Having looked at Pro Evolution Soccer 3 a few weeks ago, I decided it was time to check out the main competitor FIFA 2004. EA has added a ton of new features this year and also changed the game play significantly, it is now a more simulation style. We went hands on with a preview build and came away quite impressed.
FIFA 2004 is going to continue on basically where 2003 left off. You can expect all the licences from around the globe including the English Premier League, Serie A, Bundesliga and many others as well as real player names and likenesses. However there has been a major change to the licensing with some leagues featuring their second divisions and in England all three nationwide divisions have been included. This has been added because of one of the brand new game modes known as career mode.
Career mode puts you into the shoes of a manager at the highest level. You control training on a day to day basis, player line ups, player transfers and many other aspects of the sport. The club you choose to manage will give you a one year contract to start with and you will have to impress by gaining certain goals such as the best defence in the league or most goals in the league etc. The player transfer market has also had a major overhaul. Rather then just buying players at a set price, you now have to bid for players and the club will either agree or reject your offer. Obviously just in the real game, it will probably be much harder to coax a club to let a player go to a side in the same league as them.
However when all is said and done with career mode, it is up to you to reach these goals. Unlike other soccer management games, you actually take control of the players and it is you who defines their destiny and whether you remain manager the next season or thrown on the scrap heap. This is where another major change to the FIFA franchise shines through. The game is now in a very simulation style. Unlike previous games where it was possible to run the field and score goals almost at will, you really have to work for you goals in 2004. Precise passing, well timed tackles and accurate shots will all be part of your repertoire if you are to succeed in the game.
The interface has also had an overhaul. At the start of the game it will ask you who your favourite club side is in the world and then customise the entire GUI for that club. For instance (because I wanted to see if they had the new players) I chose Chelsea and the graphics were surrounded by Chelsea shirts etc. The game is also very up to date in terms of the transfer market. Chelsea has their new players such as Crespo, Mutu etc and McManaman is at Manchester City.
FIFA also now includes a tournament mode where you can play any cup throughout Europe such as the FA Cup. I played the FA Cup mode again with Chelsea and was defeated by Norwich, but in terms of presentation it looked fantastic. Before each corner you can struggle in the box until the kick comes in, and if you get a free kick in a scoring position, a box comes up asking you which set play you want to run with. They range from a short pass to a drive at goal.
Visually the game has had a major overhaul as well with players looking even more like the real players out on the field. The stadiums are adorned with club logos and posters. Stamford Bridge looked absolutely stunning, if you're a Chelsea fan you're going to love this game. Other changes include between harsh tackles referees will try and calm the players down and the two captains will have a go at him if no booking is produced, and the animation numbers have increased ten fold.
FIFA 2004 on the Playstation 2 will feature online play. Whilst we couldn't check this out it did feature in the current build and some of the menus told us information about how it will work. Basically it will just connect to servers and match make players before a game begins. If its as good online as it is offline, then soccer fans are in for a real treat.
FIFA 2004 looks like it has had enough evolutionary changes to compete with Pro Evolution Soccer 3. Whilst many people will still look down on FIFA in comparison to PES, EA really has put a great deal of effort in to this game and many people will be surprised how well FIFA 2004 plays. FIFA 2004 is currently scheduled to ship late October for the Playstation 2, Xbox, Gamecube, PC and a separate version for Gameboy Advanced.