EA's FIFA franchise is now definitely one of their biggest and no doubt one they pour a lot of development and licensing money into. After a successful release of FIFA 2004, a little over half a year later we find ourselves staring at the next FIFA game. Although the game is not deemed part of the FIFA franchise, for that we have to wait another six months, make no mistake this is FIFA through and through. The difference is EA have made some changes in the extra development time, changes that add a great more deal of options to some parts of the franchise.
The main difference between this title and FIFA 2004 is the fact it completely revolves around the upcoming European Championships in Portugal. EA have licensed everything from the tournament and this is not limited to players and teams, it also includes the ball, trophy, stadiums, logo etc to give the most authentic experience of the Euro 2004 tournament. However this level of detail has come with a few compromises. No club tournaments or leagues from around the globe feature in the game and you have a few less game modes than FIFA. EA have made up for this however by creating two interesting game modes that we can only hope will make it into FIFA 2005.
The first of these is the fantasy game mode. This allows you to pick eleven of the best players from Europe and play off against an AI chosen team in a one off match. If you've ever wanted Beckham, Zidane, and Henry to be on the same team, this game gives you that opportunity. Unfortunately you can't build a league around this team and every time a match is completed the selection process begins again, which may lead to you only playing a few matches before moving on. The other game mode is the situational game mode where you can setup a match in progress. Options include which half the game is in, how much time is left in the half, how many bookings and red cards have been handed out and the score. So if you want to try and replicate a famous international match from recent years, you can. Other modes include Home and Away, a two leg match, and the ability to create your own knockout tournament, league or combination of both.
However these modes really are filler for what is the main mode of the game, the UEFA Euro 2004 tournament. As mentioned before EA have licensed everything from the tournament which gives it a highly authentic feel. The great thing about this mode is that rather than only including the sixteen finalists, EA have included the qualifying portion and this has allowed them to give the player a lot more choice in the finalists. All fifty one European nations are included. The Netherlands is featured but EA does not have the license for player names so don't be surprised to see player names such as Ned 11 on their team.
Each team has a large squad of players to choose your final teams from. This is where the other main new feature comes to light, the morale system. Each time a player scores a goal, gets booked, is dropped from the squad etc it affects their overall morale. Players low on morale are more prone to mistakes and wild shots, whilst those on the up are more confident with the ball. This adds another layer to challenge of the game and definitely is a hallmark of something like a football management game.
The system works really well. You have to be careful after you concede a goal because the teams confidence will be down and it is very easy to concede another quickly. It works both ways however and you will find after you score, that you will likely get another shot on goal almost instantly. The only downside to the morale system is that it only applies to the UEFA Euro 2004 game mode, and other modes such as the custom tournament area do not give the extra squad choice or incorporate the morale system.
EA have also worked on the player models since FIFA 2004 and the plastic feel that some of the character models gave off seems to have been removed. They have done a great job with a majority of the players but some are not as impressive as others in terms of an accurate likeness of the real player. All the official team kits are included for home and away and EA have also worked on the animation side of things as well with some new moves for you to use on opposing players including the infamous nutmeg. Other new moves include chipping the keeper, and something which EA deem as the perfect cross mode, although it doesn't seem easy to use in comparison to many of the other new maneuvers. Bicycle kicks and diving headers also return to the franchise in spectacular fashion. Superstar players now have icons associated with them to give you a quick indication of what they are best at. The icons represent either sprinting, tackling, shooting or dribbling. As with FIFA 2004, you can still control players off the ball as well.
The AI has also been tweaked a little and even on the lower difficulty levels it offers quite a challenge. Qualifying for the championships takes a few hours of play due to numerous friendlies interspersed with the qualifying matches. No match in UEFA Euro 2004 can be deemed an easy match as all teams offer a great challenge, even to the likes of Spain, Italy and England. UEFA Euro 2004 is also up to date with the latest FIFA rules including the Silver Goal rule which is going to be employed for the Championships.
EA have successfully created a big match atmosphere with the game. One thing we did notice was a drop in frame rate at times, this mainly occurred during matches which were played under bright lights. Other matches seemed fine. EA have also kept the in-match cinematics from FIFA 2004 such as players clashing after bad tackles, or the referee either booking or sending off a player. Not only do the players look great with the kits and animations, but the sound effects really enhance the atmosphere of the game as well. Weather also makes a welcome return with matches now able to be played in the wet. Individual team chants are featured and commentary is provided again by John Motson and Ally McCoist who once again do a superb job but some commentary has been repeated from FIFA 2004 and most of the new audio revolves around Euro 2004.
When all is said and done however, UEFA Euro 2004 really is a tweaked FIFA 2004 with less teams and less competitions. What EA have included will impress fans but it is unlikely that you will be playing this for a long amount of time once the championships are completed. To cynics it will be a restricted FIFA 2004 with a few new features, to optimists it will be a preview of FIFA 2005, even though none of these features are confirmed for that game. As for us we say that UEFA Euro 2004 offers some fantastic gameplay, but unless you're a huge fan of either one of the teams featured or the tournament itself it is hard to recommend this over FIFA 2004 at the full retail price. However with that said, it does what it was designed to do well.