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UEFA Champions League 2004-2005 (GameCube) Review

As if FIFA every year wasn't enough, EA are now treating us to UEFA every 12 months as well. The game is based on the glitz and glamour football of the UEFA Champions League and features all the worlds greatest teams from Real Madrid to Juventus, Bayern Munich and Aston Villa...quite. Based on the FIFA engine with one or two tweaks, this is EA's latest attempt to crack the secret code that has been eluding them for years now: how to make a football game that is even half as good as Pro Evolution.

FIFA 2004 didn't do too badly, but after a few weeks of play any idiot could score ten goals against any opposition on World Class mode, somewhat ruining the challenge of the whole occasion. FIFA 2005 was better still, with the much lauded 'great first touch' feature coming into play. Once again, FIFA had stepped up a gear, but sloppy player AI and predictable computer teams meant for frustrating times. So, here we are at UEFA Champions League 2004/05 and we have to say this is probably the best 'FIFA' game so far.

The main bulk of the game is set in The Season mode. In more than a nod, wink and nudge towards a certain Russian billionaire taking over a certain London based 'football club' you are set in the following scenario: in the Champions League, new billionaire owner and huge pressure to succeed or you will get the sack (ala Claudio Ranieri). Once we had lowered our cynical eyebrows for long enough to get into the game we were pleasantly surprised as to what we found.

For our first season we chose to take control of Liverpool. After beating Newcastle on the last day of the season to get the vital three points needed to get into Champions League, along comes Roman Abramovic a new billionaire owner, insults everything that Liverpool FC stand for and promptly forces you to sell half your squad, replace it with overpaid foreigners and then play in friendlies against such footballing giants as Rangers, Aberdeen and some Norwegian team we dare not type.

With all that faff out the way, the season proper can start. Emphasis in UEFA is certainly on all that is cinematic about football. When browsing through the menus during the post and pre match periods, making changes to your squad and suchlike you are accompanied by 'EA Sports Talk Radio'. So instead of EA's normal selection of awesome muzak you now have to put up with two idiots making irrelevant comments about the game you just played: "So many goals there, it was almost a cricket score" announced one pundit after our 2-1 win over Basle. "Oooh, that player had a cracking game, I can't quite remember his name but he played so well" muses a caller on the show, conveniently not having to name the player as part of his beautifully scripted banter. Nice as it is, when you start hearing the same stupid comments for about the fifth time, teeth start to grind a little.

The actual season itself is made out of 50 different tasks. Most of these entail winning games, but there are some trick cards hidden in the deck. At various points you will have to clear out some of your less talented players (au revoir Vladimir Smicer and Igor Biscan) in return for some slightly better ones (bonjour Ronaldinho and Ruud van Nistelrooy). So after a few hours of play our Liverpool team read like this: GK: Dudek, RB: Finnan, CB: Campbell, CB: Hyppia, LB: Risse, RM: Ronaldhino, CM: Gerrard, CM: Alonso, LM: Nedved, CF: van Nistelrooy, CF: Cisse. Taking your team into action for proper is the best bit of the game, and EA present it very well indeed. With emphasis on the cinematic you are lead into the stadium with long sweeping shots of the crowd, the players running out and the booming operatic sounds of the Champions League anthems and shots of you (the manager) geeing the players up.

This is another great aspect of UEFA. Here, you get to design the manager. From glasses to hair colour and even the type of suit he wears, his nationality and face shape, you can change just about everything. To start with, your options are limited, but as you play more and more of the game and get more and more points you will unlock more and more options and extras. A lot of them are fairly stupid 'comedy bonus' options, but some can prove to be quite entertaining.

So, here we sit with a new world class squad and a season of 50 challenges ahead of us. You would think that most of them would start at kick off with the simple message of 'Win the game or else' presented in front of you, but this isn't the case. In some instances you will be away to some obscure European minnow in Champions League Qualifying and find yourself 1-0 down in the 75th minute. The request? Get an away goal and don't concede. This can be vastly frustrating as the fact that your team is losing to some Swedish pub outfit is nothing to do with you, but if you manage to get over that minor niggle some of the scenarios present quite massive challenges. Derby day, 3-0 down against Everton, down to 10 men and just 25 minutes gone, you have to WIN the game. Far more fun than hammering each and every team you come across, the scenarios add a sense or realism. Football in the real world isn't like football in the game world, strange things happen to players and teams, and the scenarios created simply force these upon you in the gaming world.

The actual gameplay is where UEFA really shines. The FIFA engine is becoming more authentic with each version released. Long gone are the days when arcade football was the name of the game, UEFA is aiming for the frantic, beautiful and gritty realism that makes football the greatest game in the world. The most improved aspect is the player AI. Previous football titles from EA have been cursed with idiotic opponents and team-mates that take about five minutes to work out, now they are just about impossible to suss. Formations are far more fluid and natural, so setting up a 4-4-2 will no longer mean that when you get the ball in an advanced midfield position you find your wingers standing perfectly fixed to the half-way line. If you start pushing up and attack, your defence will push up with you to create a better tempo to the game. Your full-backs will push on into more advanced positions, and when they do your wide midfield players will come inside and start making darting runs into the box to get on the end of crosses or hammer home knock-downs. It plays like real football, not like some flimsy arcade mock-up.

