UEFA Euro 2008
Developer: EA
Publisher: EA
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1-4, co-op 2-4.
Online 2-8, co-op 2-4.

Words By:

Well here we go again, another major football championship that us English don’t have to worry about the pressure of winning. EA’s latest addition to its football family has all the European (and not-so “European” sounding) teams you could think of, and lets you play from the qualifying stage (where England failed) right up to the finals in Austria and Switzerland.

Sticklers for detail will be glad to know that Euro 2008 seems to have most of the real teams and players, but will equally be horrified to hear that Wales and the Netherlands were but two we noticed had made-up players names, so gawd only knows what licensing agreement EA fell foul of there.

A quick play of the game soon reveals that nothing much has changed from FIFA ’08; the game’s menus, controls and looks are all virtually identical. The players look reasonably good and are well animated, but the player likenesses aren’t exactly uncanny, some players look positively porky and may well be suing for damages as I type. The various kits aren’t all authentic (due to licensing and time constraints no doubt) but the fabrics do have amazing textures, and genuinely seem to move, although player’s shorts still seem to have a bit too much starch in them - I certainly wouldn’t want to run around in a pair! As we’ve come to expect the ball physics look really believable and the number of deflections and half-saves by keepers makes for plenty of intense goalmouth action. On the whole the game has good collision detection too, and this is one department in which footy games really have come on in the last few years, but you’ll still see the occasional impossible tackle (boot passing through leg) and thin air kick or header if you watch enough replays – and the replay mode as always with EA footy games is pretty darned good, although there’s still no option to save your favourite goals.

Play on the default setting and matches will frequently be played in the rain, so EA certainly did their meteorological homework there. The players look soggy (or sweaty), and the pitch looks nice and splodgy, and the ball sticks and splashes in the wetter parts of the pitch. There are several authentic animations of actions and mannerisms that you’ll see real players do, EA’s motion capture team really do know their business.

But the old FIFA problems still arise whilst these wonderful animations are unfolding, and you’ll frequently feel that you don’t have any control over your player, and many passes and crosses actually seem to drag your player automatically into the path of the ball. Conversely from many corners and crosses your player doesn’t seem to have any tendency to head the ball whatsoever, despite clearly being in a position to, and sometimes players seem to be suffering from some sort of ballophobia, and actually run away from where they could have made a challenge, or run away from space to join the gaggle of players around the ball. At times it looks like a load of schoolboys running around after a ball rather than Europe’s elite players. Getting on the end of a well-placed corner and scoring a directly headed goal is rarer than an England team playing well, it’s that rare an occurrence...

On the AI front the difficulty settings seem to cater for everyone, but even on “Amateur” the opposing defence will set up in two tight banks of four making breaking them down far from simple. Don’t expect to dribble the ball from the half way line and score, it’s like playing against an archetypal Italian defence and doesn’t make for a fun game as the opposition rarely gets caught out of position - even if you’re breaking out of defence on a counter attack. Winning the ball back from an opponent seems to be way too hard to do, mainly because most players seem to be able to run as fast with the ball as the defender without, and many AI teams seem to use the same annoying lateral run and pass just to deny you getting a challenge in. On the other side of the coin it’s also ridiculously rare to get a foul or penalty awarded to you – opposing defenders seem to be able to nip the ball away from you just by running near you whilst you have to pressurize them with the “standing tackle” button (X) and time sliding tackles to absolute perfection or risk a free kick and an almost inevitable yellow card – although the refs do seem a little more lenient than in recent FIFA games.

The extensive motion capture also means that sluggish button response is all too frequent, and “remembered” button presses (a perennial problem in football games) is alive and kicking in Euro 2008. It’s a problem in all modes, but it most frequently manifests itself when you’re playing as a solo player and commanding the team to press the opposition by holding ‘B’. Should they win the ball sometimes the game will remember this press of ‘B’, and it’ll become an order for the tackle-winning player to shoot – which is rarely what you want him to do. Similarly you can call for a pass or through-ball with a tap of ‘X’ or ‘Y’, and often your call for a pass will be remembered and as you receive the ball you’ll immediately pass it on, which again is rarely what you actually want to do.

