Pull on your team jersey of disappointment, lace-up your muddy boots of frustration, and strap on your shin-guards of footballing discontent as Electronic Arts, once again, thrusts its enduring soccer underachiever into the sporting spotlight.
My Ball’s Bigger Than Yours
For the past few years, Xbox (and GameCube) owners have argued bravely with gloating PS2 fanatics concerning a certain ongoing soccer standoff: FIFA vs. ISS Pro Evolution. Indeed, the contentious venom of the dispute proliferates dramatically with the release of every FIFA title; and even (usually objective) reviewers are unable to prevent unnecessary referencing. But the twin series giants are vastly different in many areas, none more so than gameplay, so why should fragmentary comparisons continually be asserted, and why does FIFA forever fail to win the same partisan glorification that surrounds ISS Pro Evolution?
Quite simply, Sony’s exclusivity deal with Konami regarding ISS Pro Evolution meant that PS2 zealots could unashamedly belittle FIFA while sticking malicious thumbs in their ears and waggling gleefully triumphant fingers. Why? Because they could revel in that wonderful Pro Evolution privilege, regardless of FIFA’s maturing performance, safe in the knowledge that Sony supporters were the only gaming crowd cheering within that title’s stadium. Filtered and diluted hardware envy? Of course not. No self-respecting PS2 obsessive would launch bitter software diatribes to gloss over the cracks in their waning platform faith. No.
Fragmented Dealings And Annual Failings
However, since the largely frowned upon Xbox launch, Microsoft’s perilous handhold in the video games industry has become steadily more self-assured, its professional standing hard earned, and its market position tolerated – even respected. To which, once immovably exclusive software deals are fast crumbling around Sony’s, much experienced, feet. For example, ISS Pro Evolution is no longer the iconic pedestal title that PS2 owners have lauded for all these years; finally we can see what all the fuss is about. But should we care? You see the irony is that, as the Xbox release of Pro Evolution creeps ever nearer, the FIFA franchise has never been so good.
EA’a FIFA Soccer 2004 was a series failure that offered gameplay mechanics, technical gimmicks and mind-numbing statistics over simple fun, aesthetic accuracy and genuine player interaction – all of which have become stalwart elements in Pro Evolution. Fingers cramped and contorted while unsuccessfully attempting to initiate the extolled advantages of the Off The Ball controls. Patience glands threatened imminent hemorrhagic rupture as the game’s AI repeatedly waltzed unopposed through hardened defenses and slammed home the match winner. And, willing suspension of disbelief through depth and immersion was continually stripped away from the experience thanks to countless disgraceful gameplay glitches and statistical bugs. Pro Evolution’s critical and consumer crown was safe for another season.
One Touch, One Move, One Winner
Some would argue that FIFA Soccer 2005 offers scant little more than its 2004 predecessor, but they’d be wrong – and possibly PS2 owners. The annoying Off The Ball control once more rears its knuckle straining head; game AI again punishes mistakes without mercy while performing passes that invoke silent screams of fury; and occasional glitches and bugs still remain. So, are FIFA’s detractors correct in their scathing “same s**t, different year” appraisal? Not in the least. This year sees the introduction of a tiny gameplay detail that effectively tears into FIFA’s weighty simulation label and stitches in a replacement fun patch, and its name: First Touch.
It is astounding that such a small gameplay addition can render the entire experience so completely separate from its previous incarnations. With the First Touch feature, onscreen players can gather the ball at their feet from any standing position and move it strategically depending on the localized attentions of the nearest defender. Whether that entails fluidly laying off to a teammate, or trapping the ball underfoot while rolling it away from onrushing opposition, or flamboyantly flicking the ball over pressurizing defenders – First Touch opens avenues of rudimentary enjoyment that FIFA has been sadly lacking in recent years.
Girls Just Wanna Have?
Fun should always be the driving force behind a developer’s gaming mandate, not statistics, or visual aesthetic, or famous voices, or rousing soundtracks. Though obviously important aspects of any game’s realization, these elements should only serve as complementary conduits that aid in the transfer of the game’s singularly most vital quality: Fun. ISS Pro Evolution sits atop of its soccer throne for that very reason. Think about it for a moment. It’s never been the prettiest sporting royal, it hasn’t ruled over its kingdom with the most fluid of hands, and it’s never even referred to its subjects by their real names. Conversely, FIFA has always strived for regal adoration through sparkling jewels, and sought governance through smooth, even-tempered execution, and it’s never failed in accurately conveying its knowledge of the worldwide soccer populace.
A Game Of Two Halves
But, that said, Pro Evolution prevails amid proud cries of “Long live the King!” because, metaphorically speaking, it reduces effort tax, curbs fulfillment inflation, promotes a better standard of gaming life and, above all, listens to its people. By comparison, FIFA has, for so long, been the bitter, power hungry duke skulking in the shadows while plotting the good king’s downfall. And now, as treasonous as it may sound, his opportunity for usurpation may finally have arrived.
