higher TV viewing figures than any other programme in America. As this is the case, it must have a computer game to compliment the real thing. Endorsed by John Madden, one of the greatest American Football coaches and commentators of all time, Madden 10 is the 21st instalment in the primary American Football video game series.

As per the norm, a game can be started pretty much instantly: choose a team to play with, choose a team to play against, maybe change your kit to a late 60’s throwback kit and then the fun can start. Stats for each team are provided on the loading screen, which gives an idea of who has the upper hand on the pitch. Snickers adverts are immediately apparent, cleverly manipulating words to create hilarious alternatives such as ‘statisfying’ and ‘chompetition’.

Once in a game, the graphics are simply stunning with brilliant replications of players and coaches facial features and near lifelike stadia, including the new $1.3 billion ‘Cowboy’s Stadium’.

The gameplay is better than in past years, allowing plays to be executed at any player skill level. The new pro-tak system allows nine-man tackles, with both offense and defense pushing the pack to gain those valuable yards. It is possible dodging tackles and sacks with the touch of a button, and a great addition is the ‘fight for the fumble’ where you have to press the button on screen as fast as you can to attempt to grab the ball when it is loose, although this is a rare occurrence. The blocking system is more effective, although it could still be improved further as on the occasion, three defensemen are let through to sack the quarterback. The right analog stick is used as a hit stick for the defense or for the offense to evade tackles.

American Football is known for it’s complex plays and, although they are all included within the game’s memory bank, it is not necessary to be the most experienced football player to pick up the pad. The game allows the player to amend the finer details such as turning off penalties and as always, Madden will give his tips on which play he would use in the situation, on defense he will generally suggest going for the blitz. All of this means that a rookie can have as much fun as a 21 year veteran.

One of the main advantages of Madden 10 over the last two versions is the change in the way plays are selected. It has been reverted back to how it was in Madden 07 where rather than moving the d-pad to select plays, triangle, x or square are used. This is a great advantage for multiplayer mode as it goes a long way to stop prying eyes ‘screen cheating’ as you can keep them guessing as to which play has been chosen.

As in previous iterations, Madden 10 offers many game modes, such as mini games, virtual training or just normal practice mode. Madden Moments provides a selection of real life situations from the 2008/09 season where an amazing comeback has been made or a defense has held onto a one point lead on the final drive and all the player has to do is replicate this, which is generally just a quick-fire thrill.

Madden Test can be used to supposedly create the perfect difficulty level for your playing skill, giving you a series of tasks on a virtual field, which then generates a difficulty level for Rushing Offense, Passing Offense, Rushing Defense and Passing Defense. Be warned though as if you excel in Madden Test, it can make plays impossible when transferred to the field.

Franchise mode is essentially the same as previous versions, however the usual calendar has been replaced with it now simming between games, which means weekly training sessions have been left out altogether. Franchise mode can be as in depth as you like, allowing you to just play games or tinker with all the finer details of an American Football franchise.

Be an NFL Superstar mode gives you the opportunity to create a player and follow him through his career in an attempt to win the superbowl. A slight disappointment was the lack of names such as Brett Farve and Michael Vick on the rosters, however a roster update is immediately available to amend this, and further updates are surely to follow in the run up to the start of the season.

All in all, Madden 10 is a brilliant game, with improved graphics and gameplay making it more realistic than ever before, however the commentary is still very artificial and needs work. Improved graphics on towels etc are a nice addition as well, but some may argue this is not enough to warrant spending another £40 if you already own Madden 09. This is a perennial problem when you already have a brilliant game in Madden 09.


by
published Tuesday, Oct 07th

FIFA 09 Review

It seems almost obligatory that the start of any review for a FIFA game must reference the fact that the franchise itself is as old as the hills, and its yearly iterations are as predictable in their appearance as the rising of the sun each morning.  The cynical among us will have no doubt already decided then that this year’s version isn’t worth looking at. They will have convinced themselves that FIFA, for all its sheen and polish, is still the same old clunky football experience it always was with a fresh coat of paint, different player names, and an all new ‘youth orientated’ soundtrack.

