FIFA Soccer 2005 Hands-On

We take to the pitch with EA Sports' latest soccer offering, FIFA Soccer 2005.

EA Sports' newest soccer offering, FIFA Soccer 2005, ships this week with an updated control scheme and a valuable addition to its already huge roster: the entire 18-team Mexican League. We recently sat down with FIFA Soccer 2005 and have some first impressions of the game in advance of our full review later this week.

Cover yourself, boys--the ball's coming straight at you.

FIFA's new control system, dubbed "first touch control," is designed to give players more offensive options when attacking. Using the right thumbstick while in possession of the ball will let you execute a variety of special moves designed to juke defenders, including step-overs, side dribbles, and spin moves. These moves can be effective against single defenders, depending on the defender's position relative to the ball, of course. However, don't make the mistake of thinking these special moves are a one-way ticket to goal town.

In our time with the game, we've noticed a stingy defensive AI that hangs well back in its defensive zone, allowing for few clear shots on goal. Conversely, it seems that no matter what offensive tactics we use (and whatever corresponding level of defensive pressure results), the AI-controlled attacking players are more easily able to get a clear one-on-one run on goal. Thankfully, goalie performance seems to have been bumped up this year, as we've seen some outstanding saves, even when using teams of middling skill.

In addition to these gameplay adjustments, FIFA Soccer 2005 features an improved career mode, in which you are hired to run the team of your choice, leading your team to victory (or defeat) and managing your coaching and administrative staffs. As team manager, you begin with a set number of points that you can distribute to your staff to improve specific aspects of your team both on the field (strikers, midfielders, defenders, and goalies) and off the field (finance, fitness, medical, and scouting). Points for additional staff upgrades are earned by winning games.

From the main "career central" screen, you can control all aspects of your team, choosing to play or simulate your next match, setting your match roster and basic tactics, conducting transfers and scouting potential players for your team, checking on team and manager progress, and accessing your FIFA 2005 trophy room and the FIFA 2005 store, where you can pick up alternate team kits, soccer balls of different design, and new arenas and training pitches. The only glaring omission in the career central screen is more-detailed scouting on your next opponent, which would be most welcome when playing in a league you are not familiar with.

FIFA's career mode should add some replay value to the game.

Online play on both the Xbox and PS2, a create-a-player feature, and the ability to play in a number of different preset and player-created tournaments round out a soccer title that looks to answer critics who thought previous versions of the game were too short on substance and too long on flash. With improved controls and some deeper franchise options, FIFA Soccer 2005 could go a long way toward silencing the naysayers. Look for our in-depth review of the game later this week.

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