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Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PlayStation 2, PC, PSP - PlayStation 3 version reviewed.
You used to know where you were with console football games. EA made the beautiful game look beautiful, but we all knew that Pro Evo delivered the more convincing, fast-paced, fluid simulation. Suckers bought FIFA for the licensed teams, tournaments and players along with the eye candy. The smarter gamer bought Pro Evo because it was THE serious football game. What's more, only the terminally dim or easily influenced would buy the special tournament specific games that came between proper FIFAs. After all, you were basically buying an awkward halfway house between next year's game and last year's, with a sizable portion of the content taken out.
With FIFA 08, EA put paid to the first theory. While Pro Evo has struggled to make the most of a new HD console generation, EA finally managed to get blinding visuals and a cracking game together in one package, resulting in a FIFA that still had its own style of execution, but could just about stand up to Pro Evo on gameplay terms (although still nowhere near as fluid). Now EA looks set to do the same to the second. UEFA Euro 2008 isn't quite essential, but it's an excellent football game.
OK. On one level it's still FIFA 08 with a few new tweaks, features and enhancements. What's more, it's still FIFA 08 with some major areas of content removed - predictably the clubs and leagues on the national level. In this case, however, it has new areas of content to make up for this loss. Some of them make Euro 2008 worth your while.
Visual enhancements are minor, though given the fantastic graphics of FIFA 08, that's not really much of a criticism. Player likenesses still veer between the uncanny (John Terry, Wayne Rooney) and the merely weird (Steve McLaren) but even the dodgy ones are leagues ahead of any close-up work in the last Pro Evo. The animation, meanwhile, is just stunning. As Andy noted in his FIFA 08 review, you'll be amazed at the amount of detail EA has gone into here, and at how incredibly it all flows together. Similarly, EA use focus effects and TV-style cut-ins (usually of a weeping manager) in a way that puts rival football games to shame. Despite the odd glitch on the PS3 version I reviewed (sometimes players arrive for a close-up a fraction of a second after the background loads) this is HD console football as you once hoped it would look.
What improvements there are mainly connected to the new weather system. Any game with matches set in the Northern European winter needs a way of simulating the odd downpour, and the effect of heavy rain on clothes and skin in Euro 2008 is really quite impressive. What's even more so, however, is how the water affects the pitch. Other games might have been content to stick a few muddy patches on the pitch, but in this one those patches actually affect the play, slowing down the ball and providing treacherous footing for the players. We're still not talking the full on slip-slidey, mudbath experience of seventies league football, but you'll appreciate the extra touch of realism.