UEFA Euro 2008 Review

Alan Baxter

Every four years, a momentus occasion occurs. Europe’s top footballing nations collide in a tournament to decide who are the kings of the world’s most popular sport. Electronic Arts have given us gamers the opportunity to guide our home nation to glory and take the crown of Europe’s elite, even if our real-life counterparts haven’t got a hope in Hell (England I’m looking at you!) So, can EA revel in the glory of producing the best Football game to date, or will they get knocked out at the qualifying stages?

Electronic Arts could have easily released their famous FIFA 08 Football title with the addition of National teams and passed it off as a new game; it's been done so many times in the past. Fortunately for us, EA seem to have put an incredible amount of effort into their latest title, introducing new and innovative ideas to keep us entertained during the summer months. Possibly the best addition to UEFA EURO 2008 is the "Battle of the Nations" feature. A video introduction explains how you'll have the chance to represent your nation as you work towards winning a prestigious award, and here's how it works: after every match you play, a new rating system will give you a certain number of points based on your overall match performance. After the match this rating is added to your nation's overall score and uploaded to the global leaderboards. You can earn points for your nation via playing friendly matches, competing in a Euro 2008 tournament, playing the new “Captain your Country” gamemode and also battling for victory in a “Euro Online Knockout Cup”.

You are not forced to play as the country you represent, and this allows you to use nations which would reward you with the maximum amount of points, such as Cyprus or the Faroe Islands; this is due to winning as a lower ranked nation bagging you more points than if you chose the easier option of being victorious with a higher ranked nation, such as England or Germany. Winning matches on harder difficulty levels will reward you more points, which proves playing with the major disadvantage of a low ranked nation on the hardest difficulty level is the key to helping your country win the Battle of the Nations. EA have succeeded in implementing a terrific feature here, but only one you can participate in if connected to Xbox Live; a real disappointment for those without Live subscriptions or hard drives. Battle of the Nations will only last until the real UEFA Euro 2008 is completed aswell, and therefore we will only have a few months of enjoyment from this feature.

You will earn most of the points for your nation as you play the new gamemode “Captain your Country”. In Captain your Country, you build a player up from being a B-International (second string) to the captain of his country, leading his nation to glory in the European championship. Play with 3 of your friends or choose 3 CPU players to battle against for the much desired captaincy. Each match you play, you are given a rating out of 10 based on your performance, with attributes such as goals scored, assists made, and positional sense all being taken in to consideration. As you play through Captain your Country and put in top notch performances, you will eventually become the captain of the B team, be promoted to the full squad for friendly matches, and then given the chance to represent your country in the all important qualifying matches; if your performances have been good enough, you could be rewarded with your dream of captaining your country. Seeing your player progress through the ranks and become a star is quite a fulfilling process; even more so if you beat 3 of your friends to the captaincy, proving you’re the better gamer and setting up boasting opportunity for months to come.

D'oh, not the Germans winning again...

Throughout the Captain your Country gamemode, you only control one player on the field instead of the whole team. This is identical to FIFA 08’s “Be a Pro” mode, where the camera focuses on only one player of the team. If you are out of position, arrows appear directing you to the position where you should be located. For example, if you’re a defender but you’re in the opposition’s penalty area, an arrow will appear indicating you to sprint back to your own half in order to take up your defensive position. Tapping the A button will call for a pass when one of your team mates has possession of the ball, whereas tapping the Y button will ask for a throughball to be played to you as you make a penetrating run through the opposition's defence. Your match rating will change frequently throughout the game, as previously mentioned scoring goals and successfully passes will boost your rating. The “Be a Pro” mode is done fantastically well, and coupled with the Captain your Country gamemode, an entertaining experience will surely be had.