The “Captain your country” mode is the game’s biggest step forward, allowing you to pick and play as an existing player or create your own - with EA's usual painstaking attention to detail - then lead them along the road to Euro 2008. During matches you just take control of your single player, allowing the AI to do the rest of the work while you make runs, demand passes and prompt them to shoot, which means you can still put in a match-winning (or losing) performance and inspire your team. Without giving you that bit of control over your teammates there would have been a risk of blending into the background or running around aimlessly without getting a touch of the ball, but thankfully it works quite well and makes setting up goals almost as satisfying as scoring them. As well as picking your player you’re also required to select a further 3 players to make up a sort of mini team within your squad, and it’s these players that you battle it out with for the right to be captain. They can either be computer- or human-controlled, which creates a good balance of teamwork and competition. One minor gripe with this system is that the rating system seems to be heavily biased towards central or defensive midfielders, often ending up with them scoring 10/10 while you can score a hat-trick and still flounder down in the mid 8s or 9s.

The post-match stats offer a detailed breakdown of your performance and the game rewards you with experience points based on it, as well as an overall rating which (if you play well enough) can lead to you being awarded captaincy and gaining control of formation settings etc. The experience points can then be put towards improving your player between matches, giving you a bit of control over the flow of your game but for me, the tournament seemed to be over by the time I’d began to notice any difference. Still, it does add nice RPG and co-op elements to the game, and I’d like to see it refined and included in future FIFAs.

I’ve never been a fan of online football games as the slightest hint of lag (latency) renders a game completely unfair. Sadly my online experiences with Euro 2008 haven’t changed my mind, and I either seem to end up winning games easily or losing them heavily. Online options include a 16 team online knockout cup, online league, online career and ranked/unranked/custom games for 2-4 players.

The commentary is the usual uttered garbage, but that probably just makes it authentic! In all actuality it’s pretty good in football terms, as Clive Tyldesley & Andy Townsend must have spent ages spouting all the twaddle they come out with. In their defence they frequently manage to say something pertinent to the game in question, and even comment logically on a player’s performance during the game from time to time. When playing with different countries the crowd noises have appropriate chants and songs, and the correct national anthems.

A major complaint from nearly everyone who plays the game comes when opposing coaches/managers make substitutions (some seem to change their entire teams!) and you’re subjected to a stupid amount of animations, and you’re left watching cut scenes which never seem to be any different, and annoyingly can’t be quitted. You’d think these animations would be something to write home about, but they amount to little more than a player looking pissy because he doesn’t want to come off, a manager waving and then the camera scrolling slowly across the Wankdorf stadium (it's a REAL stadium name, honest). Another nasty glitch happens when ground beneath the manager’s feet flickers in and out of existence! (presuambly waiting to swallow him up).

But surely the worst visual aberrations we came across were during the pre- and post-game cutscenes in which the game draws the stadium first, and then the players so you’ve got fraction of a second where there appears to be no players on the pitch. On one occasion we also had an opposing team with an invisible player – now that’s just not fair!

Although you can practice a penalty shootout, the lack of training mode is a real bummer. It was nice to be able to practise set pieces like free kicks and corners, and it’s a feature that EA’s nemesis Pro Evo always has.

Euro 2008 offers a highly playable but soon-to-be forgotten addition to the FIFA family, and for obvious reasons I can’t see it staying in anyone’s collection for long. Expect hundreds of EURO 2008s to be on sale on eBay shortly, because there's not enough here to keep you playing it.

Best Bits

- Co-op mode
- "Be a player"
- Ball physics
- Realistic pace
- Customisation options
Worst Bits

- Sluggish button response
- “Remembered” button presses
- Graphical glitches
- Online play is still a lag-lottery

by: Hario

Copyright © Gamecell 2008