UEFA Euro 2008
Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: EA Sports
Genre: Traditional Sports
Release: April 18, 2008 (UK/EU), May 20, 2008 (US/Canada)
It’s been a disappointing year for football games not named Football Manager. FIFA ’08 failed to capitalize on it’s momentum from a very good FIFA 07, whereas all versions of Pro Evolution Soccer performed so poorly on all platforms that it gives me serious questions about where the engine and the brand are going. And as is their tradition, EA Sports has released another “spin-off” game to
exploit give specific attention to tournaments that might not get the attention they deserve in the regular FIFA games. This year, it’s time for the European Championships, so we get the release of UEFA Euro 2008 before the tournament starts in June.
While a European release is a given, it’s a curious decision for EA to bring this game out in America, considering the fact that 1) Americans stupidly believe that “Football” is played with their arms, 2) America is notably not in Europe, and 3) the #1 European team most Americans play with – England – did not qualify for the tournament. That hasn’t deterred EA from releasing the title for any system that will take it, with the PS2 getting a budget priced $30 copy.
Is the game worth a look? How does it stack up to this year’s other football releases? Let’s find out.
The choice of modes available in Euro ’08 is fairly robust, considering EA’s past history with spin-off titles. You can play the tournament itself, either from the final tournament itself of through qualifying, in what is likely to be the first mode to be used by anyone in England. There is also a penalty shootout mode, which is good for those practicing with the “Kick Stick” (more on this in the Gameplay/Control section), and a Lounge, which is useless and misleading. The Lounge is for up to eight players to play together… offline. Nowadays, one would think a “lounge” is a place for online play, but not only is that not the case with the PS2 version of this game, there is no online interaction to be had with Euro ’08 of any sort. While one can’t really argue that a $30 deserves the full bells-and-whistles of online play, at least SOMETHING would have been nice to put in, and the lack thereof really hurts the game. And the fact that some unlockables require the lounge, it’s doubly infuruating that this mode is for offline use only, especially considering the fact that I personally don’t have any “local” friends that enjoy football as much as I do.
The two major modes in the PS2 version of Euro ’08 are the European Campaign and Captain Your Contry. The European Campaign is a mode that gives specific goals that get harder and harder as you advance. You play against certain countries, and as you beat them, you unlock more countries in that particular region of Europe to play against in either Shootout, Team or Be A Player mode (which selects your player for you). You’re given a major goal and two minor goals, with the major goal being anything from “win by X goals” to “keep a clean sheet”, and the minor goals going from there. Some of the goals are particularly annoying; keeping a clean sheet isn’t really easy in Be A Player Mode, partially because it relies too much on teammates and partially because it relies too much on a wonky camera, and if you don’t get the major goal, you’re to replay the match. This gets VERY old, VERY fast, no matter what the goal is. After a certain amount of games, you then play a qualifying match for Euro ’08, and during the matches, depending on how well you perform, you’re given growth points to use on your players. All in all, this mode is good for time-wasting, but there’s nothing here we haven’t seen in much older games, and it feels like the mode was surgically removed out of other EA Sports games such as Tiger Woods, and pasted on.
The second mode – and by far the most interesting initially – is the Captain Your Country mode. I heard a lot of good things about this mode, being that you could work your way up and battle for the right to captain your country with three other players, but sadly, that’s not the case in this game. Here, you basically pick a country, either pick a player or create one (comically, it lets you pick any nationality you want; you can captain a German on Team England, if you want), and replace one of the existing players in the starting 11. From there, you’re thrown either into Qualifying or the tournament itself, as if you were playing normally. While it’s a letdown compared to what the 360 and PS3 games allow the player to do, it’s a very nice component on the PS2, and does expand on Be A Player for those that liked it from FIFA ’08.
GAME MODES: DECENT
I don’t know if EA had to make concessions with the graphics engine, or if I’ve just been spoiled by playing FIFA in high-definition, but this game looks even worse than FIFA ’07 did. Lines are excessively jagged, appendages look like those you’d find on a high school shop teacher that’s bad at his job, and player models are blurry and boxy. On a positive note, the stadiums – especially from far out – look spectacular, though the problems arise once you get closer to the action.
One of the things that EA bragged about was manager reactions. They probably should have cut this out of the PS2 release, as they look horrible here. I’ve had three different manager models yelling at or congratulating me, which would be fine if I wasn’t playing as England the whole time, and the manager models look downright attrocious, and the way they move – borderline glitchy – lead me to believe that this particular part of the game was rushed. Personally, I wish EA had devoted more time to the core graphics engine, as this game also suffers from some serious framerate issues.
