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FIFA Soccer 07

Soccer is huge just about everywhere on planet Earth except for the United States. While our television coverage of the sport uniformly sucks in the years between World Cups, you can still get your fill with this update of the FIFA series.

Far and away the biggest improvement made to the game this year is the independent ball. Over time, we've gotten used to the bizarre sight of a ball that unnaturally sticks to the player's cleats, so seeing it roll and bounce with its own realistic physics can be jarring at first.

You'll get over that initial shock easily, though, because the new system enables all control to feel more believable than ever before. When you lose the ball in mid-dribble, it's no longer because some behind-the-scenes throw of the dice said you did; it's because the opponent connected with his challenge.

Passing requires greater finesse and power management, and shooting demands practice now that the ball doesn't automatically target the goal.

The revamped manager mode grants you surprisingly granular authority over your team and the individuals within: earn experience points that can be spent on a wide array of player statistics, create your own unique formations, tweak attack and defensive styles by player, and spend your franchise's cash on coaching staff upgrades.

Team chemistry is even taken into account, making personality management a real issue for the first time. The officiating might be a bit too stringent for some players' tastes, with yellow and red cards sometimes going up a bit too easily, but this might also be part and parcel of getting used to more realistic ball-chasing.

The news isn't all good, however: while the other console releases of the game feature all 27 leagues, the Xbox 360 version whittles that number down to a paltry 6, and the US MLS league is one of those left on the bench.

We're talking about hundreds of missing teams here. You might not mind if you only ever play as Brazil or Manchester United, but those are hardly the hardcore fans this game is supposedly aimed at.

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