Since its inception in 1982 Electronic Arts has evolved into one of, if not the, major software power on the planet. A development behemoth built on the solid foundations that successful franchise titles provide. But after more than twenty years, do they still ‘challenge everything’ and, in the case of FIFA 2004, surely it should have been a case of less is more.
The ongoing ISS PRO series provides the perfect example of this. It’s always a great footballing experience and it never disappoints its audience, never flatters to deceive. So, bearing that in mind, can more be less? Almost certainly. And although FIFA, at its heart, is a very impressive football simulation, it fails in the most basic of gaming requirements: It’s not much fun.
FIFA 2004 tries to supplant fun with statistics, and enjoyment with involvement. It boasts a career mode, in-game management and new ‘off the ball’ controls. It dazzles through its officially licensed status with 18 professional leagues, 350 teams and some 10,000 players. Delve deeper and you’ll find the new EA SPORTS Bio feature, which offers rewards for loyalty and extended game time. And there’s EA SPORTS TRAX, which lets you listen to and edit the popular music soundtrack. It’s crammed with features; but that’s the problem. FIFA 2004 is that most dangerous of video game creations which overpopulate today’s high-street stores. It’s the jack-of-all-trades and the master of none.
The new career mode is the game’s greatest source of disappointment as it promises so much and delivers so little. A five-year managerial quest as you strive for international footballing respect and prestige…but outside of transfers and training you have no direct control over the club’s evolution. The ‘off the ball’ controls are almost impossible to grasp whilst the in-game management sees you craving six extra fingers. The interactive EA SPORTS Bio is plagued with bugs that only further compound your frustration as promised game related rewards fail to appear. Faulty injury return dates, action replays devoid of players, indecipherable statistic charts. The list goes on.
Shamefully though, it didn’t have to be this way. Beneath all the padding and fluff lies a perfectly decent game engine that performs extremely well and is complimented by well-executed graphic detail. Stadiums are lovingly recreated down to the last brick as well as most players being facially captured for instant recognition…though everyone tends to look a touch anaemic. The commentary tries not to be overly dull and territorial crowd chants are both authentic and atmospheric. But, no matter how much you try to see FIFA’s good points, and it has many, the padding and the fluff only serve to spoil the half-time oranges.
It’s a taste of sweet and sour achievement where a fine game of football is painfully destroyed amidst a myriad of small faults and annoying glitches. A great video game could so easily have been accomplished had EA only seen the process through to a bug free conclusion before announcing proudly that ‘it’s in the game’.