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UEFA Champions League 2006-2007

For: PSP   Also on: Mobile

Pop quiz, hot shot: You're three-nil down at half time. What do you do?

Product: UEFA Champions League 2006-2007 | Developer: EA Canada | Publisher: Electronic Arts | Format: PSP | Genre: Sports | Players: 1-2 | Version: Europe
UEFA Champions League 2006-2007 PSP, thumbnail 1
If it came in a tin, the real-life 'The Champions League' wouldn't do what it says on the front of it. The annual European football tournament is neither just for champions, nor is it a league – it's a curious hybrid of the best teams in Europe playing against each other over knockout rounds, then some leagues, then knockout rounds again, until one is the deemed the best.

So in a sense, EA's official game of The Champions League is impressively accurate – because it, too, is incorrectly named. You see, for a game principally based around domestic football's most prestigious trophy – possibly the only one which can save Mourinho's job this year – UEFA Champions League 2006-2007 offers so much more that its title suggests.

For example, you can opt to play West Ham or Watford in it – two teams who can barely win a league game, let alone a league full of champions. In all, there are 268 teams you can choose, spread across all the major European leagues.

On top of picking one to win the Champions League with, you can also play the Treble Mode. Here, you're tasked not just with winning the eponymous tournament, but your native cup and league, too. All in one season – a feat only achieved by four teams in the past. It's immensely challenging, incredibly varied – each match comes with its own winning condition, which mixes things up a lot – and extremely time consuming. (If you also have the PlayStation 2 version of the game, you can synch the two, which is a nice touch.)

In addition, UEFA Champions League features a number of instant scenarios, where you slip into the historical boots of a number of famous Champions League teams at particularly memorable moments, like winning the cup in normal time, when you're one down against Bayern Munich with one minute and 45 seconds to go, or coming back from three-nil down at half time.

Finally, if you have minutes to burn there are three time-wasting mini-games, which involve juggling a football, whacking one against a wall or answering questions about the sport. They're played for scores and high-score table pride, rather than anything else.

So there's a lot to it. And provided you're a fan of one of the major teams, you'll find pretty much everything is in order – players mostly resemble their real-life counterparts and the presentation and commentary are both typically EAxcellent. It's a shame us QPR fans can't take the Rs to European glory, but that's a restriction of the tournament itself rather than the publisher's fault.

EA has been developing football simulations since 1994, and those 13 years of experience really is evident here. Whilst there are some that would argue Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer series does it better, the fact remains EA's FIFA games – of which this is a variation – are pretty wonderful these days.

Besides a few minor niggles – tackling seems occasionally hit and miss, the change of pace button mapped to Select is frustrating, and the introduction of the 'quick' free kick or corner is utterly redundant – Champions League plays a beautiful game. You can ping the ball from player to player sensibly, and the flick of the analogue nub for the first touch really does imply total control. Instinctive, fluid and challenging, it's very difficult to find any faults.

Scoring is occasional, but immensely satisfying; there's nothing worse than playing five matches and not scoring a goal, as I did with the original PSP version of PES. (And that was not down to a lack of football gaming talent on my behalf, either. I'm genuinely the current Sensible Soccer World Champion. Check Wikipedia.)

Set plays are handled properly – it's a refined system that the FIFA games employ these days. And for the first time in what must be five or six years, I scored direct from a free kick. Just the once, but I literally punched the air in triumph. If games are about escapism, then making me feel I'm good enough to judge how to smash one in from just outside the box is worth an extra point.

In fact, the overall balance in Champions League is just about perfect. Even on the easier settings, there are rarely any outrageously high scores – it's entirely realistic, even down to the fact that, when playing as Spurs, I can't beat Portsmouth. Ever.

The only question, then, is not whether this game is any good – it is – but whether it's worth a purchase. And the simple answer is: Yes. But only if FIFA doesn't already form part of your UMD collection. Aside from the introduction of Zadok the Priest (that's the Champions League theme, you heathens) and some structural changes, there's little new here.

Fans of the teams currently still in the Champions League will find the most satisfaction here over the coming weeks as they use the PSP to predict crucial scores, but there's still plenty for the rest of us to enjoy. Provided, as mentioned, you don't own a recent FIFA already.
UEFA Champions League 2006-2007
Reviewer photo
Simon Byron | 29 March 2007
Polished in almost every department, this is a well-rounded football sim with surprising depth, given the licence. Obsess!
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