As the shame of England's failure to qualify for Euro 2008 still tugs at the entrails of our eviscerated pride, EA readies itself to roll out the latest iteration of FIFA in the form of UEFA Euro 2008.
Now, before you start spitting in disgust at having to fork out another thirty-odd quid for an EA football game having only recently forked out another thirty-odd quid on FIFA 08, hang tight, as not only is Euro 2008 your chance to get some payback and erase the memories of the McClaren era, but it's actually shaping up to be a fair improvement.
How do we know? Because we recently pootled down to EA's Guildford headquarters to spend half a day with the Xbox 360 version of the game, and speak with producer Simon Humber about what we can expect to see when it ships on 18th April.
"We've made the game more responsive and a little quicker," explains Humber, exhibiting those qualities himself. "It's 6 percent faster than FIFA 08. Player acceleration is also faster." As well as the slight speed increase, and more responsive and fluid player acceleration, it's also possible to jostle and stretch for the ball (as well as trap it and turn with it) with greater levels of control.
While FIFA 08 was undoubtedly the best game in the series for a while, it wasn't without its faults, with many games between equally matched opponents regularly degenerating into dogged wars of attrition. That doesn't look to be as much of a problem here. While retaining the tactical and realistic spine of its predecessor, Euro 2008 also seems to have lightened up a little, and it now appears to make it easier to launch attacks and enjoy end-to-end thrillers rather than always searching for that one killer pass. Crosses feel crisper, first touches less clumsy and player animations more realistic. What's more, when you score you retain control of your player, allowing you to execute one of dozens of goal celebrations (dependent on which player you're controlling) including knee slides, Shearer salutes and acrobatics.
Euro 2008's impressive list of new features and modes suggest it could easily surpass the lacklustre mid-year offerings of recent tournaments. Take qualifying, for example. Rather than playing every qualifier in pristine stadiums inhabited by boisterous but generally well-behaved fans, you'll now find yourself travelling across Europe and experiencing a variety of pitch types and intimidating crowds. "We wanted to create a feeling that you have to play some really nasty matches when you're playing away from home, matches that can cause upsets, like when Kazakhstan beat Serbia or Northern Ireland beat Spain," explains Humber. "We've also added more negative tactics for the weaker teams to use."
Keen to find out for ourselves, we selected England and took on minnows Andorra on their home turf. The pitch was more akin to a mud-wrestling ring (we've seen a few in our time, obviously), with the word 'quagmire' instantly springing to mind. Puddles of water sat on the pitch causing the ball to suddenly stop instead of pinging off the surface. Rain pummelled our players as the opposition set up a ten-man barrier in front of its goal and hoofed the ball up-field in an attempt to catch us on the counter. And for every second we were in possession the crowd whistled and jeered with increasing intensity.
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