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 give 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; its been done so many times in the past. Fortunately for us, EA seem to have put an incredible amount of effort in to 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. When you first load up your shiny new game, you'll view a video introducing the aforementioned "Battle of the Nations" feature. This is where you have the chance to represent your nation and help your country finally win a prestigious award. 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 nations 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 Hardrives. 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 took 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; and 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.
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 oppositions 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 fill 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 paces of matches in Euro 2008 are of a much faster pace compared to games of FIFA. You can really whip the ball around with great speed and style, getting the up to advanced positions in a quicker amount of time. Quicker gameplay encourages more attacking and goals, which results in a more entertaining gameplay experience; lets 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 in to gameplay, and this is a welcomed feature indeed. Throughout matches, expect rain to pour down from the heavens and flood the pitch, bringing the pitch to near unplayable conditions. Puddles have been placed in random places 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.
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.
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 your 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 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 your 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, aswell 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.
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 off, 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 nations Manager. Although they look like their real life counterpart, its 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 be cheering for making a crucial tackle or sounding their dismay when you cheaply give the ball away. The occasional horn and drums can be head, aswell as the crowd chanting their countries 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 need 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 are 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.
There are several things that go hand in hand with a major International football tournament - massive upswings in sales of replica football shirts, people developing incredible pride in their continental 'roots' and women actually being interested in football. Another more recent addition to this list of obligatory developments is a tournament tie-in videogame, with the honours going to EA, makers of the FIFA games series since the 1998 World Cup. Due to a lack of interest in the tournament from the media thanks to the lack of Engl...Home Nations involvemen, Euro 2008 was snuck out fairly quietly a month or so back. No fancy front cover, no special edition, bog standard release for Xbox 360 and PS3. I actually hadn't planned on buying it to be honest, I was fairly happy with FIFA 08, yet its release happened to coincide with my birthday, and a new football game is a fairly safe bet as a present for a football fan, so receive it I did.
Expectations going into the game were basically a tweaked version of FIFA 08, with some hope for some innovative game modes to make up for the fact it would only include teams who set out on the path to qualify for the European Championships currently being held in Austria and Switzerland. Euro 2004 on the Xbox had improved over its year's FIFA with a number of neat modes including the ability to play a friendly over 2 legs, and best of all a 'Dream Team' mode that allowed 2 players to take turns building a team out of the players included in the game and pit them against one another. These added some real multiplayer life to a game that was otherwise FIFA's shorter brother.
Sadly Euro 2008 doesn't offer any such extra incentives to those who already own the current FIFA. Along with the expected Euro 2008 Tournament mode, which allows you to choose if you want to play just the finals or through the entire Qualification phase (meaning you can attempt to take Scotland, England or Northern Ireland over that final hurdle they all fell at) the only other single player options are 'Story of Qualifying' and 'Captain Your Country'. The former is basically a Scenario/Challenge mode with a fancy name, where you enter a game, sometimes already begun, with the intention not just of winning, but imitating or drastically changing real life events. The latter is a bit more interesting. It can be played with up to 4 players, but that would require 4 players to spend a lot of time together playing through it. It's basically a slant on the 'Be A Pro' mode from FIFA 08, where you only control one member of the team and are rated on your performance, with your goal being playing well to attain the captaincy for your country and gaining them qualification and glory at the Euros. You can either create a player or play as one of the real team, and go up against 3 rivals you get to select if there are no other human players. There is also the obligatory 'Kick Off' mode for a single match, an Online play mode and the novel 'Battle of the Nations', which isn't a gameplay mode, but EA's online test of which country is best at the game, playing it earning points for your selected country.
Captain Your Country is arguably the main single player mode, and sadly it doesn't live up to much. Having you only control a single player does add a bit of challenge to proceedings, but only because your AI controlled players are usually a bit thick. It's manner of rating players also leaves a lot to be desired, and getting a man of the match award is actually harder than winning the damn tournament (seriously, I once scored 4 goals and set up 2 in a 6-0 rout of the Faroe Islands...yet still got overlooked for MotM) It's incredibly harsh when punishing you for misplaced passes or getting tackled, especially seeing as the misplaced passes are often down to your clown teammates more than you. The AI is also less than realistic. Kenny Miller actually finishes once in a while, Cristiano Ronaldo actually takes part in big games, Luca Toni tracks back. There's also the problem that while there is no denying the mode is playable, and fairly enjoyable, it doesn't feel like your properly playing a football game, constantly relying on the AI as opposed to making great passes and moves yourself. The Tournament mode is too threadbare, not even offering the management aspect that the 2004 game did to try and give it some life.
What I wasn't expecting was much change with regards to gameplay in comparison to FIFA 08. While the game will feel familiar to those already experienced with EA's annual football title, the controls are identical, and are equally as easy to pick up and responsive, but there have been a few notable changes, some for the worse, some the better. For the worse is the speed of play. The game runs at what can only be described as a hilarious pace, and is totally unrealistic. Coupled with the lack of a single player mode with depth, makes me wonder if this was designed to be a more arcade-like experience for those drawn into the fever these type of tournaments generate, but the changes for the better actually add an almost pedantic air of realism that shatters that. The most noticeable is how much the weather actually influences play. I've always felt that the 'weather' option in football games was mainly an aesthetic difference, but Euro 2008 actually has it play an influential role in how things play. Playing in rainy weather will actually see puddles on the park, which slow the ball down and ruin its bounce if it comes within it. It's a neat touch that I hope carries into FIFA 2009. A less noticeable, but still enjoyable alteration is that the keepers seem to have improved , and aren't as keen on sprinting off their line as they were in FIFA 08.
The aspect of the game we all knew would be in for an overhaul, the presentation, doesn't disappoint. The squads were as up to date as possible before release, obviously not taking into account the injuries that happened last minute like Cannavaro or Viera. As per usual the Netherlands are unlicensed, which is more than a little annoying seeing as the game doesn't allow you to edit player names, but everyone else is there, sporting their flashy new kits and licensed boots. A minor gripe I have is that not all of the shirt numbers actually the same as their real life counterparts, which you would think wouldn't be too hard given only 16 teams made the finals. The players also work in the same fashion as the latest FIFA titles, major players look like their real life counterparts, but everyone else is a bit generic. On a personal note, I was pleased to see members of the Scotland squad finally getting unique models.
The graphics in general are pretty good. It won't blow your mind with realism, but the players all look and move naturally, the pitch offers a convincing depiction of grass and so on. It doesn't push the 360 to its limits, and it isn't noticeably better than FIFA 08, but it still looks decent.
The sound on the other hand...well the crowd sound ok, and input from Andy Townsend is ok, but the main play-by-play commentary comes from my personal nemesis Clive Tyldsley. He can't never be quite as infuriating and biased as he is on TV, but the mere sound of his voice is enough to make my blood boil these days, so the mute button has come into use the majority of times Euro 2008 has graced my 360.
At the end of the day, Euro 2008 is an ok game. It's probably not worth buying if you already own FIFA 08, or are looking for a football game with some real single player life, but if you are the kind of person simply sucked in by the experience of major International tournaments, and just want a game to play with likeminded friends, it does cover all the basic needs for a football game, and does have the most up to date rosters of any game on the market at the moment.