FIFA Football 2004
It’s not simple to write a review on a widely anticipated game and especially on a game that has such a specialised fanbase. And EA has added even more spice by packing the game with loads of features and possibilities. But let’s call it a challenge and get right to it. An introduction is hardly necessary and I won’t write a brief history on the Fifa series, as Daffy has already written a short and sweet oversight in THIS article.
Electronic Arts have given the Fifa Football 2004 player a whole lot of moneys worth: four different difficulty levels (Amateur, Semi-Pro, Professional & World Class), some 18 major and smaller leagues and 350 teams to chose from, meaning that you could play with just your favorite player out of a possible 10 000. I guess in the next generation console versions you’ll be able to upload an image of you and/or you brother in the game and play alongside Ronaldhino. But that’s for the future, in the mean time, the choice is yours and if -like me- you prefer not to play with clubs like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Juventus etc, you’ll be happy to see that you can go with your own slightly less wealthy clubs.
First things first, the game menus can be slightly disappointing because navigating through them is a bit of a burden. But on the other hand, it is quite understandable. What do you expect with this wealth of possibilities? Lets make it easy for ourself and go for the career mode. Once you have chosen a team and signed a contract for a year, you receive a couple of objectives that you don’t have to, but better complete in order to be able to prolong your contract. Example: you will have to gain 1 000 prestige points each season. 800 can be earned with a promotion to a higher competition and 3 winning homematches will get you an extra 200 points. If you play badly though, points will be subtrackted. So, as in real life, it’s all about “prestige” and if you don’t take my word for it, ask Beckham!
You’ll be happy to hear that the developers have reintroduced a practice mode. In order to win as a World Class player, you will have to train your players in taking corners, indirect and direct free-kicks and different plays. The practice mode lets you concentrate on getting to know the (highly acclaimed) ‘off the ball’ mode which once you get the hang of, is really usefull, innovative and amusing. You just have to learn how to divide your attention between handling the ball with the left side of your brain and positioning an off-the-ball-player with the right side.
Now how does the game feel? The in-game gameplay has changed quite a bit. The high-profile players like the three stars featured on the leaflet for instance, have their real-life capabilities in the game too, a player like Zidane for instance has excellent ball-control and dribble skills and it will be hard to take the ball from him. But understandably, it was impossible for the developers to give all the individual 10 000+ players their individual skills. The well-known Belgian player Sonck for instance is just a ‘normal’ player with average skills in the Ajax team. This is quite dissapointing for fans of the Belgian and Dutch competitions so I guess there is some room for improvement on that level, unless they expect that everyone will play with only the top-teams. In that case, why bother with incorporating all the minor championship leagues.
With that being said, it’s frustrating to notice that some of the fastest players around cannot get around slow mid-fielders and defenders with just speed. I took the test and let Ajax (with Sonck) play against one of Belgians lesser teams. Well, he wasn’t able to pass him. Next to that, the passes are quite accurate, if -and only if- you handle your controls well. It’s only after a while that you will be able to pass along an adversary in just that way you want to, your hands will have to master the controls.
So how can you score then, if running with speed past an adversary is impossible and dribles are suicide? Well, long hard goal kicks. Just shoot from outside the 16meters. Chances are the keeper will react too slow. Goal!
Some major improvements have been made as far as taking corners is concerned. Use the corner setup to exercise some nifty moves and then create the best possible situation for your players to score: a hard straight kick forward, a curveshot to the first or second pole or a small pass to the closest player. A ‘header’ too, is a sight to be seen. With a bit of practice you can control one of your players to head the ball in the direction you want it, good work on this feature. But the best feature -and my personal favorite- is the tackle, executed at a very high standard. The tackles are done different depending on the situation, so that sometimes you get a slide with 2 feet together whilst a tackle from the side is done with both feet slightly apart from each other in order to catch the opponents foot between your players feet. Needless to say, fouls are given for hard tackles
Now another important element of Fifa 2004 is the compatebility with Club Manager 2004 to form ‘Football Fusion’. More on that when my collegues discuss the pc version of Fifa and Club Manager.
On to one of the major elements of Fifa 2004, the graphics. One word: excellent. The level of detail is top-notch. The world-reknowned players look like digital versions of themselves, the faces are of a very high standard. I guess the artists deserve a lot of credit here as I don’t think it’s likely that all the worlds top-players came in to have their heads scanned. And just like in real life, even the biggest of stars get their shorts and football jerseys dirty when playing on a muddy field. Excellent work here.
Two other important factors deserve attention. The use of light and shadow in the game is exemplary. Floodlights, for exemple, cast whole different shadows then the sun and look like the real thing. But one of the coolest things must be the replay feature where your console or pc can easily compete with even the best television-director. The different angles are sublime and fun to look at.
The last element that really needs to be discussed is the sound which contributes in a rather large extent to the whole ‘feel’ of the game. The commentary is of a very, very high standard provided by the well-known Ally McCoist and John Motson, two professionals. But what will really grab you are the impressive number of chants and clubsongs that are incorporated into the game. Did the sound engineers visit all clubs with their mini-disc recorder ?
In conclusion: the ambience that EA has created within this version of Fifa is simply amazing and it will be a challenge to both competitors and themselves to improve. The graphics set a standard that all sports games will have to achieve in the near future. The gameplay has vastly improved with the ‘off the ball’ feature and the distinctions the game makes between good, better and the best players. But there is room for improvement as far as dribbling past an adversary is concerned.