There's nothing we can tell you about Champions League that you don't already know. But then, you know this. Anyone with half a brain will have mumbled over their pint, as soon as the game was announced by EA, "That'll be FIFA 2005 with half the teams taken out, then."
And you'd have been mostly right. But maybe the inevitability isn't so depressing after all.
Licensed EA products are good. There's no escaping it, and it's the reason the teetering giant of videogames publishing gets so many of them. FIFA is one of the biggest-selling games in the world: EA knows how to do this sort of thing. So, when it comes to making a game about the greatest cup competition on planet football, there really isn't that much of an alternative. If you want all the names, the strips, the stadiums and a thick veneer of professionalism cloying the whole thing like special sauce in the movies from t'internet that mother warned you about, then there's really only one place to look. And both the ref and his assistants agree that it isn't Codemasters.
EA already had Champions League waiting for release before the idea for the game itself was even conceived. Because it really is FIFA with loads of stuff taken out of it and a stultifying injection of UEFA branding. As you begin, the soaring, official music of the league washes out of the TV pulling on reminiscences of hundreds of children wobbling a huge piece of football-shaped cloth around on a football pitch, and a movie rolls focusing very blatantly on Henry and Beckham. We reckon that maybe, just maybe, the focus of the players will be different in different European countries. It's a radical concept.
Then the game. You already know what we're going to say. You're presented with choices of The Season, a quick match, a modes option which includes other league variations (which all amount to the same thing) and scenario football, Live play in the Xbox version, My Champions League (which lets you alter squads, tactics for separate players, music and so on), and a create-a-player section. Obviously, you bought UEFA Champions League because you want to play football in the UEFA Champions League. So you select The Season. Inevitably.
Before you start you're told that the difficulty setting you select will affect the bonus your manager receives should you crush Europe's finest and be crowned king of the continent. Big bonuses unlock big stuff. Onward.
Most of the teams from FIFA aren't included. Obviously. You get the choice of the English Premiership, France's Division 1, Germany's Bundesliga, Italy's Serie A, Spain's Primera, and... that's it. You could argue that it makes for a more streamlined experience, that all the teams you'd ever want to pick, all the important squads are included. But then, you could very easily counter with the fact that you can play UEFA with a copy of FIFA 2005, if you think about it. And still have the options of playing with all the other teams in FIFA's head-splitting pantheon of 350 sides. We'll leave the arguing for now.
You select you manager. You can create a new one if you feel like it, but this isn't necessary. Then scenarios are presented as gloss to the game itself, the first being "Winner Takes All", with a backdrop of a boardroom and a message from the club's owner to the manager. Objectives: "Win Match". Really? "Well, it's the last match of a long, hard season and it all comes down to this. Whichever team wins will takes the full Champions League qualifications places and for the future of this club, it needs to be us. I cannot stress how important is to our club to qualify for the Champions League. I wish the team luck."
It's a shame "our club" couldn't have been substituted with the name of the team. We mean, really.
So off you go. It's Arsenal against Newcastle. Instantly, the glitz that splattered FIFA like so much of the aforementioned gloop is flung at the screen. As you'd expect, UEFA looks amazing, and the commentary focuses on the manager's plight, the tension of the day. It's slick. The weather is summery, St James's Park packed to the gills. The game takes you there. And when the game begins, it's FIFA 2005. It's the same game, and this is no bad thing. Just to recap, FIFA isn't as good as Pro Evolution, but it's got all the right names. If you can imagine us saying this, we've got one finger on our nose and the other pointing directly at your face.
We could go on, but that really is pretty much it. You win the Champions League. That's the point. This is a slick, professional game made to allow those that dream of wearing a United number 9, flirting with Del Piero and dumping him with a quizzical expression in the midfield, then leasing a screaming shot from 30 yards to baffle the keeper, singe the net, reduce the Stadio Delle Alpi to chaos and take glory back to Manchester. It's a good game because FIFA is a good game, and EA produces licensed video game products better than anyone else in the world. But if you own FIFA you're buying it simply for the branding and the thrill of "being in" the Champions League, and your affair with it will be fleeting. As fleeting as the event itself, in reality.
UEFA Champions League is basically a story mode based on FIFA 2005. But then, you knew that already.
6 / 10