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UEFA Champions League ™ 2004-2005 PC & PlayStation 2

Published by EA Sports
Developed by EA Sports
Release Date: Out Now
Price: £39.99 (PS2) £29.99 (PC)

This week has seen the continuation of the Champions League football and from now on it becomes exciting because it's knockout time instead of the boring group format that you have in the first phase. Just in time for recommencement of the competition, EA Sports have released UEFA Champions League 2004-2005 to allow you to play out the competition for yourself. Of course you could play out an unofficial version of the competition in the FIFA games but here you have everything fully licensed with the correct teams prior to the January transfer window activity. This review looks at the PC and PlayStation 2 versions of the game.

UEFA Champions League is not just about the competition itself although naturally it's the main focus of the game. The modes on offer are UEFA Champions League, Tournament, Situation, Online, The Season and Practice. The UEFA Champions League mode allows you to either pick one of the teams who made it to the group stage of the competition or you can substitute one of the teams from another in the same country. So in effect then you could swap Liverpool for West Brom or another English team if you wanted to. Then of course the aim is to win the competition. Practice and Tournament need no explanation but Situation allows you to create a scenario and play it out. For instance you could create a match between Bayern Munich and Arsenal with the score beginning at 3-1 and then take control of Arsenal and attempt to win the match. It's not a bad mode to have but the main mode is The Season.

Contrary to its name, in The Season mode you don't simply play through a season going from match to match. Instead you pick a team (doesn't have to be a Champions League team), create a manager and then you'll have to play through a series of events with the ultimate goal of winning the Champions League. I picked Liverpool and my first task was to win the final game of the season against Newcastle United in order to clinch the fourth and final Champions League space. I managed to win the game only to find that a new owner had bought the club and expected us to go on to bigger things. Pre-season matches followed with goals set for them also. The one I had to win by three clear goals whilst in another I had to keep a clean sheet (concede no goals in other words). The chairman demanded I sold an attacker, midfielder and a defender and with the money raised, I had to buy replacements. Fortunately the sales and purchases were instant so as to avoid any waiting around. Well you get the idea then you simply have to meet the challenges that are thrust your way which leads to the constant improvement of your team.

Let's look at how the game plays then. I was expecting the game to simply be the same as FIFA 2005 and I was surprised to find it's actually a little better but some glitches tend to spoil things somewhat. Player movement seems improved as do the set piece moves especially the free-kicks. Shooting seems a little more intuitive and the game as a whole seems to flow with more realism. It's still not as realistic as the Pro Evolution Soccer series but improvement definitely seems to be being made. However, there are some things which spoil the game to some degree. Penalties are sometimes given when it's clearly obvious that no foul was made. Some offside decisions seem dodgy to say the least and the lack of a radar (the small overhead view of the pitch that usually sits at the bottom of the screen) is definitely a negative point. However whilst these problems can be overcome, I experienced one bug which plain annoyed me.

Playing in a game I needed to avoid losing by 3 clear goals I was in the uncomfortable position of being 3-1 down. It looked like I was (just about) going to get the result I needed to qualify for the next round when disaster struck as my defender, who was about 3 virtual feet away, was judged to have hacked down the opponent's striker in my penalty box. After that Oscar winning performance the opponent's striker picked himself up, placed the ball on the penalty spot and then hit the ball towards my goal. My keeper agonisingly stretched for the ball only to deflect the ball just inside the post. A goal! Well yes it was a goal but hang on a minute the referee had just given a corner. Thinking I had been mistaken I pressed the start button and watched the action replay. The ball definitely went just inside the post and then proceeded to bobble toward the back of the net so why was the corner given? It's a bug, a big dirty bug that thankfully let me off the hook as the match finished 3-1 but nevertheless it's disappointing to see it and as this was on the PlayStation 2 version there's no chance of a patch.

UEFA Champions League doesn't really offer any graphical advances from FIFA 2005. The game does look good though and as you'd expect the PC version looks the best of all partly due to the high resolutions the game can run in. For some reason the developers chose to display the matches in a letterbox format with player details and the score being shown in the borders. Whilst this isn't a bad thing as such, if you don't like it it's irritating that you can't disable this view and return to a full screen display. The default camera view is a zoomed out view which personally I prefer but you can alter it if you wish. The player likenesses are average with some players being recognisable and some looking nothing like the players. The presentation though is superb and wipes the floor with other football games on the market. You'll see split screen action replays and picture-in-picture of your manager during a game (in The Season mode) which definitely gives the game a TV style presentation. Load times can be rather painful on the PlayStation 2 but on the PC they are very quick and it's quite a contrast moving from one version to another.

Whilst UEFA Champions League is fine for deaf gamers there are some omissions. The match commentary is unsubtitled, which is always to be expected but there is a lack of text messages or icons to inform you of refereeing decisions. For example you'll get no visual indication that a handball foul has been committed. You'll simply see the break in play and a player raising his upturned hands as if to say 'I'm innocent ref'. Whilst playing The Season mode there is also an EA Sports Talk Radio show being played which discusses how your team has been playing. None of this is subtitled although to be fair it's not really important. All information outside of a game is shown in text though (apart from the EA Sports Talk Radio) and you'll always know what your objectives are. When playing The Season mode you can pause a match at any time and check what goals need to be accomplished which is very useful indeed.

People are always sceptical about sports games that are simply based on one competition because they feel it's not going to be worth the asking price due to its limited replay value. UEFA Champions League 2004-2005 stands up well to this kind of criticism and the inclusion of The Season mode makes it worthwhile for fans of the FIFA series. Not forgetting of course that on both PC and PlayStation 2 you can take the game online and play in exhibition games as well as arrange a tournament, which again adds value to the game. However my satisfaction with the game was dented by some of the decision making issues within the game. The aforementioned 'goal that never was' incident being the most disappointing of all. This is a rare glitch to be fair but it nevertheless could ruin your enjoyment (if this occurred in an online game you'd be furious) of what is otherwise a good football game.

Overall Game Rating: 7.0/10

A worthwhile game based on the premier European club competition. The game plays better than FIFA 2005 but there's a few glitches that should have been ironed out.

Deaf Gamers Classification:

(Click the letter or here for details)

You'll be completely unaware of the Talk Radio and some icons (or text) for refereeing decisions would have been nice.