Talking about EA’s FIFA series is like referring to a friend that you care for; a friend you sincerely wish to be successful in life. However, good intentions notwithstanding, you feel this friend needs a fortuitous push, an extra little something, a touch more “no se qu?” (“I don’t know what”).
Year after year FIFA Soccer receives an annual revamp but, generally, no integral changes are ever made – at least on gameplay; but this year there is a real difference in EA’s approach to the beautiful game of soccer. In FIFA Soccer 2005 more development importance has been incorporated into the game mechanic of ?creating space’; because, in real soccer, that is exactly what teams look for to garner better goal scoring opportunities. Gameplay wise, it seems that EA Sports are (finally) beginning to get things right.
Is there an existing installment of the FIFA series that didn’t do admirably in the graphics department? All other areas aside, the series has always sported the best graphics. Elements that have seen continual improvement are the stadiums and the crowd animations; every incarnation sees them more lively and ambitious than the last. The inventory of motion captured player faces is always an extensive one too, and every year the detail level of the player models multiples. This year is no exception; the appearance and movement of every player is even more authentic and realistic. So, the players, stadiums, and even the crowd are as you’d expect to find them in real life (from a relative distance, of course), but what about the most important spherical soccer detail: the ball? Ball physics on any game, be it soccer, football, basketball or baseball, have proved a perpetual headache for developers. A huge part of a ball sport’s realism is the way the ball itself behaves; and FIFA and EA have annually been doing it better and better. There are no complaints in the graphics department, but it doesn’t necessarily compare to other sports games, like Madden 2005 for example, where player models are extremely realistic.
An integral part of the soccer phenomenon is finding yourself packed into a stadium with 50,000+ other fanatics and, not only hearing their screams, cheers, and chants but actually experiencing them, too. Some of the best atmospheric sport environments can be found in soccer games; the sheer attention to detail has been relentlessly improving year after year – to the point where even the coach’s vocal instructions can now be heard. In fact, development detail even goes as far as hearing the coach’s instructions in various different languages; if you play with A.C. Milan you will hear the coach and players converse in Italian. This adds considerably to the overall feel of the game and, as in any sports game, it’s extremely important that attention is paid to the aspects directly surrounding on-field events. Outside of that there is another aural match being played out between the crowd, the coaches, and the bench. Again, EA Sports doesn’t disappoint on the technical side.
The gameplay plague that has continually stricken the FIFA series is down to the cheap, almost arcade way that the game related; goals were either obscenely easy to score (especially long distance shots) or, on more difficult settings, impossibly hard to execute. For all those soccer purists – those who actually refer to soccer as ?football’, including myself (and me, ED) – low scoring matches aren’t altogether a bad thing, it is hard to score in soccer unless you’re playing against a vastly inferior team. Personally, I played several times with Arsenal against A.C. Milan (undeniably two of the world’s best teams) and there was never a final score that reached above three goals. If you check the stats on real life soccer, it is virtually the same thing each and every match. Indeed, in today’s game it is increasingly rare that one teams easily overpowers the other; that’s one of the reasons why soccer is tense and exciting, it’s so often the pure expectation and anguish that fires the passion.
FIFA 2005’s score lines are more realistic and, subsequently, so is the challenge of scoring; there are hardly any ?easy’ or repetitive or formulaic goals on offer here. That doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun, does it? Well, you’d be wrong – the fun of soccer isn’t always to be found in scoring goals. A great deal of your attacking moves won’t end in goals, but they are so incredible to watch that you probably won’t mind. It is also entertaining to watch a team move the ball across the field in a fluid and seamless fashion, a team that plays the ball well is truly a sight to behold.
This year FIFA has captured that with the new First Touch Control. In soccer, a player’s first touch is one of their best weapons for creating invaluable space and gaining that all-important extra yard on the opposition. First Touch isn’t necessarily a new approach for FIFA though; it has always been a facet of the game but, until now, it simply hadn’t been done correctly. And now that First Touch integrates so well it dramatically changes gameplay as well as greatly increasing FIFA’s fun quota. Of course, you want to have plenty of fun on any videogame, and while the series has never lacked this, you can now have ?realistic fun’ – which is markedly better than ?cheap fun’.
The game weighs in heavily on strategy too; there is more challenge on defense and more weapons on offense, both of which make for much more intense matches. Probably the second best game feature, aside from First Touch, is the ability to directly control players not in possession of the ball. While one of your team has the ball, you can send other players on attacking sprints to receive a penetrative pass, or guide them into areas of space, which drags opposing defensive players out of position. FIFA Soccer 2005 makes you feel as though you’re controlling everything on the field (except the other team, of course), but you can, one way or another, effectively manage every aspect of playing soccer.
All these features need buttons attached to them – and here comes one of the game’s oldest ongoing shortcomings. If you buy this PC version, then you better get a game pad controller because playing with the keyboard is an absolute pain. This has always been a problem that EA has found difficult to solve, but the only real solution is to get a game pad with (preferably) two Analog Sticks because certain features are easier to execute this way. The game is very console oriented in presentation and control, so to garner its full benefits you’ll have to make your PC as close to a console as possible. Again, get a game pad to enjoy the game to its fullest.
So, you have good, crisp gameplay, now you need some extras – different game modes like an in-depth franchise type mode perhaps? Well, you have it in Career mode, which is better than last year’s paltry effort although nowhere near as complete and accurate as the Dynasty modes in other sports games (NCAA Football, MVP Baseball or ESPN Basketball for example). What is great this year is the Create Player mode; other FIFA games haven’t had this feature, or it needed downloading and wasn’t particularly user friendly. Now it’s easy and intuitive though, in the way other sports games have enjoyed it for years.
The sheer depth and fun factor involved in playing FIFA Soccer 2005 should effortlessly attract gamers foreign to soccer. And all those who love soccer will probably find their favorite team to play with due to the outstanding number of clubs available (an immense constant of the FIFA series). This year’s game also sees the welcome inclusion of the Mexican first division league, which will surely increase Mexican game sales now that such a proud ?footballing’ nation has its own premier league represented on the best soccer game around.