| FIFA 08

Football fever shows no sign of abating this autumn, with three big-name mobile games battling for supremacy. We've already raved about Gameloft's Real Football 2008, while Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer is heading phone-wards next month.

But the biggest brand of the lot is EA Mobile's FIFA 08.

It's the most fully licensed of the three, so you get proper player and team names, so it's Arsenal and Everton instead of London Reds and Merseyside Blues. Leagues included are England, Spain, France, Italy and Germany, along with a range of international teams.

What's more, the game uses player stats from the console FIFA games, and has the signature TV-style presentation, complete with Sky pundit Andy Gray popping up with comments during matches.

As usual, there's a Training section to learn the controls, the option to play a one-off Friendly match, or take on the Season mode (which, er, is an 18-game half-season). Meanwhile, Club Challenge is a neat scenario mode where instead of putting you in famous matches, it lets you choose a team and presents you with a series of situations – for example, trying to win a match with one man sent off.

Tactical options are good, enabling you to change formation and style (the latter includes Defence, Attacking, Neutral, Wide and Counter), while switching players in and out, checking their stats in Speed, Shooting, Passing and Tackling. A new feature is the 'in-form' star which appears for up to three players before every match, giving them a performance boost and encouraging your Benitez-style rotation policy.

But if you've played FIFA 07, you'll immediately notice the biggest change when you get into a match. EA Mobile has taken FIFA back to its isometric roots, rather than the multiple camera angle fest of last year's game. In other words, you're playing bottom-left to top-right (or vice versa), rather than having the option of a console-style left-to-right perspective.

EA says this is because gamers wanted a more fluid and faster-paced game, rather than multiple camera angles. And it's true that FIFA 08 runs at an impressive pace on our N73. However, if you liked the more considered gameplay and multiple camera angles of last year's edition – and we did – FIFA 08 will feel like a backwards step compared to Real Football 2008's visual wizardry.

There's a bonus, however. FIFA 08 includes a landscape mode that enables you to turn your phone on its side and play in widescreen. It's perfect for a football game, giving you a greater view of the pitch to plot your slick passing moves (or hoofy long balls). On our N73, this quickly became our default mode for playing the game, and is a hugely welcome inclusion.

EA Mobile has made a clear design decision to keep FIFA 08's controls simple and stripped-down. You move using the directional buttons, and press '5' to pass short or long, while using the right soft-key to shoot or slide tackle, and '#' to sprint.

A quick note on using the right soft-key: it can be frustrating if your handset has it jammed right up against the Call-End key, as our N73 does. One slightly misplaced thumb, and instead of shooting, you've quit the game. We'd rather EA had used the '0' or '*' key.

Basic tackles are automated, and there's no through-ball or one-two option, in stark contrast to Real Football 2008. Instead, through-balls are kind of automatic, too, in that players run onto your passes rather than just wait to receive them.

It's a clear distinction from Gameloft's approach with Real Football 2008, then, which is the serious simulation to FIFA 08's more playful arcade game.

On console, that might be a stick to beat EA with, but on mobile, there are arguments for both methods. We'd qualify as hardcore football gamers, so we prefer having more control in Real Football 2008, but there are many football fans at the more casual end of the gaming spectrum who'll prefer FIFA 08.

What's clear is that FIFA 08 is a satisfying experience, making it easy to ping passes around and crack long shots into the back of the net. The controls aren't fiddly, the presentation is good, and you soon find yourself adapting your tactics according to your players' skills.

There are other noticeable improvements, too, such as goalkeepers who can actually save the ball, and the way bookings and injuries carry over between games in Season mode. The ability to sprint, meanwhile, is balanced out by a fatigue bar to make you use it sparingly.

Niggles? The replays aren't much cop in terms of their duration, and we've encountered the baffling offside decision when deep in our own half. The game could also do with some tournaments alongside the Season mode: why no Euro 2008 at least?

But the real question is whether FIFA 08 is better than Real Football 2008? And in our opinion, no, it's not.

We thought we'd seen the back of the isometric perspective, which we don't enjoy, and there's no doubt that if you're a more hardcore football gamer, you'll prefer having greater control over your players' actions in Gameloft's title (and likely Pro Evo when it arrives, too).

However, we're not being snobbish or faint-praisey when we say FIFA 08 will have a strong appeal to a much wider base of mobile users, who'll appreciate the context-sensitive controls, stripped-down gameplay and official licences.

It's a really good game, in short. We prefer the competition, but we can see plenty of reasons why you might disagree. Never has the cliché about horses and courses seemed so appropriate.


For wham-bam football thrills, FIFA 08 delivers, although hardcore footy fans may prefer the more considered approach of Real Football 2008