FIFA 08 is a difficult game of footy. In the hour or so that we tackled the PS2 version of the game, we only managed to put a handful of goals past the keeper. And it's not all because we're rubbish at footy games either; this is a tighter, more skill-based FIFA than we've played in recent years.
"Total football - play together" is the slogan for the PS2 and PC version of the game, which is being developed separately from the next-gen version by a team of 25, who EA says are very much out there to prove themselves in a genre that's more crowded and competitive than ever before.
'Defensive intelligence' is the first of three gameplay pillars powering along last-gen FIFA 08, which EA says has every player analysing the threats around them. We don't know if we can vouch for what every single CPU player is thinking, but your defence certainly feels much tighter than before (which is probably why goals are a lot harder to come by).
A big part of this are the new 'flick stick' player switching controls, which lets you hop between players on your team far more efficiently using just a point of the right analogue stick. Press the stick in the direction of a player and you'll immediately jump into the driver's seat.
This works really well, especially in situations where your opponent is running with the ball and you want to switch to a player just ahead of them, rather than the player closest to you - which the old FIFA 07 system would opt to send you to. Of course this also takes a lot more blame away from the game, something EA's keen to eliminate going forward.
This crosses over with FIFA 08's second pillar, 'deeper controls'. Clicking in the right 'flick stick' analogue stick immediately puts you in control of your keeper, so you no longer have to wait for your opponent to get near the box before setting up a save. This obviously takes some getting used to though, as a number of times we ended up running our goalie down the pitch.
Even better improvements come in two-player games; you can now be secretive with your free kicks and try and dupe your opponent by locking the camera. L2 locks the camera into position and controller vibration lets you know when your shot's inside the goal, so you're opponent's none the wiser on which side you're going to come from. We bet this works really well for penalties.
The same duping tactics are employed for throw-ins; a small rumble from your controller indicates when you've selected a player to throw the ball to, then you're free to move the cursor about to trick your mate into focusing on the wrong man.
The third pillar is 'player personality', which from what we've seen is less of a pillar and more of a lamp post. According to EA each player has his own unique traits such as Gerrard's long shooting, though we didn't really notice them outside of the Be a Pro mode. Each side also has its own unique formation, says EA (A Man U 4-4-2 won't be the same as a Real Madrid 4-4-2 for example) although this is obviously a technicality that'll probably get overlooked by the average gamer.
But the most exciting thing about PS2 FIFA 08 is by far the new Be a Pro co-op mode. It's a complete shake-up in how you play a footy game; instead of controlling an entire team you and up to three friends commandeer single players and then work with your AI team mates. Basically, it's a bit like playing real footy, but probably with more beers and less injuries.
The game controls almost like a squad-based shooter; when you're without the ball each button will call on your teammates to perform actions. Pass for example will call your teammate to give you the ball, shoot will get him to belt it, cross a setup and so-on.