LEIPZIG, Germany--Earlier today, during a meeting with Electronic Arts at the 2006 Games Convention in Leipzig, we were invited behind closed doors to be among the first people to get our hands on the Xbox 360 version of FIFA 07. Purportedly in development for more than two years at this point, FIFA 07 is an all-new soccer game developed from the ground up to represent much more than a graphical upgrade in the long-running series. We were able to play only a single match of Real Madrid versus Barcelona on this occasion, but we're pleased to report that we enjoyed all 90 in-game minutes of it.
Before jumping into the game proper, we were given a few minutes to go one-on-one with a goalkeeper in the "front-end arena" screen that appears whenever a load is required. The controls felt quite familiar for the most part, but some significant changes have been made that promise to make this game the most realistic FIFA to date. The biggest improvement is undoubtedly that the ball now has its own physics and that these are no longer affected by the ball being needed for a player animation. We're not sure if it was the chicken or the egg that came first, but we also noticed that players were much more prone to losing the ball than in previous games, and that even when players stood still, the ball could often be seen slowly rolling away from them.
The ball physics were even more noticeable when we started to experiment with the right analog stick, which in the new-and-improved control scheme is used to knock the ball away from your player in any direction. We really only used this new control to perform quick turns during our short time with the game, but we were told that with practice, it can be used to perform "authentic" nutmegs and run-arounds on opposing players. Your success with moves like these will still vary according to the skills of the player that you're controlling, of course, and in FIFA 07, you'll find that the 50-plus attributes for each player include behavior traits, as well as numbers relating to physical prowess and basic skills.
When the game got underway inside the instantly recognizable Neu Camp stadium, one of the first things that struck us was just how fluid the players' animations were. In previous versions of FIFA, player animations--no matter how lengthy--have had to play out once they were started, regardless of what other players or the ball was doing. In FIFA 07, animations can be interrupted at anytime and seem to blend seamlessly with whatever the match has in store for the player next. We also noticed that fatigue appears to play a larger part in the game now; players seem to tire quite quickly if you use your sprint button excessively. When we asked the EA Canada representative about this, he said that the new fatigue system has had a quite realistic effect on the game's scorelines, since more goals are often scored in the second half of the match when players are tired.
At the end of the match, we were shown FIFA 07's new man-of-the-match feature, which appeared to take quite a few variables into account--on the same kind of scope that you'd expect from a soccer management game--to determine a winner. We were also given a quick look at one of the game's many management screens, which, in this case, let us view all the runs made by a player during a match on an overhead view of the field and see how many of them were successful at a glance.
About the only disappointment we experienced in our FIFA 07 session was the confirmation that the Xbox 360 game will not feature the online Interactive League mode that looks so promising in the other versions of the game. However, the Xbox 360 version will have some online tricks of its own, including an option to display real-life soccer news along the bottom of the screen as it happens, courtesy of ESPNsoccernet.
We would have liked to spend a lot more time with FIFA 07 at the Games Convention, but it simply wasn't possible on this occasion. We hope to get some more time in with the game in the not-too-distant future, and we look forward to telling you all about it when we do.