In soccer, it's known as The Treble--a team winning its country's top-tier league, its major domestic cup championship, and the Champions League Cup all in the same year. It's one of the rarest distinctions in the sport, so rare, in fact, that only four teams have ever pulled off a European Treble. There's no real direct comparison in American sports--it's equal parts horse racing's Triple Crown, NCAA March Madness, and the World Baseball Classic, all in one. In the upcoming UEFA Champions League 2006-2007 for the PlayStation 2, a recent build of which we got to play, your job as manager of your favorite team will be to lead them on to Treble victory. And you'll have one year to do it.
Treble mode starts when you create a manager profile and select your difficulty level (the higher the difficulty level, the more bonus points you are awarded for progressing through the game--more on that in a bit). After a brief prologue featuring in-game re-creations of real-life highlights from the previous Champions League season, you can customize your manager's name and appearance, and then the expectation of your club owner is set in no uncertain terms: You have one year to win your league title, your league cup, and the UEFA Champions League. Easy, right?
Because Treble mode spans a single season in the game, you'll start in the preseason summer with friendly matches to get a feel for your team and its players. Before each match on the calendar, you'll be taken to a preevent "blog" that introduces the game as well as any objectives you need to meet. In our first match playing as Barcelona, for example, our objective was to play reserve striker Rolando Rodriguez for at least 75 minutes. After the game was over (we tied 1-1 with Motherwell) and the objective was met, we got a breakdown of all the bonus points we earned, including points for goals scored, shots, and corners, as well as subtracted points for things like yellow cards, goals conceded, and so on. We even got bonus points for meeting our objective with Rodriguez.
Next up on the schedule was the summer transfer window, and our goal was to sell an attacker and buy a player to replace him. You can't simply trade away your star player--as we tried with Barcelona's Ronaldinho--as your virtual owner won't allow it. Instead, you're better off selling one of your less valuable players. When it comes to picking a replacement, you'll have to get a player that comes under your budget cap, as well as one that fits the minimum skill level required by the objective--ideally you'll get someone who's better than the requirement and cheap to boot. Scrolling through the massive list of real-life players, looking for the right addition to your team, can be either tedious or compelling, depending on your patience for this kind of thing. Your roster moves made, the transfer window closes and it's back to the action on the pitch.
And that's pretty much how UEFA's Treble mode works--you completing various objectives over the course of a season on your way to the prestigious triple crown. The objectives differ as the season progresses; in one situation, you might be dropped into a game where your team is down 2-0 early in the second half, when one of your star players goes down and your goal is to lead your team from behind to victory. At any point in your season, you can go back in time and replay a particular match by choosing the "rewind" option. Keep in mind, though, that rewinding will cause you to reset all games after that. Instead of resetting history, you can always go back and play events over again with no repercussions, too.
When on the pitch, one noticeable change to the game is the quick control system. Whenever the ball goes out of bounds, you can instantly get back to the action of a throw-in, goal kick, free kick, and corner by pressing the L1 button. It's not a huge deal, but it definitely saves you some time.
Other modes in UEFA include UEFA Champions League Tournament, ultimate challenge, the lounge, and practice mode. The tournament lets you create a tourney from scratch and play it out; ultimate challenge mode will let you re-create and replay some of the most notorious moments in Champions League history. One example lets you take on Barcelona versus AC Milan from their classic 1994 matchup, which saw Milan take down Barcelona 4-0. The lounge will let you and seven other friends battle it out for leaderboard supremacy, while earning various unlockables as you go. Speaking of unlockables, the points you earn from playing various Treble matches can be used to unlock things like new stadiums, soccer balls, and pitches. If you own the PlayStation Portable version of the game, you'll be able to transfer your Treble campaign between the PS2 and PSP versions.
UEFA Champions League 2006-2007 is due for the PS2 on March 20, and we'll have a full review of the game once it's on store shelves.