On a recent visit to EA Sports' booth here at E3, we got to play a few brief matches on the PlayStation 2 version of FIFA 2004. According to the EA representative we were playing against, the version of the game on display at the show is only around 20 percent complete and is still a good eight weeks from hitting alpha status. It was, nevertheless, looking very impressive. For starters, all of the players from Juventus and Real Madrid were incredibly detailed and instantly recognizable, as was the Stamford Bridge stadium at which our match was being played. The player animations, even at this early stage of development, were also exceptionally realistic, which was especially apparent when players were controlling incoming balls with either their chests, legs, or feet, depending not only on the height of the ball but also on their own stature. The final version of the game will also see players' strips getting dirty as the game progresses, but since this feature hasn't been implemented yet, we didn't get to see it.
The first thing we noticed about the game, as soon as the ball left the center spot, was that the ball no longer stuck unrealistically to the players' feet. In fact, quite the opposite was true--one of the 20 attributes assigned to players in FIFA 2004 determines their level of ball control, and the players with a low control rating had an almost exaggerated tendency to let the ball get away from them at every turn. The more realistic ball physics were also very noticeable when passing the ball between players, since balls played at the wrong strength would either not reach the intended player or would go past them rather than be drawn to the receiving player's feet.
Off-the-ball things were also looking good for the next FIFA game, with teammates visibly making intelligent runs into space when we were on the ball and going after attackers when not in possession. There was no referee in the early version of the game that we were playing, which meant that even the most horrific and cynical fouls we could muster were going unpunished, but the game was basically very playable, and the fact that the development team still has until October to work on the game bodes very well indeed.
As we've reported previously, the PS2 and PC versions of FIFA 2004 will be the first in the series to feature online play, but today we were also told about another equally exciting feature that will see the PS2, Xbox, and PC versions of the game enjoying connectivity with the latest version of EA Sports' other soccer franchise, Total Club Manager 2004. Basically the connectivity feature will allow you to take a team from the management game, complete with any transferred players you might have, and export it for use in FIFA 2004.
FIFA 2004 is currently scheduled for release in October. For more information, check out our previous coverage of the game.