Shame on them.

Undoubtedly this reputation stems from the early days of the series, where EA seemed content to sit on their laurels and keep changes down to a bare minimum. A new mode here, some updated graphics there but essentially the same broken experience remained, albeit with an official FIFA license. Somewhere along the line however, Konami released a football game, triggering an arms race of sorts, the benefits of which we are really beginning to see. In 2009 things are better than ever.

There’s probably a saying out there which sums up nicely how the foundations are the most important aspect of any system. The same is true for a football game. Before the glossy menus and hi def visuals comes the gameplay: how it feels to command eleven men around a pitch using naught but an analogue stick and a handful of buttons. The answer, in FIFA 09’s case, is pretty good.

Gone (mostly) are the floaty controls that plagued the FIFA’s of yesteryear. Things are now tighter and more responsive than they ever have been, and that’s a very good thing. This is probably due to EA’s inclusion of their all new physics based animation system, meaning players have weight and momentum. Attempt to muscle a bigger player off the ball and you’ll soon see how these additions effects gameplay. The all new physics based jiggery pokery, which seems to draw on hundreds of varying animations, forms the core of the 09 experience. Players jostle for the ball and position. Matches become entrenched midfield affairs where careful use of the L2 button, which is responsible for close control, is the key to cutting your way through the defensive line of the opposition. Simulation is the name of the game here. Complimenting the weighty gameplay is the improvements to AI and team management. No longer do AI controlled players idly wander around the pitch, clustering around the ball. Instead, the team really does behave like a single entity, with each player attempting to maintain position and close up gaps as they appear. This leads to a very realistic, satisfying feel, which is eerily unusual for a football game from EA.

Graphically the game is everything you would expect from a new EA sports title. Pretty much every trick in the ‘how to make a next gen game’ book is put to good use. Player models are convincing for the most part, and the stadiums are simply excellent. Lighting effects are used to great effect, with dusk turning to night with a very definite subtle beauty. Weather effects have also made the feature list, with rain and snow really adding a little something extra to the experience. Pro Evo fans, at least from a graphical perspective, must be wondering how wide the gulf is going to get before the boys at Konami really step up and add a few bells and whistles to their game. Next to Fifa 09 it looks more dated than ever.

All sounds perhaps too good to be true? Well, yes, it is: nothing is perfect after all. Things have improved, as you’d expect, but the game still feels a little unresponsive at times. Just a little mind you. Also, compare it to the latest Pro Evo it does feel slow, at least on the default speed setting. Animations are good, as mentioned, but not perfect, with occasional hiccups becoming apparent when the ball comes in from an unusual angle or is kicked with the player slightly out of position.  Players will occasionally stutter on the spot as they attempt to align themselves prior to a kick or challenge. It’s not really a big deal however, and is easily overlooked. One major omission to the game appears to be any kind of training mode. This means that there is no real way to practise passing, controlling the ball or working out set pieces aside from actually playing a game. Admittedly, most people probably won’t even notice, but some will, especially those new to the series.

Network play in Fifa 09 pretty much ticks all the boxes, and then adds some more boxes that you’d never thought possible and ticks them too. How does 10v10 online gameplay sound? Impossible right? Not for EA Montreal it would seem. Surely this mode alone will elevate FIFA’s standing among the hardcore more than any other. As well as this new addition pretty much every other mode you could imagine has made it in. Ranked matches, a league mode, persistent online teams, a subscription based statistics system that keeps everything nicely up to date and a legend mode that see’s you player one player through multiple seasons from a unique camera angle, to name but a few.

It used to be the case whereby FIFA represented everything that was sour about the game industry in general. Lazy iterations inspired by the prospect of easy cash-ins combined with a feature list created by board room meetings between stuffy middle-aged Americans armed with feedback from irrelevant focus groups. These days are over, due no doubt to the now epic battle that seems to be playing out between our friends in Canada and Konami’s finest. Somewhere along the line FIFA has managed to not only catch up with its rival, but position itself as a genuine alternative, offering a hedonistic wealth of game modes, a solid core experience and more polish than should probably be aloud.

My how times have changed.

