EASports are back again in the PC spotlight with the latest edition to their premier soccer series, FIFA Football 2005. With consoles proving year after year that they are the most popular medium for sport gaming, have EASports given FIFA Football 2005 an identity on the PC, or is this just another port? Unfortunately, the latter seems to be the case, but there is still room for impressive gameplay.
FIFA Football 2005's most important feature this year is probably the all new career mode. In contrast, it really makes every other year's "franchise" mode including 2004 look very primitive. Basically, you start as a lowly paid manager of a second division or otherwise less successful football team, and it is your job to not only play your way to the top, but also manage your way to the top, battling player contracts and transactions, injuries, morale and the likes along the way . Unlike many other sports games, where after the first season there is little incentive to keep going, FIFA Football 2005 gives you the opportunity to bring your club into the higher divisions and progress on to glory, which won't happen overnight, so fans can expect very involved and lengthy career mode gameplay, and that's just with one team.
As you navigate through the opening menu's and career mode menu's you'll notice that this game was not designed for the PC. To begin with, whilst the game does support mouse control, most on screen buttons have "hot zones" the size of the mouse cursor itself so navigation is far better left to a keyboard/gamepad, although some buttons, specifically on the career mode main menu, don't seem to be reachable without the mouse so you'll end up using a mixture of both. On top of this, the scroll windows seem useless as there is no mouse wheel support, not to mention the menu layout is generally designed for the digital control of a D-Pad, not the analog control of a mouse. Unfortunately it is as obvious as a nudist in daylight that this is a console port, and although the PC customer base is probably far smaller than the console versions, it is disappointing to see.
The gameplay in FIFA is generally very well executed. New this year is a system EASports call "First Touch", and while its influence is not easy to put your finger on (so to speak), it does have a significant impact on the overall gameplay. For one, the flow of the game feels far more realistic, and although the series has been making sizeable strides in this department each year, this year it flows more like a real game of soccer than ever before - it finally truly feels like the ball is not stuck to boots of the players with string, it moves around the pitch with authentic physics and motion, and 'First Touch' takes advantage of this. The 'First Touch' inclusion has also generally allowed the series to show off better rated players more realistically, in previous titles average players and superstars didn't seem to differ a whole lot in actual on-field performance other than speed, but this year, with more realistic ball control and 'First Touch' influences, world class players can finally have their real world skill translated into the game.
One annoyance with FIFA's gameplay however is the obvious lack of balance in the defensive AI. Even if you have a good backfield, it seems no matter what level you play on, your CPU controlled defenders will act brain dead in comparison to the CPU team defenders. To get any defensive effort you almost always have to do it yourself, which becomes rather tedious when half the time the game restricts your speed. For example, if you notice a long pass that could be intercepted, have fun trying, because for some reason trying to make a break on a projected ball almost always results in your controlled defender jogging on the spot waiting patiently for the opponent to receive the pass, only to further make a fool of himself by suddenly obeying your command to RUN FORWARD just as the opponent gets the ball, over pursuing him and leaving him wide open for a shot on goal. So while the game requires you to take action on defense yourself, most of the time you can do little more than watch and hope they screw up somehow and even if they do, trying to speed for an obvious free ball often ends up in frustration.
One advantage FIFA always seems to have is its licensing, obviously due to the much bigger budget of EASports when compared to competing titles such as Pro Evolution Soccer. This year, naturally, gamers will enjoy more real world players and teams than ever before, with 18 leagues and over 11,000 real players included. Combine this with the new career mode and you have a very indepth and lasting experience, I can confidently say most soccer fans will probably be enjoying this title all the way up until FIFA Football 2006 as there is much more replay value now with real incentives for winning.
The commentary in FIFA 2005 is probably the best seen in an EASports title this year, but that is no surprise as FIFA has always been good in this regard. I boil the success down to the commentators avoiding creating a "gimmick" in their styles, so it hardly ever feels repetitive or spent even after hearing the same commentary more than once (which doesn't happen all that often anyway). There are some instances where you think "It would have been nice to see them comment on that" but when it comes down to it, the commentary is well balanced to the point where the game doesn't focus too much on it, so it is hard for it to fail.
Unlike most of EASport's 2005 lineup for the PC this year, FIFA Football 2005 really looks very drab. Even at 1280x1024x32 with "High quality", the game doesn't even look like it was made in the year 2000 let alone 2004. Textures are blurry and very low resolution, and while we have already established this is a console port for sure, that is no excuse for not enhancing the visuals for PC usage. It is hard to say that the console version looks better, and it might, but I think the problem here is the PC platform can expose poor visuals far easier than most console setups, and this obvious port doesn't look very good on a crisp PC monitor. Perhaps the only positive aspect concerning the visuals is the unique appearance of each player, as player models really do look like their real life counterparts, but other than that, this is probably the worst looking EASports 2005 title to date. Some gamers won't mind, but when you see titles like Madden NFL 2005 in action, FIFA Football 2005 looks incredibly primitive.
Unfortunately for PC gamers out there, FIFA Football 2005 is probably the best example of a console port you'll find for a while. The menu system is confusing and all over the place, clearly not designed for use with a mouse, and the graphics look like they predate 3D accelerators. If you can put those aside though, FIFA 2005 is a very solid experience with plenty of addictive action for soccer fans everywhere. With an all new career mode, gamers who like a good balance between management and gameplay will find FIFA Football 2005 to play well, however, if you do have access to a console, it is probably a better idea to get the console version.