Springtime means one thing for American sports fans: UEFA Champions League soccer!

Sarah Royce
Watch your head, dude. (Courtesy of EA)

OK, maybe not, but in honor of this year’s European club football championship, EA Sports released “UEFA Champions League 2006-2007” for Xbox 360.

As EA’s fourth soccer video game for 360 in the last 18 months, “UEFA” doesn’t stray far from its three predecessors – specifically, last October’s “FIFA 07.” Although greater innovation between titles would likely have been nice, “UEFA” succeeds by ironing out the many kinks that bogged down “FIFA 07,” which was still a fairly good game.

Perhaps the most frustrating flaw in “FIFA 07” was the brain-dead artificial intelligence. Directing players was an exhaustive endeavor, and don’t even think about relying on your computer controlled players to help you out defensively. While the artificial intelligence still isn’t perfect, “UEFA” removed much of the frustration from “FIFA” by giving computer-controlled teammates a much-needed IQ boost.

Another notable improvement in “UEFA” is the passing system. Unlike the previous games, “UEFA” gives gamers a wide degree of freedom, allowing them to easily direct the ball to the inside or outside of their teammates. “UEFA” also permits players to take control of pass recipients, allowing players to move to the ball, something that was previously impossible.

Although the gameplay is less frustrating and ultimately more enjoyable than “FIFA,” “UEFA” doesn’t quite offer the content depth of its predecessor. Whereas “FIFA” has a lengthy Manager mode in addition to other standards like Kick Off and the Lounge, “UEFA’s” Manager mode equivalent involves collecting packs of cards and forming an Ultimate Team to enter into the UEFA Champions League. The Ultimate Team feature might be palatable at first glance, but most fans will prefer the more realistic team management in “FIFA’s” Manager mode.

There’s also a lack of depth in player and team content in “UEFA,” which was a problem in “FIFA 07” as well. The clubs in the game are only from European leagues, which means no Major League Soccer or Central American squads. This isn’t much of a surprise since it’s specifically a European Champions League game, but the lack of teams hinders the game nonetheless. Another noticeable absence from “UEFA” is international squads.

One of the most obvious advancements “UEFA” made is in its presentation. The graphics are crisper than in “FIFA,” and the player models are impressive. Stars like Ronaldinho, Thierry Henry and Wayne Rooney are easily recognizable on the pitch. Smaller changes like shot counts being displayed during play and the inclusion of third jerseys also come as welcome additions.

While “UEFA” is not the hugely innovative title some were hoping for from EA, it is an encouraging development in the evolution of EA’s soccer juggernaut. Owners of “FIFA 07” don’t need to throw away their copies just yet, but hardcore fans will certainly appreciate the advancements “UEFA” made.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

UEFA Champions League 2006-2007

Xbox 360

EA Sports

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