 


UEFA by
published Thursday, Apr 19th

UEFA Champions League 2006/2007 Review

Football, with cards. In little over a year, EA has managed to churn out four FIFA games. The single biggest question needing answered in this review then: what’s new? The simple answer is not much. UCL is near identical to its FIFA 07 counterpart which, depending on your loyalty to Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer 6, can be great news or a kick in the balls (Footballs, of course).

Gameplay-wise, passing and shooting are frighteningly accurate, with pinpoint passes and shooting varying not only on direction of the analogue stick, but almost all passes can be lightly or heavily hit depending on the length of the button press. This makes for a more realistic experience, something EA are trying to hit home on in a bid to catch up with the legion of Pro Ev supporters. However there are still problems. Changing players seems to take slightly longer than it should do and players still wait stationery for the ball if he isn’t the ended target of a pass. So the game can be a frustrating experience, but highly rewarding if your pinpoint passes and crosses yield some spectacular goals.

Now the Cards. Essentially this is the feature that will make or break your decision to pick up UCL. The manual and in-game tutorial overly-complicate the card collecting process. Essentially, you have a starter pack of cards containing players, kits, coaches, stadiums in addition to non-tangible items such as contract extension cards. Collecting cards can prove addictive, plus you can even trade cards online with players looking for cards you might be looking to ditch. Ultimately, the aim is to assemble a dream team with the best players, taking into account each players nationality, age and preferred formation to ensure everything runs as smooth as a freshly oiled machine. On the flipside, it’s football… and cards. Some will take one look at ultimate team mode and revert back to the traditional modes, and miss out on potentially tens of hours of playing and collecting. For those less pessimistic about the FIFA franchise, this is without a doubt the best new game mode seen a football game since online was introduced.

Another game mode worth noting is (surprise, surprise) Champions League mode. Here you pick your favourite team, whether they were involved in the CL or not, and guide them from the group stages all the way to the finals. A cool new addition to this mode is live updates that pop up from relevant games at the top right hand side of the screen, with the commentary team noting the significance. A minor detail, but adds to the authenticity nonetheless.

Speaking of which, ITV’s Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend provide the commentary, and do a decent job too. They do however become repetitive like most sport games, and you’ll be wanting to enable the custom soundtrack option after a dozen or so games.

Chances are if you’re buying the Xbox 360 version of UCL, you’ll be interested in the online component. Quite frankly, EA have nailed it. If one-on-one is your fancy, you can have it old school. However get together 3 friends and you can jump into four player co-op action (that’s eight players, folks) over Xbox Live, and take your created team with you. Offline multiplayer is also great fun, supporting up to four players in any shape or form you wish. Also, the lounge mode from FIFA 07 returns, where you and seven friends can play each other and keep track of your history and statistics. Based on how well you play, you can unlock power-ups to swing the odds in your favour.

Overall, credit is due here to EA for trying something different. Mixing football and cards might not seem ideal for everyone, but it’s new, it’s addictive and, if you stick in there, it’s fun. It’s a shame then, that frustrating gameplay has once again riddled EA’s latest attempt to outdo Konami’s famed franchise.


FIFA 07 by
published Sunday, Nov 12th

FIFA 07 Review

I inserted the Fifa 07 disk into my Xbox 360 optimistic that EA’s “All new game engine” would result in a vast improvement over previous releases (07 marking the third Fifa game in one year on Xbox 360). Sadly, this iteration is a step back from the ‘inferior’ current gen versions with less teams, less modes and less fun.

The basic gameplay in Fifa 07 is where the game really lets itself down. Two games in, and I’d had enough. The passing is insanely frustrating, as most of the time the receiving player stands still waiting for the ball to come to him instead of making the effort to move towards the ball. For example: you hit a poor through ball to a striker which ends up being closer to a midfielder, yet the midfielder won’t move an inch to try and gain possession, leaving the opposition to casually gain the ball under control.