Not only have gamemodes been improved compared to FIFA games, a vast improvement in gameplay mechanics can also be seen. In past EA football titles, tapping the A, X or Y button would pass the ball to the nearest team mate, with holding the button producing a longer pass. This could often be inaccurate though, resulting in a misintended pass being made and your team losing possession of the ball. To counter this, EA have included a power bar appearing above your player’s head every time you pass a ball. This accurately shows you how hard the ball will be passed, allowing you to zip the ball across the pitch to players near the opposite sideline. Having the ability to control the power of a throughball is in itself an excellent feature, as these ambitious passes need to be inch perfect. You can really get the feel of passing in Euro 2008, and will quickly get used to weighing your passes to perfection, pulling off wonder balls in no time. Due to the new power bar feature, the pace of matches in Euro 2008 is much faster when compared to games of FIFA. You can really whip the ball around with great speed and style, getting it to advanced positions in a quicker amount of time. Speedy gameplay encourages more attacking and goals, which results in a more entertaining gameplay experience; let's face it, pacey attacking play with tons of flair is a lot more fun than slowly passing the ball around midfield like a team of delinquents.

Weather effects are becoming a common feature in next-generation games, with horrific storms and frosty ice coming to mind in the racing game Project Gotham Racing 4. No such effects have been seen in a Football game, until now of course. UEFA Euro 2008 is the first of its kind to implement weather effects into its gameplay, and this is a welcome feature indeed. Throughout matches, expect rain to pour down from the heavens and flood the pitch, bringing it to near unplayable conditions. Puddles have been placed in random spots on the pitch, and should be avoided at all costs. If you make the mistake of trying to pass the ball through a puddle, the ball will noticeably slow down as it soaks up water. This is likely to stop the ball from reaching its intended target due to being intercepted by an opposing player. Although this feature can be frustrating when your perfectly planned throughball fails due to the horrid weather, it is extremely realistic and adds a whole new dimension to gameplay.

Players look like their real life counterparts.

You may find yourself planning your attack to avoid puddles placed around the pitch. Instead of playing the ball down the line through a deep puddle, the better option would be to switch the ball to a team mate on the opposite wing. Having to think fast in tight situations and adjust your gameplay adds a huge amount of enjoyment to the game. Slide tackling is also significantly improved, with your player sliding an extra few feet due to the wet pitch. Timing your tackles correctly can be very fun and challenging, especially whilst playing with friends; at least you have an excuse now for that poorly timed challenge! If you’re unfortunate enough to be on the end of a merciless foul, seeing your player fall to the floor and splashes of water rise from the surface due to the weather effects ought to bring a smile back to your face.

Goal celebrations in Football games can often be tedious, with the same animation being played time and time again. To combat this, Euro 2008 allows you to control your own celebrations; to a certain extent anyway. After you score a goal, the player who scored will run towards the sideline. During this period of time, pressing either the A, B, X or Y button will trigger a different celebration. Each button brings about a different animation, for example raising both arms in the air or one arm raised whilst patting your chest. In all honesty, the goal celebrations are a bit of a gimmick, but still a welcome touch and something not seen before in games of this sport.

If you get bored of gaining the captaincy of your country, playing through and winning the Euro 2008 tournament or playing friendly matches or penalty shoot-outs with friends, you could always enter an aptly named “Euro Online Knockout Cup” where you take the battle online against 15 other teams in a knockout style cup; lose the match and you're knocked out. Knowing that if you lose just one match your dreams of the trophy are over adds intensity to each match and therefore a more enjoyable online experience overall. Other than entering a knockout league, Player and Ranked matches make a return, allowing you to casually player with friends and other Xbox Live users, or take on the rest of the world as you attempt to snatch the number 1 spot to prove you’re the Footballing God. In addition to these features, you can also create or join an online league with a maximum of 32 players being involved. Setting up a league with all of your friends to see who’s the most skilled can lead to hours of fun and lots of banter being dished out.

