UEFA Euro 2008 – Xbox 360

Timed to coincide with the real world UEFA EURO 2008 competition in Austria and Switzerland, EA has released their latest entry in the soccer field, UEFA Euro. While EA is also the developer behind the venerable FIFA series, UEFA differs quite a bit and offers up its own compelling sports package even if it seems that we’re getting two soccer games from the same developer in the same year.

Where UEFA differs immediately from FIFA is in the stable of teams to choose from – with only those teams eligible for this real-world competition on display in the game. In UEFA, players are tasked with choosing their favorite team among the 52 member nations of the United European Football Association. What this means is you can choose to captain a perennial powerhouse like England or append a Cinderella story on Croatia.

UEFA is at heart, a soccer game. I’m sure most readers are familiar with the specifics of the sport so I won’t dive into too much detail and instead focus on the various game modes available.

Solo players have a wealth of options open to their disposal from the outset. Players can choose to select a team and then begin working through a campaign – working from the qualifying rounds of the tournament all the way through the finals. Or, they can opt to skip the preliminary rounds and advance straight to the finals for their shot at fortune and glory and the adoration of soccer hooligans everywhere.

The Be A Pro Mode allows the user to choose a Pro from one of the teams and role play that character’s development, with the computer AI taking the reigns for the rest of your squad.

Arguably, the highlight mode of the solo player campaign is the Captain Your Country mode. In this, a user will create a player and guide this avatar throughout the course of the entire tournament, from the qualifying rounds to the finals. The catch to this mode is that you are trying to be the All Star on the team – meaning the player will garner points for heroic actions on the field and individual performance in a bid to be named Captain of the Squad. The computer will randomly select 3 other teammates of whom you are competing against for the Captaincy. Thus, you are constantly focused on making sure your player is the glue that holds the team together while juggling the team-oriented decisions that go into constructing a winning soccer team.

While the Captain Your Country mode presents a compelling twist to the usual sports campaign, the fact that it can be played in multiplayer against real-world competition for the Captaincy really elevates the stakes and bragging rights.

In addition to these campaign variations, UEFA also introduces a number of historic scenarios for users to play through as you can try to replay famous moments in UEFA history and strive to alter the outcome. This is very similar to variants seen in other EA games, such as the Madden series, so for UEFA and soccer fans in general, it can present an intriguing game of What If?

On the online front, UEFA presents a robust package of game types. Among the assortment of one-off matches and campaign options, including the Captain Your Country Mode, there is full support for large scale tournaments (up to 16 players) that can be set up easily through the Xbox Live interface. This includes all of the standard stats and leaderboard tracking.

EA has also sweetened the pot by applying an actual tournament (with prizes) to the online community. Players who opt to ally themselves with a particular nationality are entered into a competition, tracked by EA, where the performance of the various European countries will be tracked and prizes given to players displaying exceptional skills or play. A variety of factors, including shots, goals, blocks, etc are weighed into a player’s skill ranking as part of this feature.

So, should you find yourself in a fever pitch to lay claim to this game, or will it send you off kicking and screaming?

Graphics

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EA has set gold standards for accurate depictions of our favorite players and sports, and their attention to detail is well on display here. The fields (or pitch) themselves look great with various turf effects well represented. The weather effects are nicely implemented and actually have impact on game play, with rainfall playing havoc on the fields resulting in some game altering effects, including impact to ball direction and velocity. The player models look decent although some suffer from the Uncanny Valley effect – where simulated humans just end up looking real creepy. Some of these guys look a little too waxy and that can distract. The menus and interface are well designed and easy to navigate, making it a cinch to locate your favorite country and get to work going for Gold.

Gameplay

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UEFA Euro 2008 boasts a stellar package of gameplay options for soccer fans. There are so many diverse modes that it will be a long time before a soccer fan grows bored of this title. On the field, the soccer action is well implement, with players sporting spot-on control, AI exhibiting adaptive difficulty and requiring players to alter their strategies in order to succeed. The shear amount of game modes, from single matches to 16 player tournaments to the addictive Captain Your Country Mode will keep you busy for the 4 years it takes this championship to come around again.

Controls

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EA may get their knocks in the industry (simply based on size) but there is no question that they know how to program sports titles. The controls here are tight and spot on – with players able to easily navigate their way through the soccer pitch and implement their winning strategies. Actions like lob or bullet passes are easy to pull off however there is some complexity (and thus an increased learning curve) in trying to implement some of the more advanced trick moves using the right analog stick. Still, these moves are hard to pull off in real life so I guess a modicum of difficulty is expected to separate the pros from the amateurs.

Music

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Another EA staple – the company raids its vast vaults and offers up a treasure trove of Euro-techno tracks. The music fits the sport and makes for a decent soundtrack when navigating the menus and setting up your next tournament. As with all Xbox games, players whose musical tastes run counter from the techno/electronica milieu can always rip their own tracks and kick away to their own tunes.

Sound

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The play-by-play is fine (although a bit sparse) but the on the field sounds are good, with some satisfying thuds whenever your foot (or head) makes contact with the ball. The boisterous crowds add some flair and excitement with the lively chants (you’ll know when you are backed by homers). That said, it seems EA may have some soccer hooligans on the payroll based on some of the taunts overheard. Anyway, it all adds to lively sound design.

Intelligence

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I found that even on the easiest settings, the AI puts up a good fight with adaptive difficulty on display. You really need to work your team as a team to succeed, which adds some interesting twists to the Captain Your Country mode, where you are trying to do your best as an individual contributor, while also making sure your team succeeds as a squad. Some of the tougher teams will require more adaptive tactics, meaning you really need to strategize to win.

Difficulty

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UEFA presents a decent challenge to players of all skills sets. The various game modes provide a decent assortment of challenges to play through, and on the higher difficulty settings, the artificial intelligence can pose almost life like thought processes. Taking a lesser team through the tournament finals can pose a decent challenge that will require real command and skill.

Multiplayer

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The online suite is very impressive with players easily able to join one-on-one matches or set-up massive 16 player tournaments through Xbox Live. In addition, a number of the ancillary modes appear in the multiplayer suite with full stat and leaderboard tracking, The addition of a real-world tournament (run by EA) to award skillful play with real prizes adds more excitement to the multiplayer arena.

Overall

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I’m not a huge soccer fan but I found a lot to engage myself with this title. The mechanics of the sport are spot-on and while I may not know many (or any) of these player names, it didn’t take long for me to latch onto my brothers of English descent and play my heart out for Crown and Country. (Incidentally, I did what Mother England herself has failed to do. I finished dead last.) EA has a knack for developing sports titles and they wisely develop their games to appeal to the casual as much as the hardcore crowd. To the latter, I can see this game finding continuous spin until the tourney comes round again in 2012.

Simply put, GOOOOOAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLL!!!