Dribbling in Fifa 07 is also an issue, with some defenders having seemingly unlimited supplies of stamina, sprinting down the touchlines to deliver a cross. Also, players seem to be running on ice rather than grass, however this seems to be down to the faster pace (note: unrealistic) and style of the game. On the default difficulty level (Semi-Pro) where you’ll want to play on to get those achievements (more on them in a bit), scoring goals is as tough as nails. The majority of goals I bagged came from deflections, set pieces, long range efforts or tap-ins after a saved shot. One-on-one’s require luck more than anything, making the gameplay frustrating and most importantly: not fun.

There are only two real game modes in Fifa 07 (don’t believe the back of the box, folks). The first is basic exhibition matches, where you can play either offline with three other mates or online with potentially eight players (two consoles, two gamertags, six guests).

Online is much better from last years, with the addition of proper tournaments and cups but most importantly most games are lag-free. In addition, offline games played with some friends can be good fun, and even the loading screen before the match is enjoyable. Before (and after) every offline game you are taken to ‘the arena’ where you can play as your favourite player in the game against a generic goalkeeper, dribbling and shooting at your own leisure.

Staying offline, manager mode is what will eat away at most of your time playing Fifa. Pretty self-explanitory here: pick your favourite club, pick the side, make signings and either simulate or play the matches. If you don’t meet your objectives for the season then it’s game over. Don’t expect Football Manager style stuff here, but it’s one of the better elements to this years update.

Presentation is an area where EA nails perfectly every time, and Fifa 07 is no exception. Like all Fifa games, all the licences for clubs, players and stadiums are here. In addition, Sky Sport’s premier commentary team Martin Tyler and Andy Gray provide some excellent commentary during matches, in which is possibly one of the best efforts on a commentary scale ever seen in a football game. Continuing with sound, EA have added a new innovative feature for users connected to Xbox Live: Football headline updates. Taken from Talksport’s hourly news update, EA give you the option to hear the latest football news whilst browsing through the menus. If the repeating headlines begin to annoy you (they will), you can just view them in text form too. Nice one, EA.

Visuals are another area where EA typically shine, however Fifa 07 is a bit of a mixed bag. In-game, the players look pretty tall in proportion with the field. However commit a foul, substitution or other event that triggers a cut-scene and you’ll be impressed with the detail on player’s faces.

Another couple of gripes I have with Fifa is the exclusion of certain teams for the 360 version. For example, the entire Scottish Premier League has been left out, despite it being in the PS2 and other competing versions. Also, achievements in this game are some of the most difficult to obtain. Some of these include win 300 games and having a 60 match winning streak. Sadly, Fifa doesn’t appeal to either football enthusiasts with its awful game engine nor achievement whores who typically buy Fifa for EA-sy achievements.

If you like a more “arcadey” route-one approach to football games, then this could be for you. However if you are a true fan of the beautiful game and want it replicated in video game form, look to Konami’s (slightly) better Pro Evolution Soccer series. And if you must get a Fifa game, sacrifice those visuals and achievement points and buy the better PS2 version.


FIFA 06 by
published Thursday, Dec 01st

FIFA 06 Review

Ok, so you’ve seen and heard plenty about the home Console versions of FIFA 06, but does the DS version stand up against its bigger cousins? Actually, it holds out surprisingly well. It’s quite obvious the DS couldn’t hope to match the graphical flair of the consoles, or indeed the PSP, but whereas the version on Sony’s handheld is a poor imitation of the PS2 game, severely hampered by the control system, the developers of FIFA DS have taken a slightly different route, and it’s all the better for it.

The developers certainly know their stuff and have squeezed a heck of a lot of juice out of the DS’s young technology. Baring in mind it’s still in it’s infancy, FIFA really shows what the DS is capable of in terms of 3D graphics. The graphics engine conjures up all manner of weather effects along with nicely detailed stadiums and impressive (from a distance) player models. This is all without many instances of slowdown, only the occasional hint when you have a corner, if most of the players are packed into the 18-yard box. The only major problem arises when you zoom in close to the players. They are well constructed, considering the amount of polygons they use, but the angular faces make them look incredibly goofy. It is a problem that only arises during replays and perhaps it is asking a little too much of the hardware, I just hope by next year’s edition we can get some easily recognisable players. Considering the DS has more power than the N64 and looking at the detail of FIFA games on that, it could be rectified by the time FIFA 07 wings it’s way to us.

