If you're a returning veteran, you may want to weigh the game's new perks against some of its downfalls before you set down your hard-earned cash.
In the grand scheme of things, FIFA Soccer 2004 is a good PC game. It adapts well to newcomers but keeps plenty in reserve for skilled, seasoned veterans. It is the first FIFA to feature a career mode. And, despite some issues we'll tackle later, it is nicely presented and blessed with an incredibly deep control system. Unfortunately, it is marred with blemishes. It also follows a pattern that's beginning to creep into the most recent versions of some of EA Sports' team sport titles. Namely, despite its many positive attributes, its most important element--gameplay--simply doesn't seem to be advancing quite as quickly as it should.
This may be seen as a harsh judgment, considering the perennial popularity and general critical acclaim the series continually garners, but the truth is that FIFA has been around for over a decade now. In that time, EA Sports has blown the roof off of the game's audio-video components. Starting in 1994--with 2D sprites and flat, comparatively lifeless environments--and culminating in today's stunningly better-than-TV delivery and incredible motion-captured players, the FIFA presentation has never failed to impress.
Rather than instilling the game with artificially intelligent opponents and teammates who truly mimic the nuances and dynamics of real-life, world-class soccer stars--and thus compelling the human player to act accordingly--the development team continually seems more fixated on adding incredibly complex button-pumping maneuvers that feel more clinical than sport-oriented. Furthermore, though FIFA's AI programming is quite acceptable in the short term, it begins to feel downright repetitious after you've played a couple dozen contests. This sort of thing was perfectly fine for much of the first 10 years, but recently it's all beginning to feel a little old. We'll explore this concept further, but let's first look at some of FIFA 2004's more noticeable practical innovations.
As is typical of the series, EA Sports has once again tweaked its gameplay/AI engine just enough to keep us interested. For the most part, the game does feel marginally better. You're likely to notice, right off the bat, that it features a comparatively large number of deflected and intercepted balls. Whether you're shooting or passing, chances are that if you're in the midst of a group of players, your ball will strike something on its way to the target. This is a good thing, as are the newly modified defensive alignments and structuring. In FIFA 2004, AI defenses tend to back off the ball carrier somewhat and, thus, clog your path to the net. This, in turn, forces you into a far more passing-oriented attack than ever before.
To really excel in FIFA 2004's more-imposing difficulty levels, you'll have to do more than learn the fine art of pinpoint passing. The game's new "off-the-ball control," accessed during gameplay by clicking a specified button or key, allows you to take command of your nonball-carrying players while you're still controlling the ball carrier. A great concept, off-the-ball control lets you direct a given player to a new location, and it makes him perform other actions he most likely would not have made if left under the guidance of the game's programming. The most challenging aspect of off-the-ball control is its inherent complexity. Put simply, it's danged difficult to do all the stuff you normally do, while, at the same time, working the myriad other buttons to control other players. Still, most quick reflex gamers should eventually get the hang of it and will enjoy it once they do.
They'll enjoy it even more once they've developed a patient approach to their attacks--by biding their time and working the ball around carefully while waiting for passing lanes to open up. In this way, FIFA 2004 does seem more authentic. Moreover, the game's improved on-the-fly management utility, which permits a bunch of tactical modifications while play continues, is tailor-made for veteran players who are looking to add weapons to their arsenals.
Even with the new enhancements, FIFA's gameplay doesn't effectively duplicate the ebb and flow or real-world intricacies of real-life soccer. Granted, the game will undoubtedly awe rookies. It is, after all, an amazing achievement when compared to many of the alternatives--both past and present. Yet there's a pattern to the AI programming that feels both repetitious and artificial. And good AI is, of course, the key to any game of this nature.
You'll need a few contests under your belt before you begin to notice it, but soon you'll see that FIFA 2004's AI defenders habitually repeat their actions. For example, virtually any time you're able to negotiate your ball carrier into the opposing box, the defending side quite suddenly displays amazing speed and prowess. Almost immediately, you're dispossessed of the ball. Conversely, there are certain maneuvers you can enact outside the box that will cause any immediate defenders to become ridiculously confused, thus causing them to run to the wrong spot or to stand still as you saunter on by with the ball. Furthermore, if you should instead try to use an open field speed burst to blow past a defender--a maneuver that should usually meet with success if your player is an acknowledged star while the defender is not--you'll almost always be stripped of the ball. That is, unless you're making the run down a wing, where the defenders seem curiously untalented.
- Player Reviews: 13
- Game Universe:
- FIFA 2001 (PS2, GBC),
- FIFA 2001 Major League Soccer (PC, PS),
- 2002 FIFA World Cup (PS2, PC, GC, XBOX, PS),
- FIFA Soccer 2003 (GC, GBA, PC, PS2, PS, XBOX),
- FIFA Soccer 2004 (GC, GBA, PS2, PC, XBOX, PS, NGE),
- FIFA Soccer 2005 (PS2, XBOX, GC, PS, PC, GBA, NGE, MOBILE, GIZ),
- FIFA Street (XBOX, PS2, GC),
- FIFA 99 (PC, N64, PS),
- FIFA 2000: Major League Soccer (PC, GBC, PS),
- FIFA International Soccer (GG, 3DO, GB, GEN, SNES, AMI, SMS, PC, SCD)
- Number of Players: