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FIFA Football 2004 Xbox

Published by EA Sports
Developed by EA Sports
Released: Out Now
Price: £39.99

Whilst the PlayStation 2 is blessed with several excellent football games the Xbox is not. Recently we looked at Chelsea Club Football and in all honesty it wasn't the best football game ever and somewhat disappointing. FIFA Football 2004 is the latest title in the FIFA series and it brings with it some rather nice additions. Off the ball control, an impressive career mode and a multitude of leagues, teams and players are just some of the things you can look forward too with FIFA 2004.

FIFA games have always had numerous gameplay modes and the 2004 version is no exception. There is the standard exhibition game (choosing play now from the main menu will allow you to play an exhibition game), a career mode, a tournament mode and a practice mode. You can even import your teams from Total Club Manager 2004 (although the game isn't out yet). Whilst the practice and tournament modes are good (you can play through any club competition that you like), the heart of the game is the career mode. The career mode sees you taking charge of a team and trying to achieve a set of objectives given to you by the board. You can buy and sell players and control training sessions etc. It's not as deep as the dynasty mode in Madden NFL 2004 but it's certainly impressive.

The gameplay has been improved somewhat for this years addition. What has impressed me the most is the quality of the goalkeepers who no longer seem to make stupid mistakes or palm the ball into their own net. Defenders too are much meaner than in previous versions and it can prove really tricky when trying to dribble the ball into the opponents penalty area because the defenders will hound you all the way and have a knack of tackling the ball from your feet as you are about to shoot. In fact it's easier to score from outside the penalty area than it is to get into the penalty area and score. EA Sports have included all the Nationwide league teams this year and while this is an excellent addition it's certainly no fun playing with a third division team as the players can feel sluggish and scoring free kicks and fancy goals is much more difficult when controlling players of a lower standard. To be fair though this is to be expected but some of the lower league teams do have some exceptional talent and in real life these players stand out in their inferior company.

The major innovation in FIFA 2004 is the new off the ball control that you now have. As we have mentioned the defenders in FIFA 2004 are quite impressive and to get behind them can be difficult. However thanks to the off the ball control you have of your players you can make this task easier. When you possession of the ball you press the white button, to activate the off the ball move, and then several of your players will have numbers over their heads. Highlight the one you want with the left trigger and then you can use the right analogue stick to control their movement to make them run into space before you deliver the pass. Initially this seems awkward but it gets easier with practice and once mastered can be very effective. You don't always get time to setup such a move though but thankfully most of the time after you've activated the off the ball move, the ideal player will be automatically selected so you don't have to mess around with selecting a player.

Whilst the majority of the gameplay in FIFA 2004 can be considered an improvement the set controls, particularly for taking corners could have been better. Taking corners is fiddly and far more complicated than it should be. On receiving a corner you'll be presented with a menu that allows for a near post corner, far post corner, driven corner etc. You select one of these and choose the player (by pressing the relevant button who you want to pass to. Control then switches to the selected player and you battle for position and attempt to move to where the ball is destined to go to (shown on the pitch). It's over complicated and just doesn't feel right. The direct free kicks on the other hand are much better. You simply move the targeting cursor to where you want the ball to go (preferably an area of the goal, apply spin to the shot and then apply power and accuracy using the kick meter. The more talented the player the easier this is. It may seem complicated but in practice it's a simple and effective method of taking direct free kicks.

In terms of presentation FIFA 2004 is superb and easily the most stylish football game in existence. The game consists of 18 leagues (including the three Nationwide leagues for the first time so you can play as Kidderminster or West Brom), 350 teams and 10,000 players. I was surprised to see the lower Nationwide league teams in all their correct kits with sponsors names too. There are a fair amount of official stadiums included too such as Old Trafford, the San Siro and Stamford Bridge to name just a few. If you want to play in a virtual football world that's almost a mirror image of the real one then FIFA 2004 is your game.

Graphically FIFA 2004 is quite the looker too. The players and the stadia all look impressive. The player likenesses are a mixed bag though. Some are excellent and others are merely decent but on the whole you can recognise who is meant to be who. The players animate rather nicely too and you can easily make out who is tired or injured by the way they move. I suppose the most pleasing aspect for fans of the FIFA series is that this years version doesn't suffer from slowdown in any way, which is a common problem with sports games in general. No such worries for FIFA 2004 though and it remains smooth throughout the game.

Essentially FIFA 2004 is the best football game you can buy for the Xbox. It's not perfect and there is still some room for improvement but there is more than enough here to satisfy Xbox owning football fans. FIFA 2004 is fine for deaf gamers. Apart from the unsubtitled match commentary there are no other problems. The Xbox version doesn't have any support for Xbox Live so unless your friends are in the same room as you, this version is a single player game only. Thankfully though the AI plays a good game and on the higher difficulty settings you'll certainly enjoy a challenge.

Overall Game Rating: 8.5/10
FIFA 2004 is easily the best football game you can buy for Xbox. Once again EA Sports' presentation is immaculate and the game is feature rich. Definitely a step forward for the series.

Deaf Gamers comment:
Match commentary is not subtitled but otherwise FIFA 2004 is absolutely fine for deaf gamers.