EA's soccer games have been getting progressively better over the past few years. Ever since getting over the next-gen hump with the second Xbox 360 installment of FIFA, fans have been treated to better visuals, better gameplay, and a much more complete gaming experience each time on the pitch. The question is, can they keep it up?
UEFA has a lot going against it. Since this is a game based solely on the European Football Association, the number of possible teams and stadiums is quite limited compared to a regular FIFA soccer title. Thankfully, the developers have compensated for this potential weakness by including some really varied play options.
Of course, you can play through the tournament on which the game is based, or you can choose to take on a penalty kick challenge. And making a return is the ability to earn online points for whichever country you want to represent by performing well in the single-player game. UEFA has a nice sense of community about it.
As a tip of the hat to hardcore fans of the tournament, there's also a section of the game dedicated to reliving and recreating major moments in history. Whether that's to maintain a lead through the second half of a game against a better team, or to come back from a seemingly insurmountable scoring deficit, the challenges give the game some legs in the single-player arena.
The captain your country mode is the most creative aspect of UEFA, tasking you with taking a player on the B-squad and performing so well that you're the team captain by the time you get to the tournament finals. You compete against three other members of your squad, and are rated on everything from points scored to positional play and how well you dribble and pass. It's a very cool feature that adds a bit of role-playing to the mix.
Despite what would seem like a rather limiting theme, you're not going to run out of things to do in UEFA 2008.
If you've played FIFA 08, you've basically played this game. The engine is exactly the same, with the slight differences being that the players feel a bit faster, and you can control the winning animations, should you be lucky enough to put one past the goalie.
And if you're a rookie player, that's a lot easier said than done. You'd think with those gigantic nets, soccer would be a much higher-scoring game. But, just as in real life, UEFA's scores tend to stay pretty low unless one team is exceptionally better than the other.
The game's controls are easy to get a handle on, but the nuances of soccer and how to approach different defensive formations are not. If you don't have a real knowledge of the actual sport, jumping into UEFA green can be very difficult, and more than a little frustrating.
All that being said, once you do get a handle on the control aspect, and learn the finer points of the trick system, you'll find a really solid game of footy in UEFA. Yes, it's very similar to what the company has been offering for the past two years, but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable.
During the thick of the action, when the camera hovers far over the pitch in order to give you the most complete view of the game, UEFA looks very nice. And even when the viewpoint moves a bit closer during substitutions and penalties, the visuals are mostly impressive. The jerseys hang off the players convincingly, and the animation is quite nice.
But when you get into some of the replays, there are some issues. Players moving from one animation to another is, in most cases, really awkward looking. It's like the players don't blend their moves properly, and instead jump around to different motions. Likewise, during pre- and post-match moments, graphics tend to pop in and out of focus just as there are camera cuts being made. It looks very sloppy.
EA seems to have reached a bit of a plateau in its soccer games, but really, that's not such a bad thing. UEFA offers a solid game of soccer with no glaring flaws, a slightly steep learning curve, and a deep amount of play options that should keep most players satisfied--at least until next year's installment hits the market.
Reviewed on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.