Captain Your Country works well because somehow it makes the experience more personal. In fact, you don’t have to stick with an existing player. You can design your own using a variation of EA’s established Gameface system, name him after yourself and – if your surname is one of the 200 odd built into the game’s list- find yourself on the commentary track. It’s the stuff that some young men’s dreams are made of, and when you do get that second in the scoring spotlight, the new interactive celebrations (waggle sticks and pummel buttons for all you’re worth) makes the triumph all the sweeter.
It’s this sort of atmospheric touch that makes Euro 2008 feel like more than just another cash-cow for EA’s football brand. The match atmosphere is superb, and enriched by an exemplary commentary from Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townshend that captures not just the mood of the current game, but your current fortunes in the qualifiers or tournament as a whole. Combine this with great crowd noise and you don’t just have a string of matches – you have a story. In fact, as you play you’ll even see flashes of the ongoing results of other matches, giving you that little extra impetus to raise your game when the group standings are beginning to look bad for you.
Finally, I know that some of you won’t want to buy this for the simple reason that a European competition without England isn’t a European competition you’re interested in playing. Snap out of it. Before and during the event itself EA is running what it calls a Battle of the Nations competition, where you sign up for a country and every goal or victory, online or offline, will be added to your nation’s running total. The country with the highest score at the end of the tournament will be crowned as the winning Euro 2008 nation. Is this a cynical attempt to harness nationalistic tendencies to the ends of commerce? Almost certainly. Does it fill you with a desire to do your patriotic duty? You bet.
So there you have it. UEFA Euro 2008 is the one FIFA summer fill-in in living memory that is actually worth buying. The question is whether it’s worth buying if you already have FIFA 08? Well, it does play a slightly better game of football and Captain Your Country is fun, so if you’re mad keen on your footie and you’re not too hung up on the Premiership or club football, the answer is a ‘yes.’ On the downside, you just know that most of the enhancements here will be rolled into the inevitable FIFA 09, and that this will be the more fully featured game. This may be reason enough to wait ’til that arrives, but if you can’t wait and you buy Euro 2008 right now it’s unlikely that you’ll regret it.
More than just a cut-down special edition of FIFA 08, Euro 2008 takes EA’s football franchise to new heights. The only reason to avoid it is if you already have the last FIFA and you’d rather wait for these enhancements to be rolled into the next.