Subtract all of the managers, trainers, administrative support personnel, and entourage hangers-on and you've still got 15,000 players in FIFA Soccer 08, EA Sports' next game in its long-running soccer series. That's more or less the population of your average small town, stuffed into the code of the game--and a number that's roughly 20 percent bigger than that of last year's FIFA 07 on the PlayStation 2. At a recent press event at EA Canada, we got an early peek at FIFA 08 to see how the game is coming along.
That huge population of real-life playing talent in FIFA 08 is a result of more leagues being added to the series than ever before. Producers said they are aiming to have more than 30 leagues in the game--including Italian Series A, Bundesliga, Spanish Primera Division, Mexican Primera Division, English Championship, English Division One, and, naturally, the English Premier League.
To put those 15,000 players to good use on the pitch, the developer behind the game has taken time to examine that very basic aspect of the game--the shot. The focus on the shot comes as the next stage in the series' development toward a more realistic approach to the sport--with things like independent ball movement and improved player animation being hallmarks of the progress so far. As opposed to canned shot animations, FIFA 08 is working to add more variety to shots than ever before. For this year's game, the success or failure of a shot will depend more than ever on the force you apply on the ball, coupled with the skill of the player who is doing the shooting. A shot with spin, for example, is going to travel a much different arc than one without; in addition, factors such as air resistance and backspin will also alter the path of the ball through its arc. As a result, you can expect to see multiple shot types off your player's foot depending on the situation.
Since its migration to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, the FIFA series has come to be the standard-bearer for player movement--so much so that practically all EA Sports games, from Madden to NBA Live, are now using the improved player animations that had their beginnings in the FIFA series. That improved branching animation--which basically provides more points for a player's movement to react and change--will work into the new shooting system as well. A player dribbling at a full sprint, for example, only to stop, turn, and shoot the ball, will have a tougher time finding his target than a player who has a wide open, straight shot to the net. In the game, tougher shots will be recognized as such thanks to a shooting meter that reacts to the situation on the field. Depending on the offensive player's skills, his defensive pressure, and other factors, tougher shots will cause the shooting meter to fill up more quickly than a typical shot.
While the rest of EA Sports has borrowed the animations from FIFA, the soccer series isn't above borrowing some ideas from other games. Take, for instance, the new "Be a Pro" mode, a simplified, soccer-centric version of the Madden NFL series' superstar mode that will be available only in offline exhibition games in FIFA 08. Here you'll play the position of one player--from striker to sweeper--on the field and will be responsible for his assignments and roles accordingly. As you play, the camera will follow you on the field (complete with a Gears of War-inspired chase cam when you break into a full sprint with the ball) and will pull back to show you more of the field to give you a general idea of where you need to be. In addition, helpful arrows will show your areas of responsibility on the pitch and, additionally, which members of the opposite team you're assigned to cover. At halftime you'll get a feedback on your progress as a player, and after the match is over, you'll be ranked depending on how much you contributed (which will also tie into the 360 version's achievements system).
While Be a Pro mode will be limited in FIFA 08 (no online play and only in exhibition mode), producers said they are very excited about the possibilities the feature holds for the future of the FIFA series. Specifically, they referred to the ultimate goal of having 11-on-11 play online in the series--something that's unfortunately still a few years away.
The preview version of the game we played featured Barcelona's great Ronaldinho on a nighttime pitch, and it let you move the great attacking midfielder around and take shots on a goalkeeper. Playing the game, you'll quickly get a feel for the improved locomotion of the player, as well as the improved trick system that borrows a page from the trick system in NBA Street HomeCourt. No, you won't see players doing triple back flips on their way to the goal, but rather the way in which you link various tricks such as step-overs, passes, and jukes will be feel more organic and natural than simply the canned animations of the past. The GOW-style chase cam is a fun addition, too--as you're running at top speed, you'll be less agile and less skillful with the ball until you break out of the sprint. The game is also looking nice, with the dramatic lighting and detailed player models that you've come to expect from the series. Of course, the demo featured only one player on the field (other than the goalkeeper), so we're curious to see how it will run once the pitch is filled with players. FIFA Soccer 08 is currently scheduled for release this fall, and we'll be keeping you abreast of its progress throughout the year.