If you're interested in tracking your progress online, EA have kindly included an “Online Career” screen where you can view information such as the number of games you’ve played, amount of wins, draws and losses, as well as detailed statistics such as pass percentage and the amount of clean sheets kept. There’s enough here to keep you interested in the online aspect for a few months to come, at least until FIFA 09 comes out of course. Online matches can be overly frustrating at times though, with most players picking France and sprinting past you with ease as Thierry Henry, with you near helpless to stop the situation. Great difficulty will be had stopping pacey players online, but that only adds to the challenge.

The graphics capture the atmosphere perfectly.

On the graphical side of things, the game is near identical to FIFA 08, with the only difference being puddles appearing on the pitch and the water effects which follow. With that being said, the game still looks beautiful in many aspects. The lighting effects and shadows have been done with great effect, as you’ll often see the stadium structure shadow on the pitch; much like you would in the real life counterpart on a sunny day. You will be able to tell who you have control of, with each player looking distinctly like the real person. Characteristics are spot on, with the Goalkeeper Paul Robinson diving to the ground in a fashion extremely similar to real life, and Wayne Rooney’s body shape and haircut being scarily accurate. If I had one criticism of the graphics, it would be the fact the game shows the team Managers far too often. If decisions don’t go your way or you come close with a shot, the camera will likely focus on your nation's Manager. Although they look like their real life counterpart, it's not really needed and can become very tiresome after a few games. At the time of writing this review, Euro 2008 is without a doubt the best looking Football game on the market right now.

Not only are the graphics impressive, the audio in UEFA Euro 2008 is magnificent. The crowd react to everything you do, whether it is cheering for making a crucial tackle or sounding their dismay when you cheaply give the ball away. The occasional horn and drums can be heard, as well as the crowd chanting their country's famous chimes such as England’s “God save the Queen”. All these little touches make the game feel incredibly realistic, and can even help to motivate you to push on and get that equalizing goal.

Commentary in previous Football games hasn’t exactly been inspirational, with poorly timed statements and repetitive speech. However, this is totally the opposite in Euro 2008 with Clyde Tyldesley and Andy Townsend doing an awesome job. Everything they say is timed perfectly and always accurate. Examples include when you give the ball away, you’ll hear “He needed to be more accurate with that pass”, or when you complete a slide tackle and foul the player, you’ll hear “Oh my what a terrible tackle”. The famous voices you hear on live TV help to add a realistic feel to the game, with matches often feeling like those you watch on your television set.

Many of Euro 2008’s achievements require you to recreate a part of history. For example, for 10 gamerpoints you’ll have to recreate the Euro 2004 final and beat Portugal with Greece. Other achievements encourage you to play through the gamemodes, with gamerpoints being dished out for earning your countries captaincy and getting man of the match, among other requirements. Unfortunately for many, a large percentage of the list consists of online achievements. If you don’t have access to Xbox Live or just prefer to play the single player modes, these achievements will be a chore to unlock rather than enjoying the challenge. The full 1000 gamerpoints in Euro 2008 can be achieved pretty easily, but will keep you playing the game for a substantial amount of time.

Euro 2008 has fantastic audio, with the crowd reacting to what happens on the pitch. More importantly, a Football game finally has good commentary!

Not a huge difference from FIFA 08, but the graphics still look gorgeous. The puddles and water effects are done very well.

A new passing system, the awesome “Captain your Country” gamemode and the Battle of the Nations feature will have you playing Euro 2008 for many months to come; at least till FIFA 09 that is. Only the inclusion of national teams might put a few people off, but hey, when was the last time you saw Manchester United playing in the European Championships?!

Colourful, sharp menus coupled with new features a plenty deliver a very enjoyable experience to the gamer.

Some original achievements will be found, but on a negative note, too many online achievements still exist. If you take pride in getting the full 1000 gamerpoints, expect to be playing this game for a while.

Without doubt, UEFA Euro 2008 is the pinnacle of Football games. The best graphics, unsurpassed gameplay, plus new features and gamemodes all make the game an enjoyable experience and one that must be played by fans of the sport. A vast improvement over FIFA 08, but for those short on cash, waiting till the inevitable FIFA 09 might be a wiser idea.

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