Ooh, we like that. Having just loaded up UEFA for the first time, we're greeted by the stirring operatic Champions League theme so familiar (for people who actually watch UK soccer, at least). God bless the FIFA series and its license-happy handlers - this is powerful stuff. Electric memories of pre-match excitement are stirred, atmosphere heavy and anticipation high. We suddenly need a bottle of Amstel - too bad the pesky folks on the train and bus frown on such public acts of alcohol consumption.
In reality, of course, we know that our excitement has everything to do with the might and majesty of the Champions League itself - the most passionately followed and angst-ridden soccer championship that's not called the World Cup - and very little to do with EA's hardly-anticipated update of the barely six months-old FIFA 07. But still, our initial shivers make us think that another game trading on the thrills and spills of the Champions League might not be such a bad idea after all, especially if it were to come packaged with some innovative new features and gameplay improvements.
Which, predictably, is the major sticking point - it doesn't really bring any of these to the table, significant or otherwise. Little has changed on the pitch since FIFA's last PSP romp; gameplay is virtually the same, with a smattering of tweaks. The only obvious addition is the "quick controls" option. We've been suspicious for a while that every update of FIFA is contractually obliged to steal something from Winning Eleven, but this is shameless. A button tap before any restart enables you to take the set-piece quickly, exactly - exactly - like Winning Eleven's quick free-kick option. Even the area where FIFA usually shines brightest - eye candy - is marred by some occasional visual hiccups.
The standard Champions League season and exhibition matches return, and as for different game modes, the narrative Treble is interesting enough. This is 2007, after all, so a fanatical blogosphere will track your successes and failures on the field as your ownership demands you accomplish the most difficult feat in all of sports. Winning your season tables, Cup, and Champions League is freakin' hard even with the best squads on the continent, as this task will have you juggling lineups and managing substitutions like a mad scientist in order to avoid mass collapse of your players.
There's also the Ultimate Challenge mode, a celebration of the greatest moments in Champions League history, in which you can replay the competition's most memorable comebacks, the best (and hardest to complete) of which is Manchester United's last-gasp final victory over Bayern Munich in 1999. More focused than a standard 90-minute game and adding a welcome bit of drama, the Challenge mode is the highlight of UEFA, although even this is slightly tarnished by the fact that EA hasn't included the correct squads for the teams of the time - you have to play the challenges with the current-day line-ups, which obviously differ in strength from their predecessors. EA does, however, deserve a shout-out for including online play for both ad-hoc and infrastructure modes, good for a heated match over a few pints across the room or the country.
To analogize from another sport, UEFA is Anna Kournikova to WE's Martina Hingis; one of them is knockout gorgeous with decent enough skills to hang around but never dominate, while the other may not be so easy on the eyes yet consistently wins championships. The Champions League is an amazing showcase of the drama and passion of the Beautiful Game, but EA has mostly wasted an opportunity to transition it to the 360 by repackaging FIFA 07 with a shinier coat of paint. It's fine enough for a lark, but not enough to claim the crown.