UEFA Champions League 2006-2007 Updated Hands-On
Trade you a Beckham for your Ronaldinho. We check out the collectible card modes in this upcoming soccer game from EA.
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When you come right down to it, UEFA Champions League 2006-2007 is all about balance. There's the balance of choosing when to field a tired player and when to let him recover on the bench, the balance of when to screw over your opponent with a punishing gameplay card and when to save it for a desperate situation, as well as hundreds of other tiny balancing acts that you will oversee in your role as manager of your ultimate team. We had a chance to get some hands-on time with an updated build of UEFA and have quickly come to appreciate the game's depth and unique take on the soccer genre.
As we described in our previous look at the game, the on-the-pitch action is very much like what you'd expect from the FIFA series. UEFA separates itself from its better-known soccer counterpart, then, with an in-depth and compelling trading-card feature that permeates practically every mode in the game. The aim is to build your ultimate dream team of players, staff, and coaches, and then work your way to winning the UEFA Championship. To do so, you'll have to break out the same skills you might have honed back in the '90s with games like Magic the Gathering, as it's all about collecting and trading cards in the hopes of building the strongest team you can.
You start off in ultimate-team mode by opening up a "starter pack" of cards that contains everything you need to get started. Cards are organized in a few different categories in UEFA:
- Player -- These are the players that fill out your roster. You'll start with enough cards to field 11 players on the pitch, as well as a few backups. All players have different abilities and preferences that you'll need to keep in mind when putting them on the pitch together. Players have contract attributes, as well, and once a player has played all his games for you, he'll be removed from your deck. You can counter this by using a contract-extension card.
- Staff -- Your managers are here. As with players, staff members have different likes and dislikes that can positively or negatively affect your team.
- Coaches and Development -- These cards include player and goaltender coaches, as well as a fitness trainer who will help your players recover their stamina between matches.
- Physio and Healing -- Even the best players get injured, and these cards will help your players recover quickly from their injuries. As with players, these staff cards have their specialties; for example, one doctor might be more adept at treating head injuries than arm injuries.
- Gameplay -- These are cards that either positively affect your team or negatively influence your opponent. A maximum of four gameplay cards can be loaded before a match begins, and you can access them during the game by pressing down on the right stick and choosing the card you wish to activate with the directional pad. Once used, a gameplay card is removed from your collection.
- Club Info -- These cards include basics like home and away kits, badges, and home stadium.
- Unlockables -- With these, you can unlock new soccer balls, boots, and other unlockables.
Your starter pack won't come with cards from all the above categories; instead, you'll start with just enough to get you going. It won't be long before you're buying packs with the in-game credits you earn and filling out your collection. At first, you'll only be able to purchase bronze packs, which will feature mostly mediocre players and cards. As you progress, you'll have access to silver and eventually gold packs, which is where the really valuable cards will be.
Every attribute included in the various cards will have an effect on a player's abilities and, tangentially, your team in general. This is most apparent in the chemistry meter, which looks to be one of the most important factors contributing to your team's success. A chemistry meter is front and center on your team-management page, and with a few switches to your lineup, you can get a quick (if not always huge) boost to your chemistry that should pay dividends once your next match begins. Easy ways to improve chemistry include putting players on the same line who are from the same country or using a formation that a majority of your players prefer to play in. That said, there are pitfalls, as we discovered when we started our team up. On the next page, we'll give you a rundown of how the initial section of our first ultimate-team season in UEFA went.
The first step toward building a team is opening up your starter pack and seeing what you get. Here's what was included in our starter pack:
- Four gameplay cards -- One 15-minute fitness boost, one reduced pace for 45 minutes (to be used against an opponent), one 45-minute shooting boost, and one 45-minute dribbling boost.
- Four club-info cards -- One level 1 stadium with a morale boost of 5 minutes, two generic kit cards, and one badge card. These four elements (stadium, two kits, one badge) are required in your collection, but you can swap them out at any time if you find others you like.
- Three fitness/training cards -- Two 1-player fitness +14, one 1-player fitness +12.
- Sixteen player cards.
From there, it was off to the races. UEFA automatically sets up a default lineup, fielding your best players. That said, there are immediate improvements you can make to up your chemistry rating. Perhaps the easiest decision to make is the team formation. By clicking on the cards in your collection, you can see information on each player, for example, preferred formation. There are a ton of formations to choose from--from the 4-1-2-1-2 to the 4-3-2-1. After a little studying, we found out that the majority of our players preferred the 4-2-3-1 formation; when we set that formation as the default, our chemistry rating increased a full six points. Not a huge gain, but it's a good start.
One of the things UEFA does right is put a lot of easily accessible information at your fingers. For instance, instead of having to click on individual player cards to get a feel for players' likes and dislikes, you can simply scroll through them using the right stick while in the main team-management menu screen. Here you can see information such as preferred formation, nationality, preferred position, and so on and can quickly make adjustments. The game takes it one step farther by color coding attributes green that a player is happy with. If your player is happy at striker, you'll know immediately. If you manage to find optimum chemistry on a line--like we did when we set up three-quarters of our midfield line with Spaniards--you'll get an obvious visual cue, as well as another chemistry boost.
On the pitch, chemistry is most obvious in the quality of play. A team with high chemistry will make better passes, stronger shots, and generally be tougher to stop. Of course, if you find yourself down in the game, you can always play one of your preloaded gameplay cards to either give your team (or a player on your team) a boost or negatively impact your opponent.
After our first match, which resulted in a tie, we earned a total of 285 credits. How many credits you earn is dependent upon many factors, including the number of goals scored, fouls earned, possession time, and more. Bronze packs are a mere 100 credits, so we immediately bought a new pack and found a few new cards for our collection, including morale-boosting team-talk cards, a healing card for hip injuries, and a couple more player cards.
There is a maximum number of cards you can have in your deck, and if you have more than that after opening a pack, you have to decide what you want to do with them. You have a few options here: You can discard them outright, send them to your collection book, swap them out for another card in your collection, or put them up for trade online. The latter option is probably the most compelling, as you can set the price you want online and hope someone picks it up, thus earning you more credits. As the game continues and your needs become more specific, you can hop online and find just the type of player or staff member you're looking for (provided you're willing to pay the price, of course).
After our second game, another tie (though this time the final score was 1-1), we got another pack of cards. This one included a new head coach, one that would provide a boost to passing and dribbling for our team, at the cost of slightly decreased shooting and defending abilities. Do we put him in and take advantage of his abilities, get rid of him, or put his card up for trade online? Those are the kinds of balancing acts that are at the heart of UEFA's gameplay. We've got to admit that it's a compelling formula--equal parts sports management and addictive collecting game.
When compared to the more straitlaced FIFA series, EA's UEFA franchise has traditionally been a place where the developers have stretched a bit in terms of game modes and concept. UEFA 2006-2007 is no exception and should appeal to sports fans and Magic nerds alike. The game is due for release on March 20.
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