Football is apparently a funny old game. Any team can beat any other on any given day, which is what makes a sport where 22 vastly overpaid men kick a bit of leather around a muddy field such an enthralling spectacle.



Tell that to a lower league football fan, mind, the night they’ve been relegated to League 2, their chairman’s sold off the ground, and the few first team stars are buggering off to your local rivals, and chances are they’ll not quite see the humour.

It’s no great secret that for the last half dozen years, the Pro Evolution Soccer series from Konami has been the better football game. EA’s FIFA titles might have consistently had all the real names, and competitions, but the PES series has been more widely respected purely because it managed to play a decent game of football.

The gap between the two, however, has narrowed over the last few years. And with a new console generation to contend with, EA are no doubt hoping that they can steal the crown from a lazy Konami who are beginning to simply churn out a very slightly tweaked version of last year's release over and over and over...

First thing you'll immediately notice is just the sheer beauty that FIFA 08 looks on the PS3. Though zooming close in will show the odd foible, actually setting the camera at a standard playable position will see you dazzled by the beauty on your expensive HD TV.

Players jostle for position realistically, arms flailing as they try and shield the ball they just chested down after a dodgy forward pass. It simply looks like the kind of football you see on TV almost every night of the week.

In terms of presentation, FIFA 08 packs in the standard high level of detail that EA are famed for. Big name commentators churn out the kind of dull phrases that they utter every game out in the real world. It all culminates in the kind of experience that draws you ever deeper into the evil clutches of the game itself, and it’s only when the replays start that you’re sadly popped back out.

Unlike when we’re watching a real life of football, the replays here still suffer from some ridiculously jerky visuals. Watching Christiano Ronaldo speedily and silkily jink his way through a back line should be a joy to behold. But here, it just looks like a big jerk-a-thon mess.

But it’s not all about good looks of course. If it was, why would EA have potato head Wayne Rooney as the game's mascot?

This year FIFA maintains its regular progress out on the field. Some time on the training ground has obviously been spent this season, as this year the challenge is something else. Unlike previous titles, which were famed for wickedly high scoring match ups, you’ll struggle to score during your first half dozen games.

You can’t simply knock the ball forward, urge your speedy little striker to run onto the ball, and coolly slot it past the keeper all nice and easy like. This time you’ll need to lovingly craft moves from the back, creating space, drawing out defenders leaving gaps to exploit, and timing through balls to absolute perfection. Plus, the keepers are difficult buggers to beat, being more Shay Given, than the usual David James.

All the teams, and all the competitions from around the world make their usual appearances, with even fans of the lowliest of teams from League 2 able to take their team to the top. Player stats, even quite low down are mainly close to their real life counterparts, though players do start to slip to more generic looks, rather than lovingly crafted faces, as you sink down the pyramid.

The delightful "Be A Pro" mode, which allows you to play matches as a single set player is an absolute masterstroke, and obscene amounts of fun, even playing as a dodgy left back. What is a little miss, however, is the lack of career options for this particular mode. Imagine taking control of a lower league striker who has just turned 17, and taking them all the way to the very top over their entire career?

Online mode makes up for this slight miss, with some solid offerings, and absolutely nothing in the ways of lag. It certainly beats the last PES effort by a wide distance, and the promise of updates to the number of players allowed to take part in each match via patches, is certainly one we hope EA keep.

Verdict

It has all the teams, its online mode beats that of PES 6 hands down, and it certainly plays a decent game.



But the incredibly dodgy slowdown packed replays, the lack of a re-match option online, combined with the fact that it still feels a small step behind the PES series, means that FIFA 08 can’t come whole heartedly recommended.

With the demo of PES 2008 feeling a touch disappointing, next year might see a role reversal for the kings of the footballing genre.