The Nintendo GameCube didn’t exactly have an embarrassment of riches when it came to football/soccer games. Pro Evolution Soccer (the football series considered by many to be the best during the sixth gen) never even made its way onto the console. I can only assume that Nintendo, Konami or both thought that the game wouldn’t sell as well on the console, and thus, it remained on just the PS2 and Xbox during this time period. Thus, Electronic Arts and the FIFA series were essentially able to corner the market all to themselves as outside of arcade-styled fare such, as Virtua Striker, there wasn’t much for the more serious footy fanatic to enjoy. Hence, why I’m playing FIFA Football 2004 this week and not a game from the PES series.
FIFA Football 2004 came out during a period where the gameplay in the FIFA series was quite clearly trailing Konami’s kickabout. Whereas PES could give you smooth passing and exciting liquid football, the FIFA games were far more of a slog by comparison, and I didn’t even buy a FIFA game from ’99 all the way up to ’07 as a result. However, when going back to play FIFA Football 2004 for this week’s article, I found that it was reasonably playable, which was a pleasant surprise as I was expecting it to be utter gunk. FIFA Football 2004 is hardly perfect, of course, with the dreaded input lag that plagued the series from this time period on full display.
On more than one occasion, I would press the conservative tackle button, only for the opposing player to just lose possession anyway a couple of seconds later. However, the game would still remember that I pressed the button; thus, leading to my player hoofing the ball out of touch because the tackle button also happens to be the shoot button. I lost count of how many times this happened, and it really does make FIFA Football 2004 incredibly frustrating to play at points. It’s a shame because the general gameplay isn’t awful. Though it isn’t as good as PES, FIFA Football 2004 is still playable, with passing working a lot better than in previous games, and the ability to deliver the ball to one of three players by the press of the Z button opening up a new avenue of attacking options.
Set-pieces are also pretty enjoyable as rather than controlling the kick itself, you instead decide where the ball is due to land on a free kick or corner and then take control of the outfield player as you try to get them into a scoring position. There is a genuine thrill that comes from scoring a blistering headed goal on FIFA Football 2004, especially when you’ve bulldozed your way past a slew of defenders to blast it past the keeper. Shooting on a free kick is a bit harder to get a grip on at first, with a wacky golf game-styled swing meter to deal with that feels very hit and miss. Certainly, when you get it right and score a goal, then it feels great, but you best prepare yourself for seeing shots thunder their way into Row AA quite a bit whilst you try to get the hang of it.
FIFA Football 2004 still has its issues, of course. Though passing is improved on the pretty woeful World Cup 2002, sometimes the ball will go in a completely random direction that bears no resemblance to where you have directed the pass or how much force you have used. Running with the ball feels clunky, and sometimes players will just decide to continue to dribble with the ball and completely ignore your inputs, leading to attacks stuttering to a close. The ball physics really don’t feel right either, with the ball seeming to lack any real weight to it, to the point that it almost feels like someone has tampered with the gravity. These issues don’t contrive to make FIFA Football 2004 unplayable, but they do hamper the enjoyment to a certain degree, and they prevent the game from being any more than “alright”.
Graphically, FIFA Football 2004 is pretty hit and miss. Star players, like your Ronaldinhos, certainly look the part, but if you move down to the lower league teams, then be prepared for every player to look the same. The proportions of the players and refs just never really looked right to me either, with it feeling like the heads in particular are somewhat weirdly shaped. All of the player names, teams and kits are fully licensed, which is something FIFA always had over PES, and the presentation is the usual high standard you would expect from FIFA games, with John Motson and Ally McCoist handling the commentary. FIFA Football 2004 isn’t a bad football game, but it’s a shame GameCube owners didn’t get to enjoy the majesty of PES on their console. The game will also eat into your memory card (34 blocks just for one career mode save) as well, so be wary of that if you want to give it a try.