UEFA France

With the 2008 UEFA European Championships just around the corner, UEFA Euro 2008 steps forward to satisfy the fans of football (also known as soccer, to some) who are hungry for goals, dives and, in England’s case, disappointment. Is this merely a repackaged Fifa 08, or does it have something more to offer?

First things first: Yes, England (and the other home nations) are included in the game, as are every other nation that took part in the qualifying stages. This means it’s possible to change the course of history and guide England, past Croatia and Russia, into the finals and all the way to cup glory. So if that was all you were worried about, you need not worry any longer.

What is most impressive about this game is that it certainly is not just a repackaged Fifa 08. The developers seem to have taken into account the criticisms levelled at the game and have reworked the gameplay to an impressive degree, given the relatively short period between the two games release.

UEFA Germany

You can’t help but applaud EA Sports on this one, they really do seem to be focused on innovating and improving this franchise to match the performance capabilities of the current generation of hardware. This is something Konami, and their Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) series, needs to learn, and fast, because on the evidence of this game, they’re in danger of being dealt a knockout blow the next time Fifa and PES do battle.

If you’ve played Fifa 08, the first thing you’ll notice with UEFA 2008 is just how much faster this game plays in comparison. Fifa 08 was often criticised for being too much of a passing game– it didn’t really allow players to knock the ball past defenders and have a crack on goal.

This time around, running straight at the defense with a quick attacking player will often lead to a goal. The defenders will just not be able to keep up. This adds a whole new layer to the gameplay that was sorely lacking in last year’s Fifa, and makes this a much more enjoyable experience.

UEFA Salzburg

In addition to an increased pace, the A.I. seems to have also gone through a bit of an overhaul. In comparison to Fifa 08 and PES 2008, it feels as though you’re taking on an actual team, rather than a few fancy (or not so fancy) algorithms.

Opposing players will pass it around you with a fluid ease that makes Arsenal’s passing prowess look distinctly schoolboy. You’ll also see players taking shots from impossible distances and angles that have no hope of hitting their target, but what is neat about this is that it only tends to happen with players that try similar antics in real life, so don’t be surprised to see this happen a lot when you go up against a team such as Portugal.

Graphically the game neither disappoints nor impresses. It seems to be running the same graphics engine as Fifa 08 during match play and it serves its purpose well enough. What is impressive however, is the level of detail in terms of presentation. As you’d expect, being an EA Sports title, the game menus all look beautiful and are stuffed full of the official logos and artwork that have been licensed for this game.

UEFA Wankdorf

All the stadiums that will host the tournament this summer are present and correct, and a special mention needs to go to the quality of the crowd noise. Fans will sing team specific chants and anthems, when the team is performing well, and notably there are multiples of these for each team.

Of course, no discussion of a sports title would be complete without mentioning something about the quality of the commentary. In the English language version of the game, this is taken care of by Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend.

Compared to other recent football titles, it’s fairly impressive, due in mostly to the fact that it takes a slightly more conversational style. This means they’ll often go off on a long dialogue about a specific player, or team, rather than just describing the action. While it doesn’t reach the quality of the announcers in a game like NBA 2K8 it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

In terms of game modes there are a couple of interesting additions. As well as the obvious inclusive of the UEFA Euro 2008 tournament itself, and various exhibition modes (both online and off), you also have Captain Your Country and Story of Qualifying.

Captain Your Country is an expansion of the Be A Pro mode found in Fifa 08, in which you control only one member of your selected team. Rather than just being an exhibition only game mode (as Be A Pro was), Captain Your Country encourages you to create a player from scratch and then earn your way into the national squad, eventually proving yourself worthy of the captain’s armband.

UEFA Italy

For football fans with enough patience, this mode is extremely satisfying. The improved A.I. of your teammates means they can usually understand your intentions when, for example, you’re making a run into space, they’re able to recognise this and pass the ball accordingly.

After each match you gain experience based on a number of categories; goals, assists, passes, tackles and perhaps most interestingly, positioning. This means that if you choose to be a central midfielder you can’t just sit up front with the strikers and try to put the ball in the back of the net; you’ll have to give a hand to the defense when the time comes if you want to earn maximum points.

Story of Qualifying is a scenario-based game type in which you must match (or better) certain scenarios that occurred during the qualifying stages of the tournament. For example, one of the earlier scenarios challenges you to come back from a two-goal deficit against Romania using Bulgaria. The twist? There’s only ten minutes left in the game. This mode offers a good change of pace and is fun to drop in and out of for shorter gaming sessions.

Overall, though, there isn’t that much content to keep you satisfied for long. With a limited number of players and teams, and a lack of game modes this is a game you probably won’t be playing, outside of multiplayer, much after the tournament itself ends on June 29th.

There are a couple of other drawbacks as well. While the graphics during gameplay (on my 360) are good enough, the cut-scenes graphics– goal celebrations, substitutions, replays etc.– are not so great. Player models look poor and, in some cases, barely resemble their real life counterparts. There also seems to be some frame-rate issues and the odd glitch (the pitch flickering constantly from green to black for example), which ruin the atmosphere during these moments.

It’s a shame, because I really would like to give this game a higher score, but the aforementioned lack of content and animation issues mean I can’t do that. If you are a huge football game fan, or you can’t wait to live the dream of taking your country to the finals, then think about picking this up, if not, you should probably wait for the 2009 versions of either Fifa or PES.