Football/soccer is big business in the world today - not really a surprise considering it is the world's most popular sport. This is probably why whenever a new soccer game hits the market there is always great expectation. For the past few years there has really only been two true contenders to the number one crown, FIFA from EA and Pro Evolution Soccer from Konami. Each year Pro Evolution is getting closer and closer to knocking FIFA from the top so EA had to respond and it looks like FIFA 2005 has done just enough to stave off the competition again this year.
The big new thing for this years game is the first time touch. Whenever you see an absolute scorcher of a goal scored in the real world games, you will find that most of the time the scorer has controlled the ball with a finite accuracy when receiving it. EA have tried to replicate this in FIFA 2005 and have done a solid job, the player's touch can now be the difference between a goal scored or a defender reaching the player in time. In a sense first touch has been in FIFA for a few years now via the freestyle system but it has never been refined as it is in this years edition. Like freestyle control, the right stick is used to perform the various tricks such as lifting the ball or doing a step over but unlike previous years this stick can now be used to control a ball in the air, through ball or pass.
Depending on where the player is positioned, they may head it, control it with their chest or turn their opponent giving them a fast break. The only issue with the first touch is that you as the player can't really control how the player tries to react to the ball. You may want them to head it, but instead they may chest it down. Of course reverting to the tried and tested old control system works flawlessly but that somewhat defeats the purpose of first touch. Despite this when the first touch move is executed properly it adds greatly to the gameplay and the first time you step over a player and drill it into the back of the net, you will see just how powerful this addition can be. Perfecting it is a must as the AI teams aren't afraid to use their new found skills against you.
The other big new addition, or rather change is the career mode. It has been totally overhauled since the 2004 edition of the game and the changes have both positive and negative aspects. The game very much emulates a management style of game now. When your career is started at the beginning of the fifteen season journey you only have the choice of lower league teams from your chosen region and must prove your talent to the bigger clubs before being offered the jobs. One positive aspect of this inclusion is that you will encounter lower league clubs that unless you're a fan of, probably would have ignored. The main negative is that unlike last year you don't get to choose your desired club to manage right off the bat.
The career mode is deeper then just playing with a lower league team and getting them promoted. As you win matches you will be given development points to spend on a variety of aspects to do with your current club. Categories include coaches (strikers, midfield, defence, goalkeeper) medical staff, fitness staff, financial and scouting. Each one is an integral part of the club and giving one area all the points is not going to prove very useful, you may be scoring non stop but not be very savvy in the transfer market. More points are awarded for beating teams in higher divisions and cup matches.
EA have once again gone license crazy and the game features all the best clubs and leagues in the world along with their stadiums but what really takes the cake this year is that EA have even licensed an official FIFA referee to unlock, Pierluigi Collina. Other unlockables include playing matches during the night and other training grounds. The custom tournament mode allows you to pit the best of the best together in a league, knockout or a combination format which is a nice option. For those of you who are fans of the minnow teams, you will be happy to know that EA has again included the lower Divisions including The Championship, League one and League two from England and thirty eight international teams are included.
While the transfer market does feature in the career mode and you have to negotiate for players, outside of that the developers have really given you free reign. You can create the ultimate squad of superstars easily thanks to the ability to move players between teams, divisions, leagues without any need to pay money or deal with contracts. This also allows you to keep the game up to date during the January transfer window and considering roster downloads aren't available for FIFA online this is a great addition. Along with this it is possible to create players from scratch and the highly detailed game face software has been included to give you the greatest opportunity to get yourself into a FIFA game thus far.
One thing that FIFA definitely gets right is the atmosphere and the varying levels of it. If you're playing in a lower league, expect only a small crowd and no chanting while in the top leagues, stadiums are packed and chants ring through the speakers. Players also react emotionally to each other after fouls and will show disappointment if they just miss a goal. Due to the first touch system, there has been many new player animations added and they move fluidly across the pitch at all times although the replays can show some collision detection issues with slide tackles. Players also become dirty when slide tackling which is a nice touch. Commentary is provided by John Motson and Ally McCoist and it appears FIFA 2005 has suffered the same problem that Madden 2005 had with reused commentary except for a few lines. EA has provided a superb soundtrack with a variety of styles of music featured. The soundtrack is so good that EA could probably release it on CD outside of the game and expect it to sell well. Paul Oakenfold has lent his talent to the game creating an exclusive track for the game.
Multiplayer is a whole new ball game in 2005 with the addition of Xbox Live play. Online you will find a lobby to chat and arrange games in, leaderboards, history of your online play and other things to look at. One thing that EA seems serious on clamping down on is people pausing the game. You only get three pauses per match and each one only last thirty seconds. Considering you can run tournaments on the service, it is easy to see why EA took this approach. You can still play offline as well.
FIFA 2005 again shows EA's commitment to providing one of, if not the best soccer gaming experience around. The brand new career mode has both its pros and cons but overall enhances the replay value of the game significantly and FIFA fans will relish the chance to take each other on online. You'd be hard pressed to find a more fully featured soccer simulation and that is why the FIFA series will remain one of the best soccer games on the market for at least another year.