Judging by how many soccer games are currently available for the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Portable, you'd think that soccer was by far the most popular sport in North America. In less than a year, EA has released a FIFA game and a World Cup game, and now there's one more to add to the list: UEFA Champions League 2006-2007. Though solid, the core game isn't vastly different from any of EA's other soccer games, the Champions League license will do little to excite most North American players, and the PS2 and PSP versions of the game are missing the cool trading card feature found on the Xbox 360, making it difficult to recommend.
There aren't many different game modes in UEFA, but what's here is fun and offers a good bit of depth. You can pick a squad and try to win the Champions League Tournament, or jump into the challenge mode and relive classic Champions League matches. You'll get more out of this if you're familiar with the league's history, but even if you think of Newcastle as a beer and not a soccer team, the mode is fun. You can play ranked or unranked games and even enter tournaments online...if you can get on. After going through the tedious sign-up process, we were never able to get past the opening kickoff in either version of the game. The PSP's ad hoc feature worked fine, though both parties will need a copy of the game to play.
There are a few small differences between the PSP and PS2 versions. The PS2 has the lounge mode from the FIFA series. In the lounge, you and seven friends can play one another and keep track of your history and statistics. Based on how well you play, you can unlock power-ups to swing the odds in your favor. The PSP doesn't have the lounge, but it does have juggling and wall attack minigames from previous FIFA titles. There's also an exclusive quiz game, which is neat, but you've got to have a decent knowledge of teams and players to have any chance of success. If you're really hardcore and own both the PS2 and the PSP versions of the game, you can transfer treble data back and forth between the two systems.
UEFA's biggest selling point is "the treble," where you pick a squad to coach and try to lead them to glory by winning your league, a tournament, and then the Champions League--all in the same season. This is no easy feat on its own, but there are a number of factors that make it even more difficult. You'll need to deal with various objectives and goals that are constantly being thrown your way. Sometimes you're required to play a young player because the higher-ups want to see him in action. Other times you may need to sit a player so that they will be well rested for a big match, play a particular formation, or even shake things up by transferring players. The transfer of players is handled awkwardly. You're simply told that you need to make a change, and that you've got to sell a player and then buy a player of a minimum rating. Many of the top players won't negotiate with you, even if you're the top-ranked team, so you often end up exchanging one mediocre player for another.
Once you satisfy the prematch requirements, you've got to tackle the in-game scenarios. Sometimes you start a match from the beginning, but you might also start in the middle of a game to find yourself down 2-0 with your goal being to manage at least a tie; players might be injured; or there may have already been some cards handed out. Some of these objectives are quite difficult, and since you get sacked if you fail to win all three championships, they can be frustrating. It's also odd that the game doesn't take match results into account very much. You never seem to get complimented for winning big, and if you overcome a deficit to win, the CPU will actually end up chastising you for falling behind, even though it was the CPU that put you in the hole. Even with these nagging issues, though, the treble mode is fun, though it probably won't do much to excite casual soccer fans.
UEFA's gameplay is great and, unsurprisingly, quite a bit like FIFA 07's, with a handful of minor differences. The game is fast-paced (perhaps a bit too fast) and there are plenty of goals, unlike the 360 version, which plays slower and has fewer scoring opportunities. The 360 version of the game was also plagued by errant passes and an unresponsive player-switching mechanic. Neither of these issues are present here, and the game controls as well as ever. The controls are tight and easy to learn while still offering plenty of options. Because of the game's brisk pace you'll need to be adept at pushing the ball upfield quickly. This is easily done by sending players on runs with a tap of the left shoulder button and using the triangle button to perform a through pass. One thing the 360 has over this version is better artificial intelligence. It's not bad here, but the players' actions seem more predictable and they're prone to the occasional boneheaded play, particularly on defense. There's now a quick restart option that purports to give you the jump on the opposition by letting you throw the ball in quickly or take a quick kick, but other than maybe giving you a slight advantage on throw-ins, it's worthless, because the other team automatically warps into proper position before the restart.
If you've seen FIFA 07, you've seen UEFA Champions League, except now players wear gloves in cold weather and you can see their breath. From the players to the pitch, it's an all-around great-looking game. There are a few zombie-faced players that look like they came from Dead Rising, but for the most part, they look quite good. There are some great-looking animations, particularly the ones where players try to get to a ball that's just out of reach or is heading out of bounds. There are a large number of stadiums, each of which has a unique look and is filled with rowdy fans (or in the PSP's case, animated blurry things that are supposed to be fans). The PS2 version supports widescreen, which is great since it lets you see a large portion of the field. Unfortunately, this taxes the frame rate, and the game can get a bit choppy depending on the stadium you're in. The audio is also about what you'd expect from a FIFA game. The raucous crowds will sing their hearts out, and the music is an eclectic mix of artists from around the world. The commentary is adequate but can be a bit dull. There is a fair amount of Champions League-specific commentary, which is nice, particularly in the classic challenge mode.
UEFA Champions League is a good game, but its appeal is going to be limited to a small amount of people--namely, those with a strong interest in the Champions League. It doesn't play any better than FIFA and it isn't as deep, so unless you've got a strong desire to lead your team to the soccer equivalent of the Triple Crown, there's not much reason to pick up UEFA Champions League 2006-2007.