Well here we go again, our third Fifa Football game for the Xbox. I have been reviewing games from the Fifa line up since Fifa 98 so it is certainly a game that I have followed as even before Fifa 98 I was playing the very first release on the Mega Drive (genesis).
With all the alterations over the years the big boast this year is that the game now truly reflects how football is played more than any of the earlier attempts. Well with anything the proof is in the pudding so let ‘s get a hold of the gamepad and see if we can enjoy the latest offering from EA Sports. Visually the game is just as lovely and special as the other Fifas managing to sweep away any fears of the dreaded Multi-platform syndrome of poor graphics and instead having some really fantastic stadiums, players and even more noticeable in this game the lighting. Watch the ball reflections, the slight glow on the players ‘ shirts and the flood lights actually casting some proper lighting onto the pitch. This makes the atmosphere much more poignant for the player as you belt the ball around the pitch.
Shadows around the pitch and different times of day are all very apparent as you play and makes a big difference in realism. You find yourself preferring different times of day but all are enjoyable to experience. Another aspect that hasn ‘t gone overlooked is the texture quality of the grass, a very nice standard indeed but maybe there is further room for improvement. The players themselves especially some of the more well known players like Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, Henry etc are all comparable to the real people they portray. No need to wait for the text on the shirt to be visible as you will more then likely immediately recognise the player just from the facial features. The only downside with the graphics I have is the menus. Horribly sluggish transitions and the colours seem very gloomy. Also over the years we have had to incur a myriad of different camera angles and Fifa 2004 is no different. With Fifa 2003 the slant was heavily on arcade with a very close zoom to the players making you very aware of the graphical quality of the players at all time. The downside to this though was you had less vision of what was happening around you to allow for passing, crossing and the like. Fifa 2004 now seems very distant on your first go and the only chance to really experience the player detail now is in cut scenes such as after a harsh tackle or a goal. Once getting used to the further away approach you will soon enjoy the benefits of better targeting of players for all those crosses to get that ball eventually in the back of the net.
This Fifa feels much more refined and this is shown in corners, free kicks and other set pieces. I always felt that the cornering system on the last Fifa was pretty horrid making it actually easier to pass to someone near the corner flag rather than into the box where the chance of headering the ball in the net was slim at best. This is certainly not the case in this game with jostling for space and having a clear menu to target where you want the corner to be placed. You are more placed to jostle and head or volley the ball rather then the actual corner kicker himself which makes for a much better way of handling this area of the game. All player animations are fluid, although the slide tackle has become rather redundant hardly making any useful impact whatsoever. You are now better to press the ‘B ‘ button and stick your foot in more cautiously as slide tackles are very ineffective with their very short range and the player you tackled getting up very quickly to carry on his run as if nothing happened.
The game modes such as Career where you can control training within a season is a nice attempt to get the manager out of you, but it ‘s just a pointless exercise in practice as Fifa should be more of a what happens on the pitch game not the workings around it. That is better left for manager specific games in my opinion. You can enjoy the huge selection of leagues though and if you support a Division 1 team like me (Nottingham Forest) you can control them in a season romp and see if you can get promoted with the more elite teams. Replays of goals have also had a working over, for instance having scored a goal from a well planned set piece, you are treated to two replays from different angles and even a third replay highlighting the ball path and the players involved. The crowd chants have also been enhanced and when playing on smaller pitches note the drop in crowd levels both visually and audibly.
Commentary has the very usual John Motson providing glimmers of humour although the inclusion of ‘erm ‘ and ‘pauses ‘ to make it more realistic just proves annoying when you ‘ve heard it a few times already. Commentary is still a very sticky point for Fifa games and this needs something new next year. One last point is the lack of online play, with a rumour that a football game will be available late next year it is time for EA Sports to bite the bullet and get involved with the Xbox online experience. More and more games are using Live! and for any of it ‘s negatives, surely the positives are just far too tempting to miss out long term.
A very fluid game both graphically and in the gamplay area. Just lacking certain refinement for commentary and the menu system just doesn ‘t work very well. A big step has been taken but they need to have more courage and go that extra mile to truly win us over completely.