Earlier this week, during a visit to Electronic Arts' Redwood Shores headquarters, we had an opportunity to get our hands on the Xbox 360 version of UEFA Champions League 2006-2007 for the first time. Unsurprisingly, the game plays a lot like last year's FIFA 07 on the field, and although some noticeable tweaking has occurred there, the most significant new features are found elsewhere. Specifically, you'll have an opportunity to create your own "ultimate team" by collecting trading cards, and then use it in multiple gameplay modes both offline and on Xbox Live.
When you decide to create an ultimate team in UEFA Champions League 2006-2007 you'll be given a free pack of cards to get you started. In the pack you'll find enough player cards to field a starting 11 with a few substitutes, along with a few other card types that could include staff, training, contracts, uniforms, stadiums, and FIFA Lounge-style gameplay cards that have the potential to turn the tide of a match by affecting the attributes of certain players. Every time you complete a match in the game you'll earn credits based on your performance, and these credits can then be used to buy booster packs containing an additional 10 cards for your collection. Only bronze packs containing mediocre cards will be available at the outset, but as your skill level increases you'll unlock more-desirable silver and gold packs.
The trading-card system employed in UEFA Champions League 2006-2007 is surprisingly deep, and assembling an all-star team certainly won't be as easy as simply collecting the best 24 players for your squad. This is because in addition to eight different attributes, each of the 2,500 or so players in the game has three characteristics--nationality, preferred formation, and preferred position--that determine how well they gel with the rest of your team. Team chemistry will purportedly be more important in the game than in any of EA Sports' previous soccer offerings, and it'll be affected by your chosen manager card as well as by your players.
Once you've assembled your team you'll be able to use it in any gameplay mode. Interestingly, your team's attributes and statistics will be persistent across all modes of play, so if one of your players gets injured when playing an online game, for example, he'll still be carrying the injury if you decide to play through the UEFA Champions League tournament mode. While injuries are perhaps the most obvious example of an effect that will be persistent throughout your ultimate team's entire UEFA Champions League 2006-2007 existence, others will include bookings, the effects of training, and contracts. Player contracts in the game will be measured by the number of games that they can appear in, and the only way to retain players' services will be to use a contract card from one of the aforementioned booster packs on them.
Staff cards will work in much the same way as players, and will play just as large a role in determining the performance and playing style of your ultimate team. Your chosen manager might afford you a significant team chemistry bonus if you use his preferred formation, for example, while a good head coach card might make every player on your team run more quickly. If an important match isn't going your way, even with all of these cards working in your favor, then you'll have the option to bring gameplay cards into play during the game. Up to four gameplay cards can be assigned to the right analog stick, and can be activated at any time when the ball is in play. Many of the cards will either positively affect the morale or attributes of your team or adversely affect those of the opposition. Other cards will target individual players, and you'll need to activate them when your chosen player is the one with the ball or the one that the person you're playing against is currently in control of.
The number of cards that you can have in your "hand" at any one time will be limited, so rather than throw spares away you'll have the option to stick them into a collector's album. Unwanted cards can also be traded online, although you'll be putting them up for sale to other players rather than actually swapping them for other cards. Card prices in in-game credits will be capped according to their rarity and power, so even the very best players in the game shouldn't be too hard to get ahold of.
After sitting through the UEFA Champions League 2006-2007 presentation, which we'll confess has us pretty excited, we were invited to play a quick match against one of the game's producers. As mentioned at the top of this preview, the game plays a lot like FIFA 07, but it didn't take us long to notice a few quite significant tweaks that have been made. For starters, the default camera angle is further away from the field so that you can more easily spot the positions and runs of other players on your team. The game is also played at a very slightly more sedate pace than recent FIFA offerings, which goes some way to encouraging thoughtful passing maneuvers over hurried ones. The passing game will also be improved by a tweaked control system that, by holding down the pass button for different lengths of time, lets you bypass players closer to you so that the ball goes past them and onto someone further away. It's a system that will take some getting used to, but that's a challenge that we're very much looking forward to. We'll bring you more information on UEFA Champions League 2006-2007 as soon as it becomes available.