FIFA Soccer 2004 Review (Xbox)
Soccer, the game that is still considered a game for “wusses” by those who have never experienced it, is still home to the wealthiest team on the planet (Manchester United) and played in every single country in the world. The sport is getting unprecedented media coverage with Man U’s tour of America and the many games that can be seen on Fox Sports World. For those Americans that only have an Xbox, your sole choice for recreating the moves you see on TV is “FIFA Soccer 2004”, by EA Sports. While this series hit its peak back in 1998 with “Road to the World Cup”, it has been steadily declining every year since. So, is this game going to give the soccer crazed Americans the game that they have wanted? In one word, no!
“FIFA” has the best graphics of any sports game - period. When you have this many teams and players to recreate in a game, it is hard work, but the lads at EA have taken the time to even get Kevin Pressman (Sheffield Wednesday keeper) to look like his real life counterpart!! The kits look wonderful and are accurate for every team that I came across. The German teams even have the backs of their jerseys correct where you have the players name below the number and the team name above it. Way to do the homework there, lads! Stadiums are brilliantly done. There is nothing like playing in Amsterdam Arena and it looks almost completely dark, just like in real life. Old Trafford and AOL Arena also looked just like they do when they come through my telly.
Presentation is also very well done. The intro scenes of the players coming onto the pitch to the roar of the crowd, and the pregame match commentary by the great Mr. Motson is very well done and actually looks like a broadcast straight from Sky Sports. Replays look brilliant and are taken from some very beautiful angles. There is nothing like hitting that low shot into the corner from 25 yards and then watching it in the goal cam replay!! When you pause, highlights of the game will play in the background while you are making substitutions or just stopping for a bathroom break.
Player animations are also superb. Players will jostle with one another as they fight to gain control of the ball or get position on one another. A foul from behind will send that player sprawling to the ground usually with a beautiful couple of rolls!! Shoulder-to-shoulder challenges also look very realistic and become a side one-on-one game.
I’ve already talked about the commentary, which is very well done in the game. I love the international soundtrack; as music from many countries play in the menus and they display the artist and title of the song, so that if you like what you hear, you can obtain that song for your listening pleasure. The crowd chants are back and better with some of the more famous squads having their real-life chants in the game.
Let me start with this. If you think that the game plays too fast, you are out of luck - there is no option to slow down the game. With that being said, I can tell the guys at EA were trying to make the game play more like a simulation. It just comes up way too short. The first thing I noticed was that the AI doesn’t try to shut you down in midfield. Instead the computer defenders will wait until you are in their defensive third before trying to put pressure on the ball. As an experiment I had Ballack stand with the ball at the midfield stripe, and not one player tried to come and make a challenge on him for an extended period of time. I also don’t see that much difference in the different players. Cambridge United strikers should not be running faster than my Bayern Munchen defense, as the only top player they have is Kitson and I know he is not faster than Kuffour. Also, I should be able to take Oliver Kahn all the way down the field and win a corner. It doesn’t matter who I’m playing!! Player don’t make runs on their own, so to get a player to make a run 90% of the time, I have to use the “off the ball” feature. Why can’t the AI decide on its own that this would be a great time to run into space?? I do like the idea of holding the left trigger on your shots to hit a low shot. A great addition and a very fun function to use.
The “off the ball” feature is a nice little feature. Basically, while you are controlling the man with the ball, you can press the white button to bring up icons over three players. By using the right analog stick, you can cycle through those three players and then press the corresponding button to give them a lead pass or a cross to their area. However, I have only used this rarely; because it is hard enough being able to control the ball in my third and then have to look at what other players are doing. Free kicks have also been given an overhaul. Now the player picks where on the ball he strikes it and with the corresponding spin. After picking that out, the user starts a “kick meter” which is just like what they use in the golf games. It makes hitting that laser for a goal very rewarding.
This year, “FIFA” introduces a management mode. Basically, you sign a one year contract to be the manager of any club in the game. The board will give you a list of objectives that they expect you to meet. I chose my beloved Sheffield Wednesday and was told that they expected promotion to Division One. It is a daunting task, but so be it. Each week you are given a certain amount of points to use during that week. My board gave me 1000 points to distribute. I used some to have my squad perform some extra shooting and fitness practice, and used the rest to make bids on other players. Bids cost my team 300 points, so I only got to bid on two players. Cup competitions are also integrated within the fixture list.
FIFA is a pretty game from a graphical standpoint. However, this makes me wonder: if they had spent a tenth of the effort they made on their graphics and presentation on the gameplay instead, would we have a game that was comparable to the “Winning Eleven” series? Any game that lets a keeper dribble all the way downfield, and then win a corner just frustrates me. This game could possibly turn around next year with some AI tweaks, but for right now, I just simply don’t enjoy this game. Please rent it before giving the company your $50.