It's that time of year again when the two most popular football sims on the market do battle to see which will come out on top.
For over a decade, FIFA and Pro Evolution soccer have been in competition with each other, creating a monopoly in the football game industry with their impressive games. This year, FIFA 08 has pulled out all the stops in a bid to get one over on its rival, but will it succeed?
Firstly, the game has cured one of the most annoying traits of football games in recent years - an inability to control the player you want to control. It has done this by allowing the user to scroll through the nearest available players with a quick flick of the right analogue stick (on PS2) and yet still have the option of picking the closest one (L1) if need be.
Now, when your defenders are tracking back to stop a one-on-one, you can actually pick the right player to come across and cover, instead of having a number of them decide to go wandering off at the crucial moment.
A massive improvement, and something that has been complimented with the fact that you can now take control of the goalkeeper as well. However, it is a tricky skill to master and relying on the computer to pull off the saves may still the best way to go unless you want to be hammered 10-0; but in one-on-one situations you can now make saves instead of just running aimlessly out of your box.
Having found FIFA 07 especially annoying because of the AI goalkeepers' inability to come out further than their six-yard box, this is a much needed feature. Still though, when playing against the AI, they stay rooted to the spot and make it embarrassingly easy to score.
Shooting has been improved, tackling makes it easier to get the ball and there has still been no effort made to address the fact that free-kicks could be scored by the horrifically over-rated Roberto Carlos, let alone the likes of David Beckham, because the wall begins in the wrong place.
That said, new features are important if a game is to be improved and FIFA 08 has them in abundance. The best by far is the 'Be A Pro' feature, which allows you to get into the boots of a single player within a team and build your career from scratch. Some users may not enjoy the attention to detail required to coax a single player through 90 minutes, and will certainly be annoyed at some of the AI's decisions, but then that's football.
The closest thing to real football, 'Be A Pro' is a unique invention and is impressive. Even though you're not the centre of attention you can still control your team-mates' actions to a point, by 'calling' for the ball. More often than not they'll try and pass it to you, but your overall control over the match is limited - just like real life.
Furthermore, there is an opportunity to build your tricks and skills into a combination to recreate real-world stars' moves. Pretty good when you add that to the fact that the AI now has over 60,000 options every minute, meaning that the gameplay is far more varied than previous versions. You'll need every one of those tricks just to keep the opposition guessing.
As ever, the look and feel of the game is superb. Including great graphics, intricate detail (including some of the best stadium animations ever) and some cool music as well. Little additions, such as the fact there is now a PA announcer reading out a scorer's name, and the stats in the pre-match build up read out by Martin Tyler, add to the features of the game. It's often the little things that count.
New leagues, including the Australian A-League, make FIFA 08 the most complete game around and it certainly remains top of the pile for kits, equipment and the all important team and player names.
Online leagues, enhanced interactivity and the opportunity to download weekly podcasts also improve the range of content on offer (as if playing the game itself wasn't enough) and with the slickness that has made EA's FIFA game a household name over recent years still evident, FIFA 08 is an impressive beast. Boasting some great visuals, it may fall down a little on gameplay when compared to that of its rival, but that gap is closing fast.