Fresh from announcing that it will be jumping into the downloadable cell phone game industry with both feet, Electronic Arts has pulled off a somewhat smaller coup elsewhere in the mobile gaming arena in the form of an updated version of the N-Gage FIFA soccer franchise. FIFA Soccer 2004, which was one of the first N-Gage games to effectively use Bluetooth multiplayer, stood as a relative success for the struggling mobile console. This year's version, which will feature improved graphics and run speed, as well as branching into N-Gage Arena functionality, looks like it will be everything its predecessor was--and more.
FIFA Soccer 2005 will allow you to choose from about 10,000 players, who will compete on 50 licensed teams across 20 different leagues. Fortunately, certain Mexican soccer leagues, which were absent from last year's game, have been included in this year's soccer offering. More notable is the inclusion of several new gameplay modes, including career mode and challenge mode. Career mode gives you the opportunity to play your favorite club for five consecutive seasons. It will also throw a bit of management into the equation, because you'll be tasked with promoting and relegating players to and from your club, as necessary, to maintain your peak fighting strength. Completing certain milestones in career mode will earn you "prestige points," which function something like high-score tallies. Challenge mode will allow you to replay famous matches and scenarios from the last five years of international soccer history, including such nail-biters as the 1999 Euro Cup final between Bayern Munich and Manchester United.
FIFA 2005's implementation of N-Gage Arena features is another novel step. There's no real-time multiplayer as of yet, but you'll be able to upload your career mode's prestige points so that you can compare them to those of other players. Niftier still, FIFA 2005 will support the transfer of in-game highlights to and from Arena. The game will also retain the head-to-head Bluetooth competition that served its progenitor so well.
We had a chance to play a quick match on a beta version of FIFA 2005, and the game's improved graphical acuity and fluidity was readily apparent. The performance boost was quite noticeable during gameplay, which ran with no slowdown or stuttering. The player models were still small, but they seemed to be considerably sharper than those in FIFA Soccer 2004--and they had a more complete range of animation, including celebrations and fouls. The game's camera work was generally a lot smoother, due to an improved autocamera and better zooming features. There were also several new offensive and defensive controls, including new types of tackling and through-ball maneuvers. Finally, the CPU team's artificial intelligence was noticeably improved, especially in the realm of positioning.
In all, FIFA Soccer 2005 looks like it will be a worthy update to the original, and it looks to be an excellent fix for aspiring N-Gage hooligans. We'll have more info on the game, including a complete review, as its November release date draws closer.