| The PS2 has a great library of football games, Pro Evolution Soccer 3 is currently sat on the thrown but I'm sure EA would love to crack the football genre nut and sit on the thrown itself one day. Last time round EA made a great effort as FIFA 2003 was by far the best FIFA game they have ever released. Now another year has gone by and FIFA 2004 is with us and things are looking good for FIFA as it has introduced some very interesting features that haven't been seen before. |
First and foremost the off the ball play sounds pretty revolutionary and if it works well it will probably prove to be a revolution in the world of football gaming. The idea is that you can play the player on the ball and when you wish to cross and set up a great chance for a goal you may press the L2 button to highlight a number of players to play a potential pass. This works in a similar way to EA's John Madden series where you will snap the ball and press a button to bring up a selection of receivers. Once your receiving players are highlighted you may press the L2 button again to cycle through the receivers. Once you have decided on the player you wish to pass the ball to you may then take control of him with the right analogue stick while running the other guy with the ball on the left analogue stick. So at this point you are controlling two players at the same time. If you want your player that is off the ball to run you will have to hold down the L1 button and control his movement with the right analogue stick. When the time is right you may then pass or cross the ball by pressing either the square button or the triangle button. The square button should cross the ball straight to the receiving player, the triangle should produce a through ball, the player on the ball should be able to play the ball into a clear area in front of the receiving player so he can run straight on to the ball and hopefully have a shot at goal without breaking his stride.
This all sounds great in theory but when to comes to actually pulling this off in the middle of the game you tend to forget about everything you where meant to know and your thumbs can get very tangled and confused in the process. When you eventually get into the off the ball controls you will find it easier to use them against the computer controlled teams as they will give you a second or so to make your decision, one the other hand when playing against a human you will find that your mate will not give you the luxury of that extra second to pull of the killer move and just take the ball from you. The secret to the off the ball control system is to make your decisions in a split second so you can make the play appear and feel seamless.
EA have put a lot of thought and effort into thinking of and producing this new level of gameplay to actually make it work. It will take an amount of practice to make the off the ball system work well but the rewards are worth it as the computer encourages the use of it. Goals are harder to find than in any other FIFA game preceding FIFA 2004 unless you use the off the ball system. As a result the FIFA has much more depth than it has ever had before.
Also new to FIFA 2004 is the free kick system which is similar to golf games of old. You have to place a target cursor on area of the net that you want to the to hit, then you will have to decide what sort of spin you want to put on the ball by positioning the impact cursor on the part of the ball you want your play to kick it. Once you have done this you will have to set of the swing meter. You will have to press the square, circle or cross button to start the meter moving and on the upswing you must stop the meter to determine how much power you want on the shot. The meter will then swing backwards you must stop the cursor in the middle of the meter for good accuracy. If you are making the free kick with Beckham you will find that so long as your spin and accuracy are good he will score more times than not. If you take the free kicks with some player from the third division you will find he will not score as regularly.
Corners are now taken in a different way too, you can use the off the ball control to direct a player into the box for a free shot on goal. Well that is the idea anyway. The main system for corners uses a type of menu system which is similar to the play cards in the John Madden series. You use the menu to select a preset set piece from the menu, these set pieces look very much like the play card on John Madden also. Once you have decided what you want to do you can select a receiver using the corresponding button shown as a symbol over his head. Now you can use the off the ball control to make space for your receiving player by running around and jostling with the other players in the box before the set piece starts. Jostling is basically an animation because you don't actually initiate it in anyway all you have to do is use the left analogue stick to move your player in and around the box and the jostling is done for you.
The PlayStation 2 version of FIFA 2004 features a network option to play FIFA online with other people from around the country. It is also compatible with the USB headset that came with SOCOM. This is great as you can really wind up your opponent after putting the ball in their net. The online game works very well, but it is important that you and your opponent have a good connection so you don't suffer any lag in the game. More than anything the online mode will give FIFA a longer life, it would have been nice to see more people being able to play each match like the multiplayer option that allows up to eight people to play FIFA via two multitaps.
EA have spent a lot of time on the player animations for FIFA 2004 and it really improves the game, as it has done for PES3. FIFA 2004 looks and feels far more silky and fluid. Of all the console versions available it is the GameCube that probably take the biscuit and the PS2 is the least advanced in the visual ranks although the PS2 does have the online mode which is very nice consolation prize.
The football genre has always had a certain pecking order to it with PES sat firmly at the top with FIFA sitting in the second place and the best of the rest flailing behind. I have to tell you that the FIFA franchise is quickly gaining on Komani's excellence and next year could be a different story all together. All FIFA lacks is the pace of PES3 and the finess that it has always been well endowed with, it seems that EA have almost cracked it and the hard part is definitely over.
If you have a couple of consoles you would need to buy FIFA on the PS2, if it is looks you're after the GameCube probably edges out the XBOX version this time round. FIFA is the real deal and with all the official teams and players it feels like the real McCoy, all we need now is that touch of finesse in the gameplay department. Overall FIFA Football 2004 is an excellent game in its own right and one year the crown will be taken from Komami, but not for now.
8.5 out of 10