FIFA Soccer 2005 Review (Xbox)
In today’s console soccer world, there are two contenders, the "Winning Eleven" series and the "FIFA" series. The first has been the better simulation of the sport than the latter. I was eager to tear into this year’s version - which lauded its new “First Touch” feature. "FIFA Soccer 2005" is the best version of the series to date, but in many ways, that's like being the valedictorian of summer school.
"FIFA" is a fun game to play - as long as you don’t know a thing about soccer or its strategies. It is the same "rush, rush, kick, kick" game that we’ve come to expect from EA. Defenders still stand back on their own 18; just waiting for the attacker to come past an imaginary line, at which time one of the defenders will dart towards the attacker. Simply juke by him, while the other three or so defenders watch from their positions, and then go one on one with the keeper. Note to EA: I should not be able to make three passes from the defender to my attacker and then be at my opponents' 18 every single time! Please, make me work to get the ball in the attacking third!
The new “First Touch” feature is a bright spot. While it’s not a total innovation in itself, it adds a nice touch to the game. First touch is used when receiving a pass or a volley; the receiver can press the right analog stick in the direction he wants the player to play the ball. The success of this first touch depends on the player’s position and skill level. The feature does help players make some space on the usually hyperactive AI defenders and create scoring opportunities.
The same ball physics are back again. Passes go directly to a player’s feet, and crosses and long passes go directly to their target and not into space. In this year’s version, the ball is less "floaty" and more realistic when in the air, and is a welcome addition. Through passes are still very effective in the attacking third when the attacking team has numbers.
The throw-in and corner kick system are still the one-on-one system from the past versions. While I can understand the developers' thinking behind these systems, I think they are open for abuse once players find runs and combinations that work to free their player on a regular basis.
Players again don’t seem to be separated by their ratings in the higher difficulty levels. Instead of teams playing smarter in the higher levels, it seems that EA just takes all the ratings and equals them out. There is no reason for Thierry Henry to be stopped continually by Richard Wood (Who? Exactly!). The only place that ratings seemed to matter was on the usage of the first touch system. Also, the AI will often make questionable decisions when on the attack. On many instances I saw an attacker pass the ball back to his midfielder when the attacker had the better shot. While it was nice to prevent the goal, that's just unacceptable.
"FIFA 2005" features a 15-season career mode where the user starts out with a team from the lower division of various European leagues. I like this idea, as it makes the user have to “put in his time” at the lower leagues. The domestic and European competitions are seamlessly integrated into a team’s domestic league schedule, just like in real life. Teams are able to buy and sell players on the transfer market. Good luck in trying to find that one player you want, however. Even though "FIFA" has over 11,000 players available, EA forgot to put in a search function. Thus, the user must go team by team in order to find the player they want to bid on. Instead of spending money on a player, you must buy players with career points that you build up by winning games and scoring goals. When you find a player you want, you will see a button that says “negotiate”. Unfortunately, EA forgot to actually put in the negotiate part. When you press the button the player will accept or reject your offer without the user being able to negotiate.
The user also has to manage his staff. At the beginning, the user is given management points to spend on coaching, scouting, and medical staff. The more you spend on an area, the better that area performs. As the season goes on, the user can earn more management points to spend and improve his team or help nurse players back to health sooner.
"FIFA's" graphics look great once again. They evidently are subscribing to the theory that if it looks good, it will sell. Players look like their real-life counterparts and the various team kits are modeled very accurately. "FIFA" has licenses with 18 leagues and gets the most out of them; as it is easy to spot the guys you see on the television over the weekend. Stadiums look fantastic and make the user feel like they are there. Shadows are accurately portrayed onto the field, making games towards dusk look really sweet.
Players move fluidly on the pitch in a very realistic manner. Reactions and movements are also handled well from a graphical standpoint. Sideline billboards and stadiums have intricate details which make cut scenes and replay look almost as if they were being beamed live on Sky Sports.
Ally McCoist and John Motson are the tag team in the commentary booth this season. The commentary is seamless and it sounds very authentic. One glowing example occurred when McCoist was telling a story during the game and Motson cut him off when I started putting together a counter attack. Nice touch. The EA soundtrack has many different kinds of music mixed into it. Nothing mind-blowing, but I can always use a little INXS when making changes to my tactics!
Do you like to play online with lower division clubs? Well it surely won’t happen with "FIFA". In the never-ending race for players to be ranked #1, the only teams you will likely see being selected will be Real Madrid, Manchester United, and Arsenal. On the national team side, Brazil and Argentina seem to be the prohibitive favorites. It's funny; your favorite team is displayed when you scroll through the games being hosted, so players know that someone is switching clubs solely to improve their ranking!
Online game options include friendlies and up to 8-player tournaments. Lobbies are divided into North America, Europe, and Beginner. Starting out in the beginner lobby is a good idea as you'll need to get used to playing a human instead of the horrible computer AI. The dependability of connections has improved from release date to the date of this article. I haven’t had a disconnect in 2 weeks, so I think all the problems there were solved. The menus are standard fare, with no innovative or mind-blowing options.
The tale of "FIFA Soccer 2005" is a tale of two very different games. There is the online part - in which I'd give it an 8 out of 10 - and the offline part; that I would give it a 2 out of 10. Like many other reviewers out there, I do believe this game has improved, but that really isn’t saying much in the grand scheme of things. If you are looking for a "pick up and play game", this might be your thing, but the hardcore soccer gamer will be under whelmed and jumping back to "Winning Eleven" in no time. Luckily, the ability to play online makes it a game to keep on your gaming shelf, but the price tag of $50 is simply unreasonable.