If the graphics are impressive, the sound quality is even more so. FIFA 06 features most of the songs included in the Home versions; it’s quite surprising when you first switch it on to be confronted by Oasis’ ‘Lyla’ and ‘Feels like it should’ by Jamiroquai. They are pumped out of the speakers with very little drop in quality and is another example of the developer getting a lot out of limited hardware. Also worth a mention is the commentary. While it’s something that usually gets on my nerves, I have to admit I hardly ever found the commentary to be obtrusive in anyway. There is, obviously, limited dialogue compared to other versions but it never gets in the way during a match, and I’ve been surprised that it rarely feel repetitive. Perhaps I’ve been concentrating a bit too much on the games to notice.

Not that you could blame me, FIFA on the DS is a pretty solid football game, settling with a more arcade style than on the consoles. It has fast action and is especially fun when you link up for two-player matches. It even features a download mode, so you can play against someone who doesn’t have the game, although team selection is reduced. Controls are very well suited to the DS, despite it’s cramped button arrangement. It even includes various tricks, triggered by holding down L and another face button that, if you master, could help you to beat Chelsea playing as Boston United. Perhaps. It’s a shame you can’t alter the controls to suit your favoured style though, as I found myself shooting, rather than running on more than a few occasions. Elsewhere, passing feels smooth, shooting is easy enough to get to grips with, player AI is rarely a problem, apart from on the lower difficulties (it’s possible to just walk into them to get the ball) and direct free kicks and corners all benefit from being designed around the DS’s features.

In fact the Touch Screen is used to pretty good effect here. In matches the bottom screen is predominantly taken up by the pitch radar, which is suitably contrasted so it’s easy to find your team-mates. The other portion, used for tactical changes, isn’t quite as successful however. While it is certainly handy to be able to swap tactics, doing so means taking your finger off the face buttons. Because of this you can only really do it when there’s a slight lull in play; not very good if you’re attempting a counter-attack. If the next instalment wants to improve on this, I’d suggest using the DS’s microphone to initiate tactics, much like the tricks in Nintendogs. Still, I rarely bothered with tactics (probably why I always lose at Pro Evo) so it wasn’t a huge concern personally. What I did find pretty cool was the way the replays are fully controlled using the Touch Screen. You can zoom in, spin the camera and run the replay forward or backwards with ease; it feels far less clunky than using buttons on a console.

Another nice feature, hidden away in the short, but sweet, management mode is a paint program that lets you create your own club badge. This was totally unexpected but a welcome surprise as the program is like an advance version of MS Paint, and pretty versatile. Any artistic ‘Pixelantes’ (God bless you Jack Thompson) out there will be happy to know you can draw pretty much anything your debauched little mind can think of (although it wouldn’t let me redesign Liverpool’s badge to a big poo – immature little runt that I am!). The management mode is a nice addition but lacks depth in crucial places. For a start it’s only 5 seasons long – so you dream of taking Wycombe Wanderers from Division 2 obscurity to the heady heights of a Champions League final may be a little hard to accomplish. There are no transfers – meaning you are stuck with whatever team you pick to begin with – rectified slightly by the chance to ‘upgrade’ (read: level up) your team when you accomplish certain targets.

Even creating your own team has its own problems. You have no gauge early on to show how good your team is and when designing a player there are no restrictions on how many points you can give each attribute. It meant my first team stormed out of the bottom division having been undefeated all season, then beat Arsenal 6-1 in the FA Cup Final. Hobbston Rovers isn’t that good I can assure you. But if this feature gets a little work by the next edition it could make it an essential purchase for that alone.

There is plenty of promise evident in this game, and it only falls short of greatness by a few yards. With a bit of work in the key areas (the main game itself is fine) EA will definitely have a game capable of financial AND critical success. It’ll be interesting to see how Konami’s DS Pro Evo fares on it’s release; will it’s slower pace suit the handheld format? But for now FIFA reigns as the best footy and sports game on DS and I’m looking forward to the future.