The difference in hardware between the PlayStation 2 and the PlayStation 3 means that the FIFA games for each console are now handled by completely different teams, each with its own aims. The PS3 team is desperate to show off the horsepower of the console, whereas the PS2 team is so comfortable with the hardware that it's their job to try out new ideas. Although the PS2 version of FIFA 08 doesn't play that much differently than last year's game, the developers have introduced a number of cool new features, new control touches, and all the expected roster updates. If you're a football fan that prefers fast-paced arcade gameplay, you can't go far wrong with FIFA 08.
In terms of the core gameplay, FIFA 08 doesn't feel that much different from its predecessor. It's been refined slightly, and now it's a little more difficult and even faster than ever. It's worth noting that although the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of FIFA 08 have been slowed down to almost simulation level, the PS2 version is still frantically paced. The artificial intelligence isn't quite as dynamic, particularly when it comes to defending, but this leaves the game more open to midfield battles and reasonably large scorelines.
The changes to the gameplay come in the form of new manual controls that let you better adjust the direction and power of passes and crosses. Passes are now dependent on the direction in which you hold the left analogue stick or D pad (depending on your chosen control system) as well as the length of time you hold the X button. These factors are useful once you become familiar with the system, given that they can really make the difference when you're making a break, but novices aren't left out either--the AI is usually clever enough to know who you want to pass to. You can now also choose to bring the goalkeeper out and control him yourself with the right analogue stick, which is very useful when you're one-on-one with a striker. And if you can predict a shot and hit the triangle button as it's made, there's a good chance you'll save the ball.
There are also some nice new tricks that let you fool human players by misdirecting free kicks. If you press the L3 button when taking a free kick on goal, the camera will lock in its current position while you continue to aim the shot by moving left and right. Because of the blind nature of this aiming scheme, the controller will vibrate while you're aiming toward the post, which gives you a good indication of where you need to go. The system isn't perfect, given that the added time it takes is usually a giveaway of what you're up to, but it's still a tactic that advanced players will want to use. The same technique can be used for throw-ins to you make it look as if you're going to throw to one player when you're really aiming for another.
On the new features side, the chief addition is the Be-a-Pro cooperative mode. This mode lets two to four people play as individual members of the same team, and together you work your way through a season with teamwork and cooperative play. You can choose to play either as real-world players or, as the game recommends, create your own. The player-creation tool lets you change most aspects of your player's appearance, from his weight and facial details through to the type of sweatband and socks he wears.
The game recommends that you create a player because you can continually upgrade him as you win games and progress through the season. Once you start the season, you will be set a challenge--for example, midfielders might need to make a certain number of passes during the game. If you manage to pull this off and--preferably--win the game, you'll be able to upgrade your character more quickly. To help you accomplish these tasks, you can use different commands on the control pad to order your AI teammates around. If you press "X" while your team is attacking, they'll attempt to pass you the ball, regardless of their position. You can also ask for through-balls and long passes in the same way.
The Be-a-Pro mode on the PlayStation 2 version is actually a lot less demanding than the similar mode on the PS3 and Xbox 360 editions. You're not constantly being downgraded for losing the ball or coming out of position in this version, and the PS2's support for up to four players really improves the team-play aspect of the game. You've been able to play with up to four players in single games and tournaments for a long time in FIFA, but the ability to create your own player and improve his stats over the season really adds something to the experience.
Considering that this is a FIFA game, there's still all the usual quick-match, tournament, and manager modes as well. Tournaments can be created to replicate competitions such as the World Cup and the various continental cups, whereas single matches are great for a quick play against friends. Like last year, the manager mode lets you make signings and look after training, although it's nowhere near as in-depth as a dedicated football-management game. However, you can play your management career on the go with the PSP Link feature, as long as you have a copy of the game on the PlayStation Portable as well. The challenge mode features different preset match conditions and drops you into a game that's already started. If you can finish a game within the parameters (such as winning by two goals, or not conceding a goal), then you'll win points that can be used to unlock extra teams, footballs, and kits from the fan store. Although none of these features are new to this year's game, they form part of a large package that has a great amount of longevity.
FIFA 08's online features are simply leagues ahead of other PlayStation 2 sports games. If you've got a network connector for your console, you're definitely going to want to hook up and take advantage of the online functionality of the game. Obviously you can play online, both in quick matches and as part of the interactive league system that has been running for a few years now. The interactive leagues let you pick your favourite club and play real-world fixtures against other players who are also representing their team. You have a better chance of finding a match if you choose a smaller team such as Blackburn than a large one such as Arsenal, but it's great fun to jump in, represent your team, and track the overall progress on the table as you go through the season. You do have to set up an EA Nation account to enable all of this, but the online games we played were easy to set up and didn't suffer a noticeable amount of lag.
In fact, in terms of online functionality, FIFA 08 shares pretty much all of the features on the PS2 that it does on the PS3. You can voice chat with opponents if you both have headsets, send text messages between consoles, and also update the online league information and save it to a memory card. Whenever you're connected to the Internet, the game also loads up data from ESPNsoccernet and presents the latest score details on ticker tape along the bottom of the screen. We also really like the regular podcast updates from EA Sports, which replace the menu music whenever a new one is made available. These online features are something that FIFA's competitors are nowhere near close to replicating, and they combine to add a great deal to the overall polish.
As we've come to expect from games in the series, FIFA 08 is very slickly produced. The official license takes the club count to over 570 world teams, all of which have up-to-date rosters from August 2007. If you're online, the database will update in January to reflect all of the changes brought about by the latest transfer window. Every part of the game is immaculately polished, with a clean menu system, easy-to-use online service, and a helpful tips system brought up by the select button. On the graphics side, FIFA 08 doesn't feel overly detailed, although the player animation looks realistic and runs at a consistently smooth frame rate. The soundtrack, which includes 50 commercially licensed tracks, contains some really great choices across a number of genres. Furthermore, the commentary, which is still delivered by Andy Gray and Martin Tyler, sounds professional and includes contextually relevant comments for events such as derby matches. However, it does get repetitive very quickly, especially if you tend to play with only one team.
The PS2 version of FIFA 08 doesn't feel as revolutionary as the PS3 version, and in fact the two games are now very different in terms of playing style. The PS2 version, with its faster, arcade-style gameplay, is an evolutionary update to the series. It plays well, feels incredibly polished, and offers a wealth of options and game modes to play around with. We love the new Be-a-Pro cooperative mode because it adds something new to the experience and is great to play with friends. FIFA 08 may offer nothing particularly new, but this year's game is so refined and fully featured, it's the definitive entry in the series so far.