UEFA Champions League 2006-2007

Where football meets Play Your Cards Right...

Anyone unfortunate enough to have played UEFA Champions League 2004-2005 on the original Xbox will be welcoming this follow-up in the same way that Pedro Mendes looks forward to a Ben Thatcher challenge. It was a shocker, hastily put together by a new EA team (separate to the FIFA bods) and it showed in every-thing from the jerktastic animation to the gormless player AI. Thankfully, this sequel is an improvement, but let's not get too carried away: it won't be giving the Pro Evo guys any sleepless nights.

Of course, the main attraction here is the opportunity to play through a totally faithful representation of the Champions League, complete with group stages and faff like the operatic score the teams come out to. But if the razzmatazz of the Champions League is the big selling point, the game's big new idea (there's always one) is a collectable cards feature. In the Ultimate Team Mode you can build your own perfect football machine by going online to collect and trade a variety of different cards. Staff, Training, Morale, Fitness and Healing cards are available to influence the state of your team. So, for example, if your star player gets injured before a big match, deal in a healing card and you might just get him fit in time. Even more important are the Gameplay cards that can be played at key moments during matches to help you snatch victory. It's a better idea in practice than on paper and could well see Xbox Livers frantically swapping cards with a fervour not seen since the playground reign of Panini stickers.

Trouble is, this is football, not a card game - and out on the pitch UEFA isn't quite so clever. Though the animation is miles better than in the previous game, it's still a bit jerky and unresponsive - like a Phil Neville stepover compared to Pro Evo's Cristiano Ronaldo. Matches are always fun to play but it feels like you have to work damn hard at it; there's no flow, no realism and up against the mighty PES, this is set for another season of anonymity.