UEFA Euro 2008 Hands-on

We head to EA to have a kick-around with a near-final version of the official game of the UEFA Euro 2008 championships.

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EA has at times been accused of milking franchises for every penny it possibly can, and never more so than around the time of the release of its midseason football titles.

With this in mind, we recently headed up to Guildford to see EA and play UEFA Euro 2008 with a certain sense of trepidation. We are pleased to report that while the game is based on the same engine as FIFA 08, rather than just repackaging last year's game with a few new modes, the FIFA gameplay team has worked on addressing the issues in FIFA 08. This makes a game that not only fits with the European Championships but also just plays a better game of football.

The most obvious change, outside of the specific European Championship modes, is the speed of the game. The players look and feel slightly faster, which we were told was a result of player feedback about the speed of FIFA 08. The players' speed has increased 6 percent, apparently, and their acceleration curves have been steepened so that they're faster out of the blocks. Irrespective of the numbers you can feel the marked difference, as it does make the game feel faster and more easily flowing.

There are some other pitch-side changes in standard modes. The AI has been noticeably tweaked for the championship qualification modes in an attempt to give players an incentive to play through the long qualifying campaigns. When playing as England, for example, we found taking on Macedonia as difficult as Steve McClaren did; the AI stuck lots of players behind the ball, who then proceeded to tackle as though their lives depended on it.

The crowd noises have been changed to reflect the atmosphere of matches such as this, too; when playing away in Eastern Europe, we noticed the noise ratcheting up higher and higher as we kept the ball away from the home side and frustrations rose. A couple of goals served to quiet them down, but the initial noise did serve to increase the tension and make getting that all-important result that little bit harder.

The game also has an expanded Be a Pro mode, called Captain Your Country. This lets you play as one player in the team over the course of the qualifying campaign, with the aim being to not only win the championship, but also to end up as the captain of your team by performing at a consistently higher level than your peers.

The game's multiplayer modes have also received a tweak to solve the so-called "Barcelona problem" that has plagued FIFA 08 online. A scoring system has been introduced to rate your performance, and international leagues have been added on based on this new scheme so that players can see how their country of origin stacks up against all the others in terms of sheer FIFA skill. When you first go online with Euro 2008, you are asked to enter the country you want to represent, and all your in-game scores are then tied to that country, no matter which team you play as. When you get down to actually playing some football, if you opt to play as, say, France, and beat the Faroe Islands 5-0 then you're likely to get somewhere in the region of 200 points, but a 1-0 victory the other way around would net you in excess of 2,000, thus encouraging better players to play as weaker teams to rack up higher scores, and keep things interesting for less-experienced players. EA has promised special achievements and in-game prizes on a daily basis alongside the real-life Euro 2008 Championships for those people racking up the highest scores for their respective countries.

UEFA Euro 2008 is released at the end of this week in the UK, so look out for our full review soon.

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