| FIFA 07

The 'tinker man' manager is a new phenomenon in English football. A product of perpetually growing fixture lists and transfer budgets, this species demands at least two players for every position, the rotation of players regardless of results and an annual multimillion pound transfer shake up.

Whilst Mourinho and Benitez may be the chief culprits in the Premiership, FIFA has long been tinkering champion in the world of football sims, with every edition importing new star features and changing the balance of the previous season. Off-the-ball control, mini-game set-pieces and showy skill moves have all come and gone.

This year, however, EA appears to have finally learnt from its competitors (and often superiors) such as Pro Evolution Soccer, leaving the core simulation pretty much alone and instead building upon last season's solid start. The result is undoubtedly the most enjoyable portable footie sim we've ever played.

Everything kicks off with the control system. What was impressive in the previous version has matured to offer a masterclass in combining accessibility with subtlely advanced control. From your first game you'll thread crisp passes together, make crunching tackles, send in crosses from the by-line, challenge for headers and deliver rasping shots and volleys with barely a glance at the instruction manual.

Indeed, it's possible to play for hours without using any of the advanced features. The balance of play offered up by wonderfully responsive attacking controls (there's virtually no delay between button presses and actions, which feel exactly like what you want 99 per cent of the time), efficient defensive options and intelligent (but occasionally fallible) AI players is so good, you never feel held back.

There's plenty to explore in terms of tactics, first-touch control and skill moves, but these are integrated to complement rather than unbalance the game. Hence while some moves will become integral – like the double-tapped shoulder buttons to send players on a run or bring in an extra defender – others, such as the mercifully tougher-to-pull-off skill moves, you'll use sparingly, if at all.

With convincing goalkeepers (who aren't fallible to any particular approach, and can block any shot on their day), deflections from both shots and tackles, and well-animated players who seem to genuinely reflect their particular skills, the result can be mesmerising.

Naturally, the fancy presentation hardly hurts. There's far less of the ghosting that dogged the earlier game (although it does still appear on replays) and fewer commentary gaffes from Clive Tyldesley. Even the menu music seems cooler.

The game isn't entirely without glitches. Player models often aren't properly updated and can even occasionally disappear for seconds after multiple substitutions, and there's still no cure for Andy Gray's verbal diarrhoea. If you wanted to be tabloid harsh, you could argue crosses and headers are too tricky, skewing the game towards Arsenal-style low passes, and that defending is now a tad easy. But these are minor niggles that only Alex Ferguson types will even register.

There are some more notable concerns off the pitch, however, and few are worse than the interminable delays that accompany virtually every new menu screen. It's particularly apparent in the manager mode, which for fans will form the heart of the game.

Whilst we applaud EA's ambition in trying to cram in a full management simulation alongside the action game, the result is rather more Championship than Champion's League. Negotiating contracts and sponsorship deals is dull, lengthy menu waiting times only makes it duller, and enabling your efforts to have even a small effect on your team's morale and performance in play surely needs an 'off' switch. Ditto the multiple choice questions from the papers, and the keepy-uppy and blockbreaking training challenges.

Although the latter are nice little time-wasters and the former an interesting concept, surely neither should be affecting player performance. We'd also query the simulated matches, the lack of injuries, your board's fascination with unchanging objectives and various other little features that reinforce the case for standalone management and action sims.

Still, none of that will prevent you from enjoying a career, and Manager mode isn't mandatory anyway. All of the world's major leagues and cups can be played as one-off competitions, plus there's a Challenge mode offering miniature tasks that are perfect for bus journeys.

Add in the multiplayer options (see PG Tips below) and the arcade training challenges, and there's more than enough to keep you going here until FIFA 08 arrives – although EA, not to mention its competitors, will struggle to beat this.


It's their season: FIFA 07 is the best portable football sim to date bar none
Chris James
Chris James
A footy game fanatic and experienced editor of numerous computing and game titles, bossman Chris is up for anything – including running Steel Media (the madman).