Dynasties have a downside: maintenance. EA Sports has been the unchallenged leader in soccer games with its FIFA series for over five years now, and FIFA 2004 still holds the high ground. But the FIFA franchise also finds itself hitting some growing pains as it seeks to add managerial depth.
Getting to run the front office is one of FIFA’s more highly touted features in this 2004 installment, and while there’s a lot to like, rough edges abound. It starts with management user-interface screens that aren’t easily navigated with a mouse, which is a result of FIFA 2004 essentially being a console port. When looking over your roster, you can’t sort players by the various skills to see which player is especially strong in a given area, like, say, shooting.
As you prepare for your next game, there’s no scouting report about which players on your opponent’s team are currently on a tear, which would (and should) influence your defensive marking assignments. Overall, career mode lacks a sense of backstory. And since pro sports are as much about the players as the game itself, having some kind of newspaper or website-style event ticker during the 34-game season (in the case of MLS) would add a much-needed backdrop.
Off the ball, one of FIFA 2004’s noteworthy features is a more sophisticated version of EA’s time-honored player-lock feature, in which you can be one player on the field and call for the ball when the time is right. Wannabe strikers, this is for you. You can get yourself set up, cheat the line on the defenders, get a good look at the net, call for a cross, and drive it home. It works well enough, but it’s poorly documented. In fact, FIFA’s entire manual often gives incomplete instructions on the game’s many features.
The new features’ many rough edges aside, this is still the best soccer game going. Its newest features need some time to mature, but the ingredients that make FIFA a success—great gameplay, a solid graphics engine, and nearly every pro soccer club on the planet—are still there in force. So, if 2006’s World Cup seems like a lifetime away, FIFA 2004 will tide you over until the next time the world gathers to play the beautiful game.
It might be a rough console port, but it’s still the best soccer game on any platform.
Publisher: Ea Sports
Developer: EA Sports
ESRB Rating: E
Required: Pentium III 600, 64MB RAM (128MB RAM for Windows XP or 2000), 32MB 3D card, 800MB Install
Recommended: Pentium III 1GHz, 256MB RAM, 64MB 3D card Multiplayer: Internet, Hotseat (2-4 players)
Copyright © 2003 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in Computer Gaming World.