"This Is The Season" ...when anyone remotely familiar with the depth of quality associated with EA Sports videogames won't require a detailed breakdown of FIFA 07 in terms of its crammed content choices, longevity-boosting Manager and Tournament modes, Fan Shop unlockables, musically eclectic Trax Playlist, and football-related EA Sports Extras.
"This Is The Season" ...when EA's long-running (and predominantly under performing) FIFA franchise finally transcends its massive licensing, slick presentation, and top-end graphics, and becomes the footballing gameplay experience we've all craved for so, so long. Indeed, "This Is The Season" ...when FIFA convincingly shoulder barges Pro Evolution for control of the ball rather then merely chasing its shadow.
Concentrating solely on FIFA 07's vastly evolved gameplay, what's instantly noticeable against prior EA efforts is the continuous sense of freedom handed down by the action. Where other FIFA offerings have soon lapsed into bland repetition when goal scoring, a poor reliance on set patterns and movements to win games without any real sense of challenge or achievement, FIFA 07's victories are much more rewarding and, more importantly, unpredictable (as are its losses). Improved shot mechanics mean that instant snap shots are much easier to 'surprisingly' execute during a goalmouth scramble or as a weak clearance arcs out of the box to a waiting midfielder. Using the Skill Stick when controlling especially gifted players during one-on-one moments or when attempting dazzling dribbles also feels more attuned yet still inconsistent enough to create a sense of realism. A.I. team mates are actively more interested in making intelligent runs off the ball for players to pass into or use as decoys to pull apart holes in defensive lines; yet opposing A.I. is also sharp enough to inspire absolute timing and precision in order to breach its resistance or stem its attacking ability. All in all, FIFA has never felt so much like Pro Evolution before.
But, where FIFA climbs a little higher than the plateau occupied by its rival(s) is in addressing a small point of hugely influential significance: player-to-player off-the-ball transitions. Every football-based videogame has suffered from this glitch, and it can all-but ruin a player's gameplay enjoyment, as well as their suspension of disbelief. For example, when performing a pass (short or long) to an A.I. team mate, the player is meant to gain control of the receiving player and then move, pass, or shoot accordingly. Only, in other annual FIFA (and Pro Evolution) games, control of the receiving player was often delayed, or, if the pass lacked sufficient weight, then the player would be momentarily immoveable as the ball trickled to a halt a matter of feet from them and an opposing player swept in and took possession. However, in FIFA 07, once the ball has been passed, the receiving player is instantly and completely controllable, and the right thumbstick can be used to cleverly drift the player closer to the incoming ball. This makes passing and moving immensely intuitive and gives the player a much more defined sense of overall control. Furthermore, heading high balls, chest control, and physical jostling are often difficult or impossible to perform effectively in other games; but, again, FIFA 07s instant right thumbstick allows players to lean in or step in front of defenders during high balls, and even steal ahead of them in the 18-yard box once a cross has been dispatched. Plus, the same is true when defending against crosses or contesting a free kick, clearance, or goal kick.
Then, of course, EA Sports further rams home its established online and multiplayer superiority over the competition by introducing various new elements to FIFA 07. The first is a service called Online Everywhere, which allows players to connect to a dedicated FIFA website via Xbox Live and receive football podcasts and live ticker scores and news from around the world while playing. Then there's also the Squad Update feature, which will prove invaluable to serious football followers wanting to sustain the game's accuracy, as it allows players to use Xbox Live to transplant all real-life transfers into the game's database after the August 2006 and January 2007 transfer deadlines. Finally, there's the ambitious Interactive Leagues multiplayer aspect where Live players can represent their favourite team online during the season, playing the same matches as the corresponding real fixtures. A player's results are then combined with the results of all the other participating fans to decide which team rises to the top of the Interactive League. In essence, whenever a player's chosen club is in action, they play online against Live fans of the opposing team during a two-day window prior to the real match. The supported leagues for Interactive Leagues are the F.A. Premiership, French Lique 1 Orange, German Bundesliga 1, and the Mexican 1st Division.
Based on the existing competition weighed against FIFA 07, there's nothing else on the market that can stand up to its immersion, delivery, and, most importantly, its gameplay. Hard to believe perhaps, especially in light of recent FIFAs, but EA has introduced completely new ball physics, vastly improved A.I., finesse shooting and curling, and more than 1500 new player animations to complement its already intuitive First Touch feature and unsurpassed authenticity. Its more grit and less gloss attitude clearly depicts FIFA 07 as the culmination of EA Sports relentlessly studying and learning from Pro Evo's strong points - namely believably spontaneous football and absorbing accessibility - and then aiming to replicate their influence amid complete FIFA licensing and markedly superior aesthetics. FIFA 06, while far from perfection, was an ominous sign for Konami that EA was closing the gap in leaps and bounds. FIFA 07 is a firm announcement of EA's arrival as Konami's equal in terms of gameplay and fun, and its undisputed mastery in terms of graphics, sound, commentary, presentation, detailing, and licensing. If Pro Evolution 6 arrives as just another incremental season-by-season tweak on Konami's successful formula, then FIFA 07 will, for the first time, top the football game chart. But as things stand, FIFA 07 is the only complete football package in existence.
This Is The Season... where you ignore FIFA at your peril.