For years, Electronic Arts has been the undisputed champion of
soccer videogames with its “FIFA Soccer” series. With
no real competition, most gamers have seen “FIFA” as
the only place to go for a virtual game of soccer.

Mira Levitan

In response to the “Winning Eleven” series from
Konami, EA has produced “FIFA 2004,” one of the most
comprehensive soccer games ever. A career mode has been added in
addition to more teams and stadiums — even the lower
divisions of the most popular European leagues are included.

The presentation is so professional that it feels like watching
the English Premier League. After someone scores off a set piece or
a cross into the penalty box, commentators John Motson and Ally
McCoist will diagram the play using a telestrator. “FIFA
2004” also delivers an outstanding soundtrack. It includes
more than 40 songs from global artists, such as the Dandy Warhols
and Paul Van Dyk.

Massive changes have been made to the game over the past two
years, making “FIFA 2004” the most realistic
“FIFA” yet. No longer can one easily move up the field
by stringing a few passes together. Also, the ball no longer sticks
to your feet when you run, making it much more difficult to
control. A new feature taken from the “NBA Live” series
is Off the Ball Control.”This lets you move another player,
allowing you to connect on lob passes and through balls.

Another fascinating feature is career mode, in which you gain
prestige points as a manager by obtaining goals according to the
quality of your club. These points can then be used to improve your
own players and attract others.

The game is fun if you are a fan of European club soccer, but
gamers who like international play will be disappointed, as just 35
national teams and no international tournaments are included. This
is a drastic change from past games, in which you could qualify for
the World Cup with any national team.

Another flaw of the 2004 version is that it is sprinkled with
mistakes, such as Motson declaring a team the new league champions
after finishing not even half a season. It also does not encompass
as much as the dynasty modes in other EA titles. And no matter what
club you control, you cannot play in any of the European
competitions until you qualify for them through a 40-plus game
season.

Despite its shortcomings, “FIFA 2004” is still worth
a try for anyone who likes or ever wanted to learn more about
soccer. However, after playing for a while, you’ll wish you
got a little more.

Rating: 3 stars.

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