Less than six months after the release of FIFA 2005, Electronic Arts are shipping out UEFA Champions League 2005. One might presume that another game released so rapidly is a superficially polished clone with the one purpose of boosting profits. But in fairness the creative heads at EA have been busy in the last five months.
UEFA, though based largely on FIFA 2005, shows a few changes. AI is greatly improved in all players, who now take more realistic paths and make sensible passes. The ball only occasionally takes a slightly odd course across the pitch - a regular occurrence in earlier titles.
The overall game controls have also progressed, with free kicks and penalties now feeling less like a lucky dip and more like skill. The basic controls for these actions differ little from those of FIFA, but their accuracy has improved. The referee has become truer to life, making the odd annoying incorrect call. The crowd are likewise more realistic, shouting chants specific to your club.
A new gimmick is a “talk radio station” playing before the match, at half time and at the end, which gives opinions on the game and football in general - an amusing feature. Throughout the match there is a commentary from Clive Tyldesley and Andy Gray. But this does sometimes sound a disjointed and there is little interaction between the two.
The game offers some new and original playing modes. Season Mode adds a welcome twist to the tired championship option. Not only do you play the games, but you choose and design your manager in a ‘create-a-…’ style menu. You then take orders from the owner of the club. His demands vary from match to match - from scoring two goals to keeping certain players on the pitch. But failure to meet his requests results in players being sold, or your swift removal as manager. This is a great new way to introduce an unpredictable structure to the very linear championship mode seen on almost all other games.
Sometimes these objectives can be overly demanding, resulting in objects being thrown at the TV screen. And they can detract from the actual football, but overall this is an extremely innovative feature and a major selling point of the game.
For a (no less riotous) variation, ‘situation mode’ thrusts you into difficult moments of famous matches. Although this has been seen in much earlier games, it makes a welcome change from the norm.
As ever with EA games, all menus are slick and easy to use, as is the Net Play interface. The game as a whole is highly polished. Apart from the addition of Season Mode, it does still feel a little like FIFA 2005 with a few added bonuses and features thrown in which may have already been created for FIFA 2005 in thirdparty Mod Form.
So for those who already have FIFA, this may not be worth the cash. That said, if not a serious challenger to Pro Evolution Soccer, this is a fun game with original features. Expectations are high for FIFA 2006 (and World Cup 2006 after that no doubt).