FIFA 07 for the Xbox 360 will simultaneously delight and infuriate soccer fans around the world. Those of us that have played the superb Xbox and PS2 versions are likely spoiled by its excellence, and will find the 360 version lacking in some degrees. If you haven't stepped on the virtual pitch for a couple of seasons, though, chances are you won't be as bummed this go-around.
For starters, on the field it's damn near the best-looking soccer game you've ever played. The matches unfold in crisp high-definition, with the slickest player models yet. The throngs in the stands, though, are ugly cardboard-cutout masses of drones that detract from the visual beauty (why couldn't the Madden crowd art be used?). Some of the changes in the core gameplay are welcome and significant - ball physics sure seem to be stepped up a few notches, as the ball no longer seems bungie-corded to the feet of the dribbler, but (gah!) our beloved Trick Stick is a thing of the past.
Scoring remains tough as nails; between seemingly superhuman goalkeepers and a relatively small sweet spot in the kicking meter, it's a challenge and a half to put many into the back of the net. With all the control modifications, a training mode would have been a welcome addition (the loading screen minigame doesn't count, thank you very much). The whole enchilada takes some getting used to, especially if you've been racking up the goals in the more forgiving 2006 FIFA World Cup. Even new defensive moves are introduced, as marking usually consists of slamming into your opponent, followed by both of you staring at each other momentarily with mild concussions.
The downsized Manager Mode has fewer leagues, teams, and players than the current-gen games, which translates into fewer options (not to mention a shorter life cycle; just five seasons). However, let's not go crazy here; there's still a meaty campaign to be experienced. Over 100 clubs are represented, so unless you happen to be a fan of a non-top-tier division side, chances are that it's not too much of a problem. We have to ask ourselves why EA isn't exploiting their expensive FIFA license to the hilt, though.
Even the online portion is a mixed bag. All of our Xbox Live matches went off without a hitch; frankly, there wasn't even a whiff of lag or slowdown. On the other hand, the touted Interactive League that lets you participate in an MMO-style tournament is a 360 no-show. This would be more understandable if we were reviewing a launch title, but a year past introduction, this leaves us mystified.
We would have liked for this year's 360 FIFA 07 to combine all the best parts of its current-gen cousins and its older World Cup brother; rather, we got a good, not great, title that in several ways is outshined by those same games. Sure, we're a little spoiled, but for $60 we shouldn't have to trade gameplay for the admittedly spruced-up graphics.