As for how players look, it really depends on the player, and strangely, short-haired players look better than longer-haired ones, as long hair looks like it’s matted down with 30W motor oil. Wayne Rooney, Shawn Wright-Phillips and John Terry look pretty close to their real-life counterparts, but I’m not sure what they were thinking with Cristiano Ronaldo or Luka Modric, among others. This is a problem with most sports games, though overall, the PS2 version of Pro Evolution Soccer looks and moves much better.
Worse than that, however, is that collision detection is flat-out off in places. When jockeying for position on balls in the air, players seem to morph into one another, which not only looks bad but keeps me from being able to determine who has the advantage on the ball. And I’ve had more than one goal actually go through the side net. Let me repeat that: I have had balls enter the goal by going through the SIDE NET by the post, AND COUNT. That’s very, VERY sloppy coding, and considering that wasn’t a problem with FIFA ’07, it just means that someone in QA was asleep at the switch.
UEFA ’08’s graphics cross the line from “ugly” to “gameplay affecting” due to the clipping, bad collision detection and the terrible framerate that rivals Major League Baseball 2K8 in terms of sheer “breaks the flow” factor. That is unacceptable on all fronts.
On-pitch sounds are very good for the most part; the crowd reacts properly to what’s going on, ambient sounds are accurate, and everything blends together well; nothing is too loud or too soft. The one thing that stands out to me on the pitch is sliding tackles, which seem overdone; they reminded me of the old Genesis versions of Madden football, whenever someone got hurt.
Play by play work is underwhelming at best; it’s the same team that’s been in use for the past few versions of the PS2 game, and they don’t say a lot, basically only popping up to give a one-line bit like “he shouldn’t be stripped that easily!” or to remark on who has the ball. I’ll go as far as to say that the play-by-play is so monotonous and stodgy that it made me long for the Jim Hughson and Don Taylor, NHL ’03 days.
As they usually do, EA has gathered another group of international acts for their EA Trax lineup. My own tastes don’t really appreciate FIFA’s soundtracks, but even then, this selection of artists is decidedly below the par of FIFA’s other soundtracks, with a couple in particular being painful to hear to the point where I mash the R3 button once I hear them coming up. However, this is really a matter of personal opinion, so I don’t really rate EA Trax against this rating too much, as my trash could be another person’s treasure.
CONTROL AND GAMEPLAY
This is basically the third go-around for the FIFA ’07 engine on the PS2, an engine that I particularly liked a couple of years ago and is one of the few things about this engine that isn’t showing it’s age. Players move well on the ball and all of the control schemes that are present in the 360 and PS3 versions are in effect here, save the way tricks are done (which still has a Street Fighter-like right analogue stick combination feel). One thing that gets annoying is the way players trap the ball; the distance the ball travels upon the first touch is determined by how hard the analogue stick is pushed in whatever direction, which is fine in theory, but doesn’t work so well in tight spaces, where the ball is bouncing around a lot; I’ll be trying to do something unrelated entirely, when another player will receive the ball, and because I’m pulling the stick in the other direction, he tries to go in that direction, which usually leads to trouble. I’ve had more than one promising run defeated because of this.
There’s a much greater emphasis on passing in Euro ’08 than in the past; going on long runs is usually a way to get stripped, as the defence in this game is very physical and will knock you off the ball; as long as you don’t hit the deck, chances are good a foul isn’t going to be called. Between through passes and how the aerial game works, I’d go as far as to say Euro ’08 has at least equaled Pro Evolution Soccer (on the PS2, at least) in terms of on-pitch realism on defence. Furthermore, through passes have been touched up to be a lot more prevalent, and more successful to execute overall. When it comes to offence, it’s going to come down to a matter of preference as to which game people prefer; those that like a faster, running game will prefer Pro Evolution, whereas those that like a slower paced game, but more legitimate options of attack will likely prefer Euro ’08. As a matter of fact, one could make the case that the PS2 version of Euro ’08 is, on the pitch, a faster, more enjoyable play than the 360 version of FIFA ’08, which was best described as “plodding”.
If there’s one thing that can be annoying about this game, it’s goalkeepers. If anything – ANYTHING – goes near them, they suck it up as if they have a magnet for the ball; basically, I always knew that if the keeper came off his line, he was going to hold the ball. This makes corners especially annoying; anything close is going to get gobbled, and anything farther away is going to either get headed away, or you’re not going to have enough zip on your header to do anything with it. And while goaltenders are almost robotic when it comes to stopping lazers from the top of the box, come in alone and put one low to either side, and the goaltender is essentially your bitch. It should be noted that the computer – on all levels – is very good at this.
