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FIFA 2004 returns in a new box and minus the club teams - bargain!

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

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Another feast of football is upon us already, forcing our already fragile constitutions into repeated bouts of liver damage and the consumption of unhealthy quantities of red meat. It's all about the testosterone, and if our enraged reaction to those bitter three minutes between the hours of approximately 9.30 and 9.34pm GMT on Sunday 13th June 2004 are anything to go by, we're overdosing on the stuff. Pass us another steak, our loving, caring female side is returning just at the very point we need to take EA to task for repackaging FIFA once again.

By virtue of the fact that Euro 2004 is very obviously FIFA 2004 under the bonnet, most of you will know the drill already. It not only looks the same, but to all intents and purposes plays the same as well, featuring the tricky to master Off The Ball control that most fans of the series didn't seem to warm to all that much for all its good intentions.

Eat football pie

On the face of it, Euro 2004 has everything a fan of digital merchandising could wish for - all 51 teams involved in the qualifying rounds, not to mention, of course, the 16 finalists that made it to Portugal, all complete with reasonably decent approximations of the final squads (as good as they can be, given the game's information is now several months out of date).

In typical EA style most of the key players have exceptionally good facial likenesses, but like we said, given that it’s the FIFA 2004 engine, you'll not be remotely surprised by any of this - you might, however, be surprised to find yourself asked to fork out full price for what amounts to a slight change of data.

The game itself has a few minor novelties, but ones that you would entirely expect, to be fair. In addition to being able to play through the qualifying rounds with whoever you fancy, you can create your own fantasy team or just jump straight into the final stages of the competition to right the wrongs of England Vs France. One thing you absolutely, categorically do not do, Sven, is put Emile Heskey on the pitch. You see what happens? You see?

Morale dilemma

As you progress through whatever tournament you wish, EA tries to make things interesting by meddling with their morale ratings. Players out of form, or dropped, injured, or just plain hacked off with the result will rise and fall accordingly, making your job as manager somewhat less straightforward than just picking the team and getting on with it. Accordingly you can juggle your resources as you see fit, and tinker with the tactics and formation in a myriad of ways, but underneath it's the same old FIFA, and simply something you can't get away from.

Even the frame rate issues so apparent in FIFA 2004 return to haunt us, while the general front end - so slick in FIFA - just looks knocked up as if it was a placeholder no-one had time to work on. Stood next to some of EA's blindingly brilliant examples of slick presentation, the whole thing looks a tad shabby. As for the oft celebrated visuals, they look bizarrely blurry as if EA has worked on an anti aliasing technique to make them look as good as possible on smaller TVs. On a pin sharp big screen, the whole effect makes the character models look dull - although in comparison to the competition they still look convincing, which is obviously the main thing EA wants to achieve.

Having not played FIFA for a while now, going back to the Off The Ball mechanics feel unnatural. Without them it's a major chore trying to score against even the minnows, which is a tad humiliating. Two player games similarly lack that instant thrill of a sackful of goals that FIFA is so renowned for, although that soon changes once you start mastering some of those defence splitting runs. We hate to say it, though, it just doesn't feel as natural, as skilful or as much fun, and as much as it's good to see some new ideas, this one is not as well implemented as you'd hope, lacking the intuitive nature that's required, and eventually proving to be something of a shortcut to the real skill it ought to take to pull of such moves.

Bedtime stories

Of course, if you're one of the oddballs that hasn't bought a footy game yet and don't have a FIFA or PES to call your own, there's a decent game from Konami retailing at half the price if you fancy getting into a game admired the world over. We've said it enough times before and we'll say it again. Pro Evolution may lack the gloss of FIFA, but as a game of computer football it has no equal. Repeat those word to yourself every night before bed.

For those of you that really insist on having the 'official' Euro 2004 product, then here it is. It's fair to say that it does precisely what it says on the box, and from a commercial standpoint you can't exactly blame EA for capitalising on the public demand, but from our critical standpoint this release is close to being an insult to the FIFA fans, and on that basis you shouldn't go near it. For anyone else, it's a reasonably clinical package with a decent though not spectacular footy game somewhere under the glitz and licensing efforts, but you'd still be better off scouting around on the transfer lists for a better value signing. Not everyone's as much of donkey as Heskey.

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6 / 10

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