If It’s In The Game
FIFA Soccer 2005 returns to the gaming fray complete with an overhauled and revamped Career mode, which improves upon last year’s attempt by not allowing the immediate procurement of a player’s favorite five-star team. Having to embark on a fifteen-year mission from, let’s say, the English Second division provides a wonderfully involved, yet constantly challenging learning curve before finally reaching the mighty Premiership. Delving deeper into Career mode reveals considerable interaction improvements and evolutionary elements. Your chosen club has an internal contingent of professionals ranging from positional coaches through to medical staff and finance specialists. Winning games on the pitch merits you with managerial points (excluding league points), which are amassed and divided among your back-room team. One hundred points per specialist gains a single ?standard star’ upgrade, a replacement employee, and an empty points gauge. A growing upgrade star column will directly affect back-room performance; for example, having a four-star fitness coach dictates that players will incur considerably less fatigue during matches than when he was only a one-star coach. There are ten star slots to fill for each specialist, and eight team members in all; that’s an awful lot of points to be won.
Surely All This Isn’t In The Game
You can monitor your own ongoing managerial performance through a progressive five-star quality column. But, worryingly, your achievements can also be viewed by the club’s faceless board of directors who scrutinize your results and efforts through a Job Security percentage gauge; a string of poor results means plummeting board satisfaction and imminent unemployment. Individual league defeats peck away at your Job Security gauge, whereas an unceremonious dumping from a cup tournament will see it dip more dramatically. Of course, the consistent winning of games, cup trophies, and league titles will cause the board’s pride and your Job Security gauge to overflow.
At the close of each season, your club’s directors will issue an annual performance assessment in direct relationship to their prior expectations. You will then be given the opportunity to either sign on for another year (if offered) or examine the managerial job market for a fresh challenge. Taking a lowly English team to the summit of the Premiership is task enough for this reviewer, but you may find it hard to resist the attraction of jumping a division or two in favor of a larger, more affluent team. Good or bad, the choice is yours, and there are fifteen seasons worth of decisions to be made along the way to impending five-star glory.
Extra! Extra! Extra!
Apart from the noticeably beefy Career mode, FIFA Soccer 2005 also exhibits the usual sway of ?look at me’ extras. EA Sports Trax returns, bursting at the seams with 38 international tunes, two of which are locked, and all of which soon become dull and repetitive regardless of their number. EA’s bug-plagued loyalty reward system has thankfully been ditched this year and replaced with a much more direct task-reward-list. Completing certain objectives garners tradable credits, which can then be exchanged in the FIFA 2005 Store for alternative team strips, nighttime stadiums, training pitches, league specific balls, and even international referee, Pierluigi Collina. If this isn’t enough, and with EA it never is, FIFA 2005 also now boasts quite possibly the most ridiculously intricate Create Player feature ever squeezed into a game’s attribute list. From 24 structured head templates to 11 focused and adjustable facial elements, to 23 physical performance details, 14 accessories, weight, height, preferred foot, date of birth, favorite color, amount of pets, daily toilet trips?it’s all a little overwhelming.
Not Just A Pretty Box
Gameplay and AI are vastly improved thanks to the inclusion of First Touch and the opposition’s constantly intelligent mutating strategy; almost every team offers up a different tactical game plan that you must contend with. Graphically, FIFA Soccer 2005 isn’t far removed from its 2004 edition, but every visual aspect is created with the due love and care that we’ve come to expect from Electronic Arts. Player models (stars specifically) are reproduced with intricate perfection, though everyone still somehow manages to emerge looking slightly worn and anemic. In-game commentary is, as ever, satisfactory yet swiftly repetitious. Hearing the phrase “That may well be one of the most vital goals that he ever scores!” quickly becomes seriously frustrating – especially if it relates to an opposition striker. Indeed, it’s rather odd that the commentary can be so restrictive when compared to games such as Madden NFL or ESPN NHL Hockey, both of which excel in this department. Ambient sounds, be they crowd or pitch level effects, are wonderfully authentic and easily magnify the overall aural power of the game. Playing as a modest club like Swansea City means that only a small crowd will attend your limited stadium, and the game’s sound certainly reflects that sizing differential when traveling away to challenge football behemoths like Real Madrid or Barcelona.
Vivaldi’s The Fifteen Seasons
When is comes to replay value, FIFA Soccer 2005 has it in abundance. There are some 62 international league and cup trophies to be won, as well as the fifteen-year long Career mode and a new Create Tournament feature. There are also 39 international squads to choose from alongside the standard Practice modes and the ?play now’ friendly matches. In short, if FIFA Soccer 2005 blows your whistle then it’ll hold your attention for many, many months.
The Best Of Both Worlds?
So, ISS Pro Evolution is soon to grace the Xbox; will it matter, and will its introduction deter FIFA’s faithful followers? It’s honestly a hard one to call. For this reviewer at least, an extra coughing of cash won’t seem like such an uncomfortable sacrifice considering Pro Evolution’s pedigree. But is it only ever likely to fill that gaping arcade void that FIFA’s simulation heavy leanings so often leave behind? In years gone by, the answer to that question would be a fully justified yes, but it seems as though FIFA is slowly recognizing and reforming its arcade deficiencies – FIFA Soccer 2005 is a perfect example. Laid back and all encompassing arcade action it may not be (yet), but it is obviously striving to reach those player accessible goals – while not abandoning its nurtured and honed simulation attributes in the hopes of becoming the perfect soccer experience.
ISS Pro Evolution beware?your crown is in danger of slipping.