EA did introduce a few new wrinkles into gameplay, almost all of which are unnecessary or half-baked. There is a momentum meter – much like we’re familiar with in games like March Madness ’08 – that doesn’t seem to understand the subtilties of momentum. I found a few too many times that I was pounding the everliving hell out of the opposition goalkeeper while up 2-0, just to find that our momentum was even… then they’d get one shot on goal, get full momentum, and I’d all of a sudden have problems getting the ball cleared over the centre-line, much less getting some offensive flow going. The momentum meter feels more like rubber-band AI in practice.
There’s also a right analogue “Kick Stick”. This allows you to use the right stick to control the power, timing and swerve of a free kick or corner kick. Again, this is a great idea in theory – anything that takes focus away from kick meters is a good thing – but the practice is problematic if you try to do anything but a straight shot. You can curve the ball, and the motion is intuitive enough, but you can’t determine how much you want to curve the ball. Unlike the standard kick meter, where aiming left and right a little bit will give you a bit of curve, you only have a choice of “kick straight” or “bend it like Beckham if Beckham was practicing his trick shots”. Curlers are hard to control, and harder to get any kind of significant power on, and corners are a nightmare; I’ve kicked more balls on goal – as in, they would have gone in – than I have onto my players’ heads. However, the Kick Stick is also useable on penalties, which is the one area that it works well in. You can pull back and press forward for varying levels of power, or you can flick it up to “chip” the ball, something everyone and their dog seems to like doing ever since Zizou did it against Italy in ’06. Overall, while it’s great for penalties, the Kick Stick needs a lot more time to cook before it becomes a useful gameplay tool.
There is also “critical moment AI”, which translates to “good players get stat boosts in close games”. To add onto that, when it’s time for this to take effect, gigantic red marks appear under the players, which could help newbies, but only serves to distract me; you don’t need to tell me to find Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard if I’m drawn with 85 minutes played, I’m trying to run specific plays for them as it is. However, one nice bit of gameplay – not sure if this was in prior versions, but it’s nice nonetheless – is the ability to aim for forwards on clearances; if you hold R1 or L1 and clear the ball (Circle, or Square if you’re a PES whore like myself), your back will clear it onto the head of one of your strikers on whatever side you aim for. It’s effective if you have a tall striker like Peter Crouch.
The last part of this is the Be A Player/Captain Your Country mode, and I’ve gone over the meat of the latter mode already, so let’s worry about the pitch. Anyone having played the Be A Player mode on the newer systems is sure to be disappointed; while the mode is OK when you have the ball, playing defence is particularly arduous, due to the fact that the camera doesn’t zoom out enough or rotate. This means that if you’re, say, a centre-back and the ball is on the wing, there’s a likely chance you will not see the ball, and with it, you’re not going to know that there’s now a crossing ball on it’s way to the head of an unmarked forward until it’s too late. It’s disappointing, but I think they’re limited by the hardware in this particular case.
Once you get past the stupid gimmicks and my monotonous, anal-retentive nitpicking, UEFA Euro ’08 really does play a very good game of football, and there are enough tweaks to the AI to justify the price for anyone interested in what will likely be the last good football game on the PS2, if that’s all they’re looking for. It has it’s flaws, but considering how much Pro Evolution Soccer regressed this year, I’d say this is the best football game on the system this year based on the pitch alone.
CONTROL AND GAMEPLAY: ABOVE AVERAGE
For those that are really into FIFA, there is a staggering amount of things to do here, especially for the price. As I’ve noted, the European Campaign is very robust, even if it feels tacked on; those with the dedication to get through it are going to be impressed at how much time they can drop into the mode. Add that onto the time one can drop into the other modes, and this game’s package is more than enough to get footballers that have beaten FIFA ’08 senseless through until FIFA ’09 or to the next gen systems.
There is also a “sticker book”, for which the player can get stickers of players, balls, trophies, stadiums and various other knick-knacks. For the most part, this is useless, though stickers for stadiums, balls and the like unlock those for use in games. There is no benefit to unlocking player stickers – especially of the lesser known countries, where I audibly found myself sarcastically screaming “OH BOY! A SAN MARINO PACK!” when I beat San Marino in qualifying – but for the OCD crowd, there’s a lot to find here.
For the most part, play ebbs and flows evenly within the course of the game, but there is a sharp curve upward in difficulty between levels, especially as you go up from Semi-Pro to Professional, and World Class is basically fraternity pledge levels of abuse where through balls go to die and there are seemingly 14 players in front of goal; problematic, considering there are only 11 on the pitch.
Also, as I’ve noted, the momentum meter has good intentions, but causes a bit of a rubber-band effect, hurting this rating a touch.
