WHAT! Not another FIFA game!’ was my initial response when I picked up FIFA 2004. EA have been churning out this little money-spinner year in, year out, for God knows how many years (actually, it’s around 8 years for anyone who wants to know). Each year, EA promises a new, revolutionary soccer experience, and typically they fail to deliver. Usually, it’s just a bland update with new kits and new team line-ups. Note the use of the word ?usually’, because this year folks, they have actually delivered! Yay for EA!
Recently, the FIFA franchise has been a bit stale. The glory days of FIFA 98 and 99 are long gone, and in it’s place were stale, pieces of garbage that would make any soccer fan run for cover (just look at FIFA 2001). Last year, the company started to regroup, and released FIFA 2003, a noticeable improvement on FIFA 2002, but was overshadowed in many quarters by the colossal force that is Winning Eleven Soccer. But now things have changed with the advent of FIFA 2004, EA has revitalised their tried and tested formula, with a game that firmly puts FIFA 2004 as a one of the best PS2 soccer games out there.
So what’s so great about it anyway? Well, let’s start with the game physics. Firstly the ball (obviously one of the most important things in soccer) and to create a good football sim an accurate representation of the ball is needed. In FIFA 2004 the ball’s physics are very good and move extremely well; it won’t stick to your feet, like in previous FIFA titles. No. When dribbling or passing, you have to take extreme care in your control of the ball. Let me explain further. Take for example, dribbling (running with the ball). If you run really fast, then the ball won’t stick to your feet due to your pace. You’ll have control of the ball, but it’ll be a bit in front on you. This means that it’ll be easy for opposing players to dispossess you of the ball. However, if you dribble the ball at a fair pace, and not too fast, you’ll have more control but less speed.
With passing comes another change, the ball won’t necessarily go to the intended target. The ball will travel towards whatever player you choose to pass to, but it won’t necessarily reach them. Other players can easily intercept passes. This means, as with dribbling, it’s all about decision-making. You should choose when to put on an amazingly fast run, or when to dribble the ball slowly. You have to choose which player it’s safe to pass to, and which player it’s not. This adds a certain amount of tactical playing to the game, but in the main game, it’s got an arcade feel to it. This is just pick-up-and play arcade style soccer fun. It’s easy to get into the game, and it doesn’t rely on a large understanding of soccer tactics to succeed in this game (unlike Winning Eleven Soccer, which does).
I’ve already explained about the ball physics, but what about the player physics? The players’ move with fluidity and skill, and it seems almost life-like. With previous FIFA titles, and Winning Eleven to a certain extent, movement sometimes felt uneven and unresponsive. With FIFA 2004, the player movement is a joy to behold. It’s extremely responsive, and slick, and makes matches seem almost lifelike in it’s quality.
Besides the usual increase of stadium numbers, and new squads, EA has vastly updated the career mode. With previous FIFA games, the career mode didn’t really feel like a career, more of a succession of matches, with no real objectives or motivation behind it. Now, EA has added a few little things, just to spice things up a bit. Now, you actually have objectives, and a purpose in each season. From winning the league to scoring a set amount of goals, you actually have a real incentive to progress through the season. A new feature rewards you with every completed objective earning you ?prestige points’. At the beginning of the career mode, you’re given a set amount of prestige points to spend. The prestige points can be used to do a few things: you can use it to buy, or sell players, or you can use it to train your existing squad. Whatever you choose to do with the prestige points they will play a vital role in the career mode, adding to the deepest and most engaging career mode seen in a FIFA title.
But many of you may find that the real fun lies in the multiplayer modes. With a multi-tap up to four players can join in the fun, either playing co-operatively or against each other. Players can join forces to go through the season mode, or can duke it out in matches against each other. It’s great fun, and can be extremely competitive, but if it isn’t enough to kick your friend’s ass the PS2 edition exclusively features online capabilities, providing extra competition from all around the world.
EA have also improved the corner kick and free kick systems. Now, with corner kicks, you can implement set pieces. Firstly, you choose which angle for the corner to come in from. Then you control a certain player in the box, jostling for space and trying to get to a highlighted circle, which is where the ball is heading. If you manage to break free from the defender and get to the circle, you’ll have a very good chance of scoring.
The free kick system also enables you to initialize a set piece (similar to the corner kick system), or alternatively, you can go for a shot. You’re able to set where you want to shoot at and the spin on the ball. Then you use a meter at the bottom of the screen to set the accuracy and power of the shot. It’s a very clever and user-friendly way to score wonderful goals from free kicks.
Also new to the FIFA franchise is the ?off the ball control.’ All this means is that once the mode has been initialized, you’re able to control a second player who isn’t on the ball, with the second analogue stick. This can only be used when you’re in possession of the ball, and can be very useful when attacking and making crosses. However, I personally found it very awkward to use, so I didn’t use this new feature at all.
The presentation of the game is impeccable. Gone are the bland, stale graphics of FIFA 2003 replaced with vivid, lifelike graphics. The detail on the player models is very good indeed, with players looking just like their real life counterparts. The stadiums also look suitably realistic, with crowds that look like crowds, not poor cardboard cut-outs (NOTE; see Virtua Tennis for a perfect example).
The sound too, is also very good, with an amazing soundtrack featuring a diverse array of bands ranging from Kings of Leon to The Jam. The commentary is, in my mind, the best in-game commentary I have ever heard. Pro Evolution’s commentary features many laughable moments, and to be honest, is quite appalling. With FIFA however, there are a few unintentional comical moments, but as a whole, the commentary is extremely quick and responsive to the action going on in the field.
So, I’ve stated many good things about this game but it does have its downsides. Firstly, I have a bone to pick with EA about some of the stats. Some of the players who aren’t even that great in real life are given immense skill in the game, whilst some players who are amazing in real life are portrayed as rubbish. It may be an arcade style game but this still can be infuriating for die-hard soccer fans (Example: Real Madrid’s defense is not impenetrable, it’s atrocious!). Secondly, on the harder settings it’s very difficult to run past defenders. While in Pro Evo, you could delightfully break a defense in two with a well placed through ball, then run skillfully round defenders; however in FIFA, it’s nigh on impossible to run past people. This forces you to make unbelievable long shots, which more often that not, result in a long-range goal. It may look incredibly cool to score from a distance, but isn’t very realistic, and it seems rather ridiculous that it’s easier to score with a long range shot then with a well set-up move.
With both FIFA 2004 and Winning Eleven 7 vying for your attention, it’s a tough call to make. For me, both games have their flaws, but FIFA is the more exhilarating, stylish and fun experience. Soccer purists would probably opt for Winning Eleven, but if you would rather go for style over realism, then FIFA 2004 is the one for you.