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For: DS   Also on: Mobile, N-Gage, PSP

Into the play-offs

Product: FIFA 08 | Developer: Exient | Publisher: Electronic Arts | Format: DS | Genre: Sports | Players: 1-2 | Version: Europe
FIFA 08 DS, thumbnail 1
You and a friend. AFC Bournemouth versus Manchester United to decide the Champions League final. Sam Vokes hitting the bar when it's easier to score. Neil Young hacking down Ryan Giggs and getting sent off. Then sudden death penalties after a nervy half-hour of extra time. Your Red Devil-devoted ex-friend finally moping off in a sulk. This is FIFA at its best.

It's also why FIFA on handheld has arguably never been as great. Without the human rivalry splashed across the bigger screen area offered by the home consoles, head-to-head DS footie can lose its fizz.

However, within its limitations FIFA 2008 works very hard to avoid this fate, providing you with so many challenges and sub-games that you'll feel like a handheld Hercules. Or Gordon Strachan, even.

The meat of the game is the Career-based managerial mode that enables you to guide any club from the hundreds licensed – everyone from LA Galaxy to Fenerbache is here, including 30 official leagues and over 10,000 players – to cash-wadded and busty WAGged glory.

And although this isn't a full Football Manager-style mode – disappointingly, you can't buy or sell players – there are some nice training modes and a bucket load of stats, which provides the individualism to underpin your choice of players. In turn, this feeds into opportunities to tinker with formations and team selection in a way that will probably make Rafael Benitez look like a model of clear-minded consistency.

FIFA 2008 has some welcome DS-specific concessions, as well. There's a new topdown off-side playback view, for instance, which demonstrates that in this game at least, the linesman is always right.

And unlike FIFA 2007, free kicks and penalties are now taken with a swish of your stylus. Not that these experiments are wholly successful. Striking stunning free kicks becomes much more difficult and practice doesn't always make perfect, as slashing the stylus around is too inexact to ensure any degree of consistency.

Penalties are better. Unlike the 2007 edition, it's much easier to place the ball exactly where you want it to go. It's still tricky to judge the power, though.

The biggest improvement ushered in by EA's Nintendo-pleasing 'What to do with the stylus' corporate brainstorm, then, comes with the goalkeeping. Saving a penalty is now a realistic ambition. It's also guaranteed to make you gloat like Derren Brown when you eventually do psyche a friend out.

In terms of general on-the-park action, the game plays harder than last year. The pitch seems bigger, which means a game always feel stretched. If you lose possession after passing the ball around, your opponent will hustle and run unchallenged up the pitch for five seconds or so before coming up against your massed defence. For this reason, and unlike real-life, the midfield area of the pitch often feels redundant, even when you're using the touchscreen real-time formation change button.

Conversely, because the penalty areas are so crammed, it's more difficult to score, making FIFA 2008 a more challenging, if perhaps less creative, experience.

But while the matches are tenser and tighter, not all the controls works as smoothly as they might. The computer's selection of players is often sluggish, and while you can to some extent mitigate this by tapping X to switch between players manually, it's nevertheless extraordinarily frustrating at times.

Equally, tackling seems trickier, and having brilliantly won the ball, you'll often immediately lose it again as even the softest challenge nudges the ball a distance ahead of your player. In these cases, FIFA 2008's new toughness is less welcome.

Still, any other annoyances are much more minor. FIFA is loved by fans because of its official licences, so your club has the right crest and the right players and Thierry Henry looks like Thierry Henry. (Although in this context, Carlos Tevez and Yossi Benayoun stick out like sore thumbs as they still play for West Ham. Maybe EA can shoehorn in a transfer system next season.)

It's hard to get too upset though as this release builds on the series' overall polish, offering a huge number of modes, such as the various real-game Challenges, a host of mini-games and multiplayer, which for the first time supports the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection for global online play. Pleasing, too, is the fact this year's model is also considerably less buggy than previous incarnations.

Ultimately, then, while not completely flawless or particularly inventive, footie fans will still find much here to appreciate.
Reviewer photo
Scott Anthony | 15 October 2007
Another example of the solid annual improvement expected in its sport franchises, FIFA 08 is EA's best DS footie game to date
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