And you can score great goals too. We will take this opportunity to show off a little bit. 2-1 down against Barcelona at Anfield at half-time we had to win the game to progress (having drawn 0-0 at the Camp Nou). On 51 minutes, Nedved picked up the ball in space on the left wing, beating two Barca players he drilled the ball into the box, it was flicked on by van Nistelrooy for Djibril Cisse to flip head over heals from 12 yards out and hammer overhead into the top corner of net; 2-2. 85 minutes on the clock and just about the entire Barcelona team had camped out in their six-yard box, we set out formation so that just about everyone was in attack.

John Arne Risse picked up the ball about 30 yards out and was fouled horribly by a Barca midfielder. Free-kick to Liverpool. Gerrard stands over the ball, we go for a top corner drive that should just peak over the wall and drop down in time to go in. The thousands in the crowd fall almost silent, Gerrard runs up and the ball flies into the top corner of the net; 3-2 Liverpool. The manager goes wild, all the players start running around the pitch. Barcelona kick off the game again and immediately they go to an insanely attacking formation in search of an equaliser. Finnan gives away a penalty in stoppage time with a rash tackle, Eto'o steps up, and hammers the ball towards the top-left corner, but with an outstretched arm Dudek punches it away. The corner comes in, Alonso heads it away, the final whistle blows and Anfield explodes in joy. Liverpool were through to the next round.

If that doesn't tempt you into wanting to have a look at this game, nothing will. It makes football terrifically exciting, just like it should be. You can perform tricks, step-overs, put in perfect through balls, send players on mazy runs, flick the ball over the defence for your strikers to run onto, curl in delicious crosses and free-kicks that are just begging to be headed or volleyed into the net.

Elsewhere, the game looks and sounds awesome, with all the official stadiums, players and club chants present and correct. The sound of your favourite clubs fans going wild as you tear apart some of the best European opposition out there is awesome, and it looks just as good. EA have also put in a simple pick-up and play area to the game, whereby you select two teams and play a normal match between them. The games multi-player is also brilliantly good fun, inviting over some mates for a tournament or two is a real blast.

You can also create your very own scenarios. Fancy being 1-0 down needing a draw to progress? Set up a game to be at 90 minutes with your team just being awarded a penalty or free-kick, see if you can score. If all the scenario nonsense gets annoying, you can always set up a tournament, although this mode is somewhat limited due to a lack of transfers and interactivity you get with your team.

Gameplay

Never before has an EA developed football game played so well. This feels more like real football than ever before. Great touch, excellent player AI and movement and totally fluid games make for an experience that is always exciting.

Graphics

One of the best looking football games out there. The whole thing is presented with a real feeling of grandeur. The wide-screen aspect of the in-game display works very well, and the cinematic replays (whilst annoying at times) only add to the atmosphere. All the players look authentic enough and the whole thing moves along in a very slick fashion.

Sound

If it weren't for 'EA Sports Talk Radio' this would be a lot higher. The simple fact is, the feature that EA herald so highly is mostly annoying tat that gets you reaching for the mute button. The in game sound however, is simply awesome and very atmospheric.

Value

The Season mode lasts 50 scenarios, and can be completed really quite quickly. We weren't too compelled to try again with another team, and whilst it is good fun the whole thing feels a little limited. With the lack of a developed tournament or season mode whereby you can play every game the only option left for you is to play the same sorts of scenarios again, make up your own or simply pick up and play random games either by yourself or with your mates.

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Good - Bronze Award

About this score
Rated 7 out of 10

Much as we laud it in the main review (and rightfully so) this game is nothing more than a painfully obvious attempt to cash in. We would advise you perhaps wait for the next FIFA game. Of course, if you can pick this one up on the cheap it is the ideal game for any football lover and will be sure to provide you with many hours of awesome ball-kicking related goodness. Good work EA.

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27.03.2005

5

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Developer

EA Canada

Publisher

EA Sports

Genre

Sport

Players

4

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

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Reader comments - add yours today Comments on this Review

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I really enjoyed this one, I would just feel a little bit cheated had I paid the full

Trying to think of a witty signature after 'Hacker-gate'...

Hmm unsure whether to get this or FIFA Street, I am in the mood for a good ol' football game at the moment, and this does sound pretty good. Or wait for FIFA 2006...damn it EA!

Senior ModeratorStaff Member

I should be getting FIFA Street next week, so it'll be good to see the comparison...! :Smilie

Adam Riley < Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited >
Word of Adam | Voice123 Profile | AdamC3 on Twitter

Fifa street is beyond awful. Seriously its slow unresponsive crap.

I had an inkling that might be the case. Ah well, I don't have to review it :-D

Trying to think of a witty signature after 'Hacker-gate'...

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