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UEFA Champions League 2006-2007

Score: 83%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Canada
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 2; 2 - 8 (Online)
Genre: Sports (Soccer)/ Card Games/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

Football may be king when it comes to sports in America, but for the rest of the world, soccer is tops. Despite its lack of popularity in the States, EA and Konami have made sure to feed fans a steady diet of soccer games. The latest of these titles is EA’s UEFA Champions League 2006 – 2007, a game that offers the fast-paced action of the world’s favorite sport with the addictive nature of collectable card games (CCG). Huh..? Read on.

Presentation has never been a problem for EA, especially when it comes to their soccer games. Although Madden usually gets all of the attention and plays the part of “Showpiece Title,” I have always been amazed with how great EA’s soccer games look. Player animations are fluid and feature all of the little transitional movements some games neglect to include. The lack of jarring transitions adds to the game’s speed and momentum – which ends up affecting the gameplay since you can’t suddenly change directions mid-run. As far as I can tell, all of the players look like they should (at least compared to their portraits on their cards) and, since this is the official UEFA game, all of the teams and stadiums appear in the game. All of the games take place at night, bringing some really cool lighting effects into play. From title screen to in-game, Champions League is a great looking title.

Crowd noises are loud and full of emotion. The soundtrack has an international flair and is comprised of music from nearly every country represented in the game. It is different, but the eclectic nature is what makes it likeable.


Gameplay:

When it comes to soccer, my knowledge is limited at best. I know what the ball looks like, that only the goalie can use his hands and that David Beckham makes a lot of money and is married to Posh Spice. For those like me who haven’t a clue, I did some of the leg work. UEFA stands for the Union of European Football Associations and is the league for Europe’s best soccer stars. UEFA Champions League 2006 – 2007 takes this best-of-the-best premise and merges it with fantasy football and CCGs, resulting in one of the more innovative things to come out of EA’s sports division in a few years.

Team Mode is where all of the action starts and is a great place to start if you want to see what the whole CCG aspect of the game is about. When I first got the game, I figured the card aspect would be a side-game that didn’t really matter. As I started to play, I realized that it meant much, much more to the overall picture. The goal in Team Mode is to, of course, win games and earn a trip to the Championship. Where the mode differs is how you go about building your team.

When you first start, you are given a few starter packs of cards which contain players, managers, jerseys… everything you need to compete in your first game. You job is to build a good enough “deck” with the cards and put that team on the field. At the end of each game, you are awarded credits to buy new packs, giving you more opportunities to create a better team. Packs come in three types: Bronze, Silver and Gold. Bronze packs are cheap and the only type you have access to early in the game. As your team moves up in rank, you’ll nab the opportunity to unlock Silver and Gold packs. With the increased prices come better opportunities to add high-caliber players, managers and all-important ability upgrades.

Once you amass a pile of cards, you can go about creating your team. The whole system plays out similar to fantasy football in that you mix players from various teams into one united team. Each player has key stats as well as information like their favorite formations, positions and even nationality. Unlike fantasy football, these stats matter to your team; matching players with similar preferences and nationalities promotes better team chemistry, producing better on-field results and a stronger team.

One problem any CCG player can attest to is the age old question, “What do I do with all my extra cards?” Although your digital collection doesn’t cause quite the same problems as a physical one, you’ll quickly come to realize that you’ll have a lot of unused cards. After opening a pack, you are given four choices. The first is, of course, to move them into your current deck; if not, you can add them to your collection, discard them, or place them up for sale. Cards that you put up on sale are placed in an online store where you can sell cards for whatever price you want. You can then use those credits to either buy new packs or purchase single cards from other players. The economy of the system is still trying to find itself, so it is possible to buy some really good cards on the cheap, but the option is a great use of online functionality and something I would love to see put to use in other CCGs.

If Team Mode isn’t to your liking, you can also compete in one of six other play modes. Play Now drops you into a single game or you can play the Champions League as any team. Though it will only mean something to hardened soccer buffs (or most of Europe). League Challenge Mode lets you replay crucial moments in Champions League history. Both ranked and Unranked matches are available in Online play.


Difficulty:

I came into UEFA Champions League 2006 – 2007 in a unique position. I don’t follow the sport and couldn’t begin to tell you anything about it; so from that perspective I found the game pretty easy to get into. At the same time, I’ve reviewed several soccer games in the past, including the much-revered Winning Eleven series, which is considered “the game” for hardcore soccer fans, so I could also see where Champions League didn’t quite match up to what that sect of players is looking for in a soccer game.

Overall, Champions League is a fun game, due mostly to the concepts introduced in Team Mode. Since you’re not playing with an established team, there are always obstacles you’ll have to overcome. You’ll have worry about building a team with great chemistry, which can get difficult, especially if you consistently pull “bad” cards from packs. At the same time, the possibility of picking up new players from packs serves as a great motivational tool to keep you playing through rough patches. Will you jump in and win every match? Probably not, but at least you always have something to work towards.


Game Mechanics:

All this talk of card games is probably conjuring up images of Yu-Gi-Oh! soccer, but at its core Champions League still sticks to tried-and-true soccer mechanics. For the most part, the game plays similar to EA’s FIFA series, but with a few changes. The game is still fast, though at the same time it is a little slower, making for a more tactical game of soccer. Games don’t become shoot-outs and feature more realistic scores. Of course, the game’s feel will vary depending on which mode you are playing. In Team Mode, how well your team does depends on the players you have as well as their chemistry, while in other modes it depends on which team you are playing as.

As in any other team game, you control one player while the A.I. handles the rest. Although I’m far from an expert when it comes to soccer, the A.I. seemed pretty good and could handle itself in most situations. Pressing the Left Trigger cycles through players. For the most part it works, though it just doesn’t feel right. Sometimes it will go right to the player you want while at others, it picks the worst possible player. Then there are times where it simply doesn’t work.

I’m not a big fan of soccer, so when I first picked up UEFA Champions League 2006 – 2007, I was expecting just another soccer game. For the most part, that is what the game is; so if you are a soccer fan, especially of EA’s soccer games, you’ll enjoy Champions League. The element that really makes the game stand out is the Team Mode which gives the game a little something different. Personally I’d love to see the same concept introduced in an NFL game (I mean, it can’t be any riskier than NFL Head Coach, could it?), though only time will tell if that ever becomes a reality.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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