Think you've seen all the beautiful game has to offer? Electronic Arts doesn't think so, and presents a rather convincing case in the pleasing ball-like shape of UEFA Champions League 2006-2007. Fancy a go at playing in Europe's most prestigious league-based knock-out tournament? Why not. How about 268 teams from 17 leagues in the continent? Quality. Thousands of players, dozens of stadia, online play and PSP compatibility too? Sounds like a winner. But what's this about a Treble?
UEFA Champions League develops on the reliable gameplay engine that's made EA's FIFA Soccer franchise what it is today, with a selection of licensed squads to play with in either a quick match or the Champions League itself. While this year's tournament can be recreated, any of your favourite top tier teams can be picked to form your own dream League, which is ideal if your beloved yet not-so-winning-11 have problems getting to qualify in reality.
There's also the chance to revisit some of the most memorable moments in Champions League past and play through them yourself in an effort to avenge heartbreaking knockouts, relive former glories and rewrite history. All in aid of taking a little bit of football chronicle home and personalising it with your own touch.
Those aching for a little more human challenge can compete against their friends for up to eight player tournaments or go online. But the best is yet to come...
EA has upped the ante with a new option to keep the videogaming equivalent of the beautiful game more than just alive and kicking, thanks to the Treble mode.
This feature allows you to experience the highs and lows of chasing one of the most prestigious achievements in football; winning the major domestic league and cup competitions as well the Champions League itself, all in the same season. After creating a manager profile, you take part in a couple of gentle pre-season friendly matches before being given a set of objectives to complete as the football year progresses. These tasks range from selling certain misfits from your squad and replacing them within budget, to selecting particular players for a game and scoring a set quota of goals.
There are 400 objectives that play out in the story-like Treble mode, with varying degrees of difficulty depending on how you're progressing and the particular stage of season you're at. It all nicely simulates the trials and tribulations of a typical football term with you at the helm, offering a lengthy challenge and something a little different from the norm as you build towards silverware. And to keep things interesting, each objective brings with it a certain amount of points and bonuses for unlocking a host of goodies, like new ball models, kits and more. There's even the ability to continue your Treble campaign on the move via a PSP link-up. Lovely.
We are the Champions
On the pitch itself, things are just as engaging. Gameplay is fluid and smooth, allowing for a slick passing game that matches the quick pace. Play can be spread around the whole field using some of the imaginative moves on offer, and the A.I. is smart enough to pick up on what you're trying to do by putting players into good positions and making opportunistic runs.
Also keeping things flowing nicely is the ability to quickly take dead-ball situations like free kicks and throw-ins instead of waiting for everyone to settle. A nippy tap of the L1 button can spur the game quickly back into action and take advantage of any rivals players being out of position, which can make for speedy counter attacks and surprise assaults on a goalkeeper's area with some swift thinking.
All of this is rewarded with some top notch presentation that makes the game look a treat. The facial modelling on the players is frighteningly good, made all the better with excellent animation that not only makes the play look natural but provides a range of incidental moments that breathe life into the 22 superstars gracing the turf. Players fight over throw-ins, get angry at teammates and, of course, go barmy during a wealth of goal celebrations.
Special mention must go to UEFA Champions League's aural atmosphere as well, which paints a palatable ambiance of crowd noise and recognisable chants ("we're going to win the league", "who are ya?"). The commentary is kept to typically high standards too, even providing occasional score updates to keep you abreast of other matches going on while you play.
UEFA Champions League 2006-2007 brings all these valuable factors together to create a fast paced, fun game that aims for goals and glory and gets both in equal measure. The Treble awaits; are you up to the compelling challenge?