You have to admire EA's relentless pursuit of the consumer dollar. Less than four months after the release of FIFA 2005, they're at it again with yet another spot-the-difference football title. Coming in a fallow year for international tournaments, somebody must have panicked and swiftly snapped up the Champions League licence. Assuming the game reappears next year, sandwiched between the inevitable FIFA Football 2006 and World Cup 2006, that'll be three games in just over half a year. Respect.
Back to today's game though, it has apparently been developed by a new team at EA Canada (albeit still produced by Bill '12 Players' Harrison).
FIFA in Champions League clothing, you'd naturally assume, and you'd be partly right. However, despite the superficial similarities, the gameplay has been tightened up considerably. Whisper it softly, this is actually a highly playable affair.
How so? For starters, the tackling has been sorted out, forcing you to make the choice between a risky slide or a less effective bout of jockeying. The free kicks have been measurably improved, enabling you to decide whether to shoot or pass. As for the corners, they needed to be drastically improved to be mediocre. They have been, and they are, although in their favour you can now select the type of cross away from the prying eyes of your opponent.
Shooting is initially difficult, with anything from long-range generally flying high and wide. In time though, it becomes manageable, and you actually have to work at it rather than simply pressing a button. The general play is a major improvement, requiring you to work openings, exploit players' individual skills, and effectively play football. Of course, all this comes with the correct names, stadiums and a staggeringly realistic (if eventually repetitive) commentary by Clive Tyldesley and Andy Gray.
Naturally the game modes include the Champions League, enabling you to bend the rules by entering with one of some 240 teams. The competition can also be played out online, something we could almost imagine doing, logistics permitting.
However, arguably of more interest is the bizarre season mode that claims to make UEFA the first mission-based football game. Effectively putting you at the whim of a megalomaniacal new club owner, he doesn't so much meddle in team affairs as give you highly specific orders - such as the number of minutes a certain player should be on the pitch. We were even commanded to immediately sell three first team players following a 0-0 practice match against the reserves; a slight over-reaction, you might think. It's a mildly compelling novelty, but ultimately it's on the pitch that UEFA wins. Punctuation fans will be pleased to learn that while it's not amazingly good, it is, amazingly, good.
Surprisingly, we don't hate it
- Tighter gameplay
- Improved set pieces
- Interesting career mode
- Piss-take radio phone-in
- Needs a PS2 pad
- Inherently unsuited to PC
- About three weeks since FIFA Football 2005