In less than three weeks time, Electronic Arts and Konami release their contenders for the Xbox 360's best football title of the year. Pro Evolution Soccer 6 from Konami is the favourite amongst fans and critics alike, but first to the Marketplace is EA with a downloadable demo of FIFA 07. So let's take a look and see what EA have to offer.
Manchester United, Barcelona, Werder Bremen, AC Milan, Guadalajara, and Lyon round off an impressive range of teams to choose from considering this is just a demo. You get to play one half of a friendly fixture at England's new Wembley stadium.
What is apparent early on is that this game is very different to EA's previous efforts on the 360 as well as their current efforts on the PS2 and Xbox.
For the first time in a recent FIFA game you can create custom formations. If you want your right winger to play just a little further up the pitch to support the front two, you can do that; you're no longer locked to the limited tactical options that have plagued previous FIFA's.
On the pitch the differences are even more apparent. EA have touted their new physics and animation engines as the beginning of a new era in football games, and FIFA 07 certainly is an interesting game to play.
At first play the controls feel unresponsive and slow, and to extent they are. With the new physics engine comes new opportunities and obstacles to creating a great football game. With FIFA 07, every movement of the ball requires a touch with the foot, chest, knee, thigh or head, just as in real life; EA have done a stellar job of making this look good with some fantastic animation.
Some players are instantly recognisable for the way they run with the ball; most notably Cristiano Ronaldo with his quick, short stepped run that is so effective when running at defenders.
Speaking of running at defenders, a great thing about FIFA 07 is the ability to go on some fantastic looking mazy runs that just were not possible in previous FIFA's unless playing on amateur mode.
Through balls can also be deadly when combining the right players, such as Scholes playing Rooney through for a shot at goal. Shooting can sometimes be a bit hit and miss, with many shots going wide, when in reality you know that someone with the talent and skill of Wayne Rooney would definitely hit the target, and at least force the keeper to make a save.
Saha is Michael Jackson?
That's not to say that the shooting is rubbish though, you really can score some fantastic goals. But an issue that has plagued FIFA games for years rears its ugly head again in FIFA 07; players don't really seem to care which foot they take their shots with, though this may be sorted in the final game. Free kicks are now much better than the complete mess they were in the previous 360 versions; all you do is aim, and shoot; it's simple, and effective.
Player selection when on the pitch is something that really needs to be addressed before release. When defending you may find yourself hammering the player select button before you actually get to control the player you want.
Unfortunately when you press the button it almost always selects the player closest to the ball, which can be extremely annoying when the ball is running away from the player you have selected, especially when you really wanted to select a player who was better placed to intercept the ball.
Graphically the demo is, on a HDTV at least, underwhelming; I've read reports of players with standard definition TV's saying the demo looks stunning, but to my eyes it looks very rough around the edges. While some of the player likenesses are decent, many are shockingly poor and the skin tones are appallingly bad.
All the players look deathly pale as if they are seriously ill! Louis Saha for example looks like Michael Jackson from the Thriller video! And while Cristiano Ronaldo's face is pretty good, for some reason it looks like he has but on a stone or two in weight!
Some player likenesses are actually non-existent, Paul Scholes for example looks nothing like his real life self and EA have clearly made no effort to map his face for this game.
This demo however may be based on an early build of the game. Anyone who has seen the trailer that is available on the marketplace will have noticed the rather impressive likeness used for AC Milan's Kaka.
In this demo however, the in-game player bears absolutely no resemblance to the real-life one or the one that was shown in that trailer. During replays the frame rate takes a big hit, and conspicuous in their absence are the referees and linesmen. I thought this was supposed to next-gen, surely the 360 can handle an additional two characters on the screen? Hopefully they will make it into the final game.
Earlier I mentioned that the controls can be unresponsive and slow; the poor player select system doesn't help, and when you actually do take control of the player you want, there is sometimes a brief pause before he actually moves in the direction you want him to.
There's also the odd delay between you pressing the pass button, and the player making that pass. These are things that will hopefully be sorted out for the final game. All in all this demo plays a decent game of football; a little more polish and a tightening up of the controls and EA will finally have a football game that really gives Konami's Pro Evo series a run for it's money.