If you’re looking for originality out of a title that’s more or less an expansion pack, you’re misappropriating your priorities. Even the best modes in this game have been done before, either by other football titles or by other EA Sports games (like how the European Campaign was copied and pasted out of the Tiger Woods games). That said, EA could have – and has in the past – just put some sparkly lights on this and went “here, here’s your tournament game, shut up and take it, thanks for your money”; compared to past efforts like World Cup ’06 and Euro ’04, they put a lot into this game, and while not a lot of it is “original” in the classical sense, I have to credit EA for not just pulling a Madden with this title, even if just a little.
ORIGINALITY: PRETTY POOR
Most sports games worth their salt are by nature addictive; EA themselves should know this just by how well their NHL games sell, and how poorly their old Triple Play series did. When Triple Play was around, I couldn’t finish one game without visibly trying not to take the spinning disc out of my Playstation to use it as a clay pigeon, whereas NHL ’08 occupies my 360 at this very instant, and old copies of NHL ’04, NHL ’94 and NHLPA ’93 occupy special places on my Wall of Fame.
Euro ’08 is no exception; it’s a good football game, so anyone that likes football is going to want to play this for some time, and the OCD crowd is going to want to stick it out and unlock everything they can. That said, the game loses a point or two because it’s essentially the FIFA ’07 engine with a spit shine, so anyone that got tired of FIFA ’07 over time will be able to spend less time with this game before becoming bored.
ADDICTIVENESS: ABOVE AVERAGE
This one’s tricky. Do I rate this game as a football fanatic who actively, loudly and some would say foolishly supports perennial EPL relegation candidates Sunderland, owns a Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink Celtic shirt and wishes Cristiano Ronaldo got his ass kicked by Wayne Rooney after the ’06 World Cup? Or do I write this knowing that this is for an American audience that only takes time away from wanking off on their Brett Farve shirt to call football “gay”? Sadly, this review is predominantly for the latter, and even American football fans, for the most part, don’t care enough about the European Championships to shell out money to simulate them in any form, seeing as how this is North America. Simply put, EA has shown enough balls to release a game over here that’s not intended for us in any way, shape or form, and while guys like me historically suck these types of games up as long as they don’t suck (and past versions of the Euro, World Cup and Champion’s League sucked so bad that they were promoted to a whole new world of suck as Capt. Sucky McSuck), I’d be willing to bet that 90% of the gaming market passed over this at first glance.
In short, if you had to Google up “Zizou” to see who I was talking about before, this game isn’t for you.
APPEAL FACTOR: VERY BAD
On the other hand, I will give props to EA for actually crafting a decent experience out of this title. They could have just thrown the tournament in here, stuffed in some FMV and cackled all the way to the bank like they’ve been known to do with just about every other PS2 sports title since the next generation systems became marketable, but instead, they showed some effort on this title, and as I’ve noted, it will get a lot of playtime out of those that are interested in it.
Furthermore, the price range is perfect; it’s an older game engine and a niche tournament, so $30 is just the right price for this title. I’ll even go as far as to say this title is even better for the budget concious than the 360 and PS3 versions; while this is definitively a $30 game, I cannot say with conviction that those two are $50 titles – I would have personally assumed $40 out of the gate, especially in America – so this game actually provides a better bang-for-your-buck, especially for those that didn’t purchase FIFA ’08. As a matter of fact, considering the tweaks to the game engine, I’d go as far as to say that this is a better buy than FIFA, which is the same price and a little too samey when compared to FIFA ’07 overall.
For as much crap as I give EA when they screw up or do something corporately evil, I have to give credit when they do something right. Now, imagine if there was an online component…
MISCELLANEOUS: ABOVE AVERAGE
Game Modes: Decent
Control and Gameplay: Above Average
Originality: Pretty Poor
Addictiveness: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Very Bad
Miscellaneous: Above Average
FINAL SCORE: MEDIOCRE TITLE
Short Attention Span Summary
This game is very hard to categorize for the everyday gamer. On the one hand, it’s the best football game of the year on the Playstation 2. On the other hand, it’s still not the overall best football game on the system; Pro Evolution Soccer 2007 is still a better, smoother overall game of football. And only the most hardcore football fans in America care about the European Championships, so it’s not like I can recommend this title to the everyday punter.
In short, I recommend this title to the smallest group of gamers around: people that haven’t upgraded to the newer systems yet, and still want good, affordable football. If you’re in that group and aren’t the type to furiously defend Pro Evolution as the greatest thing since Cheryl Cole’s legs, then by all means, pick this one up. The rest of you, there’s just too much going on here that you won’t understand, and you should either invest in FIFA itself, or look into the next generation titles.