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Time was when admitting a love for EA’s FIFA series was akin to a horrific social faux pas, like unknowingly chatting up your mate’s sister or walking out of the toilet undone and hanging out. It was bad news and would generally secure a reputation for being either: a) weird b) stupid or worse still just “a bit special”. Why? Because, compared to Konami’s deep and frenetic competitor, FIFA was shallow, gimmicky and ponderous. However, much to the developer’s credit, FIFA 07 marked a significant step forward for the series. Finally, after many a year of bizarre new control schemes, here was a game that was comfortable concentrating on being just one thing: a really good football game.

So, what about this year’s attempt, the imaginatively titled FIFA 08? Dealing with the bleeding obvious first, FIFA 08 is just as polished and beautifully presented as it has ever been. Menus, music, shiny bits: FIFA 08 has it all. Of course, it also has the ever alluring licenses to fall back upon and in terms of the sheer number of players, teams and stadiums available, FIFA remains the daddy. Moreover, despite what the more snobbish among us might suggest, this is an important part of the allure and FIFA 08 represents the best visual interpretation of the game we’ve yet seen.

Most notable in this respect are the player animations. Over the years we’ve become pretty accustomed to ever improving animation, but FIFA 08 takes expectations and extends them even further. Players shield and manoeuvre the ball with increasing ease, bringing the ball down and under control smoothly and seamlessly. As ever there’s a bewildering array of skills to master too, all animated with great flair and accuracy. Accompanying this are the truly excellent ball physics, which were a particular highlight of last years effort. More than before the ball feels like its own independent spirit, ricocheting unexpectedly and making for a more believable and at times unpredictable game.

Another important facet of any FIFA title is the player likeliness’s. Beginning with the good, the extra detail provided by playing the game at full 1080p on a large TV means it’s easier than ever to pick out players merely by appearance. Be it the broad shoulders of Wayne Rooney or Sheffield Wednesday’s silver haired warrior Graham Kavanagh, most players are easily identifiable so long as you know what they look like to begin with.

Oddly, however, move up close and a large majority look distinctly chunky. We’re not just talking Rooney, Adriano or Fat Frank here, even the likes of Ronaldinho suffer the chunky treatment, looking as though he ought to be standing outside a club bouncing people to the curb. It’s not a fatal issue and given time one tends to tune out the initial shock, but it’s a strange development nonetheless.