Released for the N-Gage in January of this year, FIFA Soccer 2004 is arguably the best sports game to grace the platform to date. Now, just 10 months later, EA Sports has released its inevitable 2005 sequel which, we're pleased to report, does a lot more than just update the team rosters and uniforms. FIFA Soccer 2005 for the N-Gage has a lot more in common with its PC and console counterparts than you might expect, and it plays to the strengths of Nokia's handheld with both Bluetooth and N-Gage Arena support.
The first time you play FIFA Soccer 2005 you'll be asked which of the 500-plus real-life teams that are featured is your favorite, and provided you're not looking for some obscure team that only the people in your hometown have heard of, the odds are very good that you'll find it, no matter where you are in the world. All of the team information in the game is as accurate as you could hope for on the N-Gage: the badges are all correct, the team rosters are as up-to-date as is possible in any video game, and the home and away uniforms for each team--while not emblazoned with sponsor logos and suchlike for obvious reasons--are true to those being worn this season. The presentation of FIFA Soccer 2005, in fact, is almost impossible to find fault with. The menus are user-friendly, the in-game visuals are impressive, and the fact that you're reminded of the game's surprisingly intuitive controls via a brief loading screen before each match is great if you don't plan on playing the game every day. The game's audio is also of a consistently high standard, with a number of licensed music tracks giving way to a vocal stadium crowd whose volume changes according to what's happening on the pitch.
If you do plan on playing FIFA Soccer 2005 every day, or at least if you plan on investing a lot of time in it, you might want to skip over the requisite friendly match and custom competition options in favor of the all-new career mode. After choosing a team to take charge of, the career mode will challenge you to complete five seasons as a player-manager whose responsibilities off the field are limited to team selection and tactical decisions. It would've been great to see some kind of transfer market implemented, of course, but the squads in the game are plenty big enough that you'll never have any problems replacing injured players with substitutes. Your only other concerns as a manager are: to improve your prestige rating by winning games as convincingly as possible (there are prestige bonuses available for clean sheets, large winning margins, beating better teams, and suchlike), and to ensure that you keep your job at the end of each season by meeting objectives set by your chosen team's board of directors. The objectives you're charged with will vary according to the team you've chosen. For example, a traditionally mediocre club might be content to finish a season midtable, but if you opt for one of the big-name sides, they might settle for nothing less than silverware.
The career mode in FIFA Soccer 2005 really is very engaging. The fact that you can upload your prestige "score" to the N-Gage Arena to compare it to those of other players at the end of your career goes a long way in extending the replay value of the game. Where FIFA Soccer 2005 really comes into its own, though, is on the field. The controls are very intuitive (although performing a hard tackle with the "8" button can be difficult while holding down the "4" button to sprint), there are four difficulty settings for both opposing outfield players and goalkeepers, and the players on your own team are intelligent for the most part. Perhaps the most impressive thing about FIFA Soccer 2005 is that you'll invariably achieve better results if you play a realistic, passing style of soccer. There are no on-the-ball tricks to get you out of tight spots or that you can use to dribble from one end of the pitch to the other; there's just an easy-to-use passing system that improves upon that in the 2004 edition with the addition of through balls and one-two passes.
FIFA Soccer 2005 isn't perfect, unfortunately, and once you've spent some time with the game you'll almost certainly find that the goalkeepers you're facing all fall for the same tricks when you're shooting at the goal. We've lost count of the number of hat tricks that we've scored with various attacking players, and not because they're great players, but because we were essentially able to score the same goal at least three times in a single match. Spectacular-looking goals from crossed balls are especially easy to score, because once you hit the cross button from a wide angle the ball will almost always find its way to a well-placed striker. These goals look great, especially in the instant replays that can be viewed in slow motion and from various camera angles, but the fact that they're not as difficult to pull off as they should be definitely makes them less satisfying.
Less predictable than CPU opponents, of course, are the human players that you can play both alongside and against via the N-Gage's Bluetooth functionality. We had no problems whatsoever with Bluetooth matches, and we definitely felt like the opponents we played (even those with very little previous experience of FIFA 2005) demanded a more inventive style of play with which we'd become accustomed to winning games against the CPU.
Notwithstanding the fact that soccer games are something of a rarity on the N-Gage, FIFA Soccer 2005 is an easy game to recommend to anybody with even a passing interest in the sport. And, since you made it this far into the review, that means you, right?