Real Football 2008
| Real Football 2008

There's nothing like a good top-of-the-table battle to get football fans' juices flowing, as you'll know if you found yourself in the surprising position of rooting for Manchester United as underdogs in last season's Premiership title race.

The same is true on mobile, where for years two footy franchises have battled it out for mobile gamers' hearts. We're talking FIFA and Real Football. And for most of its history, Gameloft has openly pitched the latter as 'mobile's answer to Pro Evolution Soccer' – basically a shorthand way of claiming it played a richer, deeper game of football than EA's effort.

Trouble is, this year the actual Pro Evolution Soccer is coming to mobile, and it's shaping up nicely. Real Football 2008 is not only facing two massive console brands as competition, then, but it's lost its easy sales pitch. In other words, it'll be treated squarely on its own merits.

It better be good.

Thankfully, it is. The 2008 edition is an intelligent step forward from last year's Real Football 2007, adding more players, increased tactical depth and some visual bells and whistles without messing too much with the slick gameplay.

It's certainly not short on game modes. You can learn the controls in the Training section (recommended for new players), dive straight in with a Friendly, test your mettle in a Penalty Kicks contest, or play a full league or cup competition with national or club teams. Licensing-wise, the majority of the player names are real, but some of the team names aren't. (Sorry Arsenal fans, you're still 'London'.)

Then there's the Road To 2008 mode, which is Euro 2008 minus an official licence, but with all the right teams and qualification groups. Finally, a new inclusion is the Challenge mode, which presents you with a load of famous football scenarios to try and win.

Examples: try and win the last World Cup final as France after that headbutt has got Zidane sent off (or 'Sidoun' as he's known here); or try and repeat Liverpool's famous comeback against Milan in the Champions League final. It's a fun inclusion, albeit one that'll be familiar to anyone who played FIFA 07's Scenario mode.

Tactically, you can change your formation, tweak how attacking/defensive you are, and switch players in and out as required. Each team has their own playing style, as do individual players. So England are down as 'long crosses, attacks wide', while Brazil are 'balanced passes, attacks on sides'. On the player side, Aaron Lennon has 'magic feet', Steven Gerrard is an 'ironman', Ronaldinho is a 'curve king', and Robbie Savage has 'Timotei hair'. Oh, alright, he's an 'ironman', too.

But it's the match action that makes Real Football 2008 a winner. Visually, it looks great on our N73 (the phone we'll be using to test FIFA 08 and Pro Evolution Soccer on, too, for a fair comparison). Gameloft's decision to make the game fully 3D has paid off, with swooping camera angles, excellent replays, and some ace celebration animations when you score. And, crucially, not only does it look excellent, it plays at a decent pace, too.

However, what's really worth celebrating is the feel of Real Football 2008. Passing, shooting and tackling is easy and intuitive, once you've mastered the controls. Like its predecessor, you can play one-twos, pump long balls forward, and execute a number of dribbling tricks to bamboozle your way through your opponent's defensive line.

It really all just feels right – you won't be thinking about the controls when playing, you'll be thinking about who you're passing to, or how you're going to catch that nippy opposition winger. We can't think of higher praise for a football game than that.

Our only quibble is that you have to keep pressing the directional button to make your player run, something that is more fiddly than the approach taken by rival games, where once running, all you have to do is change direction.

But that side, Real Football 2008 is superb. It's the first of the 'Big Three' mobile simulations to go on sale this year, but it's thrown down the gauntlet to its rivals in style. Stay tuned for our FIFA 08 and Pro Evolution Soccer reviews in the coming weeks but, for now, rest assured that if you buy Real Football 2008, you won't be disappointed.

Real Football 2008

Oozing excellence from every pore, Gameloft's latest football game is on title-winning form