FIFA Soccer 07 - hands-on

Now that Earth has recovered from its collective World Cup hangover (except for Italy, where the party still hasn't quite wound down), it's time for soccer superstars and regular joes alike to go back to collecting a paycheck. EA Sports focuses back on international leagues with FIFA 07, promising gobs of new features, innovations and enough frantic button press combos to make Winning Eleven fans sit up and take notice.

We got to kick the ball around the pitch in PS2 and Xbox preview versions of the game. Unabashedly exploiting their exclusive FIFA license, EA tosses 510 (count 'em) real clubs from 27 national leagues into the mix; this includes all of the Majors you know and love (such as the FA Premier, Bundesliga, and Serie A) as well as some of the bigger circuits' lower division affiliates, for when you feel like slumming. This will reintroduce stat-obsessed simulator junkies to spending countless hours perfecting their clubs' strategic and personnel nuances in pursuit of League and Cup glory.

Put your brains where your feet are by taking over a club in an expanded Manager mode, where you'll need a financial acumen, keen player evaluation chops, and a bit of boardroom etiquette to achieve success. We quickly realized that we would need to do our homework when it comes to the massive Transfer Market, since us ugly Americans just aren't used to the bizarro methods employed across the pond to ship players between teams.

If you're more interested in footwork than bean counting- and who isn't?- EA's also promising some serious tweaks in the on-field action. The passing, shooting, and positioning features are all updated, and loyal FIFA fans may feel a bit overwhelmed without spending some time mastering the myriad control options and team tactics. There are all sorts of tricks, clicks, and kicks buried in the game's engine, which seems to be veering away from a "pick up and play" vibe to "sit down and study" one.

In particular, the shooting mechanics have been overhauled to the point that there are three different types to take; lace, chip and finesse. Get out your notebook, because knowing your favorite player's preferred foot and then getting it there is the golden rule in making these work.