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FIFA Soccer 2004 Package Art
 GENRE
  Sports
 DEVELOPER
  EA Sports
 PUBLISHER
  EA Sports
 NUMBER OF PLAYERS
  1-4
 CONNECTIVITY
  yes
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FIFA Soccer 2004

EA sports line up of sports titles has been under direct competition from companies like Sega, Konami, Midway. EA’s response this year has been to improve play control with new features like off the ball control (FIFA), Playmaker Control (Madden), and increased depth in management options. It seems that EA Sports entire line up as been kicked up a notch this year.

FIFA 2004 falls right in line with the improvement levels that EA has been working with all year. The game features a solid season mode (although lacking in the concession-type depth of Madden) and like other EA Sports game play control innovations there’s a new “off the ball” control.

Unfortunately for Sports strapped GameCube owners, we haven’t been able to experience the brilliance of footy titles by Konami like Winning Eleven Six. When compared to these titles, the FIFA series still has that “magnetic ball” feeling to it and although it has been loosened up a bit, the FIFA series still feels rigid. The only points of comparison are arcade-y soccer titles like Sega’s Soccer Slam. However, even if it was a crowded soccer field, EA’s title would distinguish itself by it’s excellent features and game play depth.

visuals

The first time that I picked up FIFA World Cup for the 'Cube it was quite clear that EA Sports was aiming to make their soccer titles a visual spectacle. Fifa 2004 offers an excellent visual presentation with animated fans, film quality cut scenes that almost reach photo realism, and excellent environmental features such as stadiums etc. As for in game visuals, the title’s standard camera is functional and provides a solid angle from which to view the game.

When thinking of animating the game, Soccer is like Basketball. It’s kind of like a dance with the ball rather than a football running back or Hockey player that are addled with equipment and are more rigid in their movements. I still feel that the animation sequences in the FIFA titles leave a bit to be desired. They’ve improved dramatically from the N64 days but something still feels disjointed here. I’m not sure if it’s how the character animates in relation to the ball or if the character's movement lacks in some transition frames. However, when compared to the fluid movements of games like EA Sports’ own Madden title, the animations could use some retooling.

As for the front-end menu system, you can expect to find it polished and intuitive even during the most complex menu screens of the “franchise” mode.

audio

Football Euro Style means fan involvement in a completely un-Canadian way. This means that fans actually make noise! They actually take it one step beyond that in that they bring drums and whistles to the games and basically have a party for their team in the stands during the game.

With so little scoring it may be hard for some North American fans to know just what it is that they are getting excited about but you have to think of soccer as an operatic movement that twists and turns and eventually reaches a climax via the goal. All the passing and turns on the field are revered by fans in the stands, as they are part and parcel to the crescendo of a score. EA Sports has hit the audio of this feeling quite well with fans cheering, drumming, whistling etc.

The commentary is competent and doesn’t miss a beat. The EA Sports Trax is loaded with tunes from a world perspective so don’t expect to hear Luda’s Southern Hospitality. Maybe some classic tunes from Madonna or something? Who knows what Euros like these days, I still think they’re listening to MJ’s Thriller.

gameplay

Soccer has eluded the North American Market in the same way that F1 and, to a lesser extent, Hockey have. It seems that most North Americans can’t appreciate the subtleties of what leads up to scoring as opposed to just the scoring itself. This perplexes me because baseball is one of the most complex and beautiful examples of this dynamic. The Marlins’ superb run of small ball to the World Series was emblematic of how fantastically inundated with strategy Baseball can be. So why don’t North Americans get it? Is it all the passing? No clue. From my own perspective I have to admit that I really enjoy soccer during the World Cup and not at any other time. But I do “get” the sport (see the audio section above). It may not excite me to the point of ecstasy but I can pick up why it’s such a draw worldwide. First and foremost you just need a ball and two trees and for some less financially fortunate countries out there; with those equipment prerequisites, soccer becomes the national sport by default.

But Soccer (footie) is a sport of passing and field position rather than scoring. Presses, defensive stands and so on are all about taking possession of quadrants of the field and then finally attempting to close out with a “strike” for a goal. So if you have a friend come over who wants to score 100 goals you might as well throw in a basketball game. That’s not the point of soccer. If it helps, think of it as Euro football, in that you are always fighting for field position.

Those of you familiar with the FIFA Series will know that the control scheme is fairly complex. For the ladies out there who’ve been reviewing this game that the practice mode doesn’t help enough; go play ISS 64. That game was a miracle in that you learned new control methods the harder you experimented. This game doesn’t offer that much control depth but the learning curve is there and it is worth riding if you’re a sports fan. As in the real game, the trick of Fifa is to master the different special moves (c stick) in order to pass (including the lob pass) in order to master the strikes (low ball strikes etc.).

EA has augmented the control scheme by adding “off the ball control” both on offense and defense. By pressing the Z button, you control a player without the ball and move him on a run (with the C Stick) to catch up with a through ball. On defense, you can use the off the ball control to call in another defender to attack a possessing player while you block a lane. It makes a lot of sense but what throws a major wrench in the plan is that the GameCube controller scheme sucks like a young goat on her mother’s teat. EA had to rely on the Z button to implement several features. With my big hands, trying to hit the Z button to activate the off the ball control and then tap it to cycle through players while leading with the C stick is too tricky. Also, reaching for button combos like the Z and B for low kicks or X and Z for a driven cross is too hard. Once again, the Z button which I hated since the beginning rears its ugly head.

Finally, from a control side, the IGM (In game management) option is well appreciated. Hit the Z (!) and R button to activate the IGM and you can change formations/off.and def. Strategy. Nicely done.

Gameplay wise, don’t expect androids to blast fire laden balls into metallic nets. This is a soccer simulation first and foremost and a competent one at that.

As for GBA connectivity options, I once again refuse to acknowledge them as connecting your GBA to your GC for cheats is not a replacement for online play.

multiplayer

While this isn’t the NHL Hitz of soccer in terms of being able to pick up and play the game, Fifa offers a solid multiplayer experience that’s fun for all types of gamers, whether they enjoy soccer or not. Once they get the grasp of the BASIC control scheme you can have a good time with a tournament or straight game. The best part in my experience is that when you do fire the biscuit in the basket you can quickly turn right into your friend’s ear and shout GOALLLLLL!!

Repeatedly.

overall

Although I wouldn’t place FIFA in the genre-dominating category of Tiger or Madden, I will say that it’s the best simulation soccer experience on GameCube. Wait a minute; it’s the ONLY simulation soccer title on GameCube! Having said that, sports fans will enjoy the level of off the field depth and control scheme depth here.

It should be mentioned that a large part of the success of EA’s sports titles this year is related to their competition. It seems that whenever a competitor pushes them, they answer the call.

Soccer fans will find an astounding amount of teams they can play with and a great level of enjoyment from Fifa 04’. Enjoy with tea and crumpets. G’day!

final score 8.9/10





WRITER INFORMATION
Staff Avatar Eric Mattei
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"Lost like tears in rain"


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