Office debate no. 963. There's something wrong with FIFA 2005. But nobody can agree on what. "It's less, err, fluid than PES4," murmurs writer, Nathan. "The set pieces are rubbish," argues art monkey, Milf. "No, that's not it," offers a mystery voice from a neighbouring Xbox magazine. "The problem is that while PES4 feels like a simulation, FIFA 2005 plays like a game - you've got to think about every move, rather than acting on instinct." The office falls silent. The inability to define the problem is the problem. Unlike PES4, where every button press yields a measurable result, FIFA 2005 too often leaves you guessing.
Take crossing, for example. A lengthy prod of Square sends a floating ball into the box, but even with analogue stick guidance, you're never quite sure where it's heading. Even when you meet the ball with a header, you're never sure if you've held the shoot button long enough, invariably looping the ball wide. Your teammates rarely make intelligent runs, and often go missing, leaving you as the sole midfielder in a sea of opposition players. It's possible to wallop the ball into the top corner from twenty yards, but one-on-ones are invariably smothered by the keeper. You can run thirty yards with a defender trailing behind, but after a while regardless of whether he's made up sufficient ground he'll inevitably regain possession with a slide tackle.
Don't get us wrong. The abiding impression is of an intelligent passing game, but FIFA 2005 seems to be forcing situations to keep everything ticking along. In fairness, PES does exactly the same thing, but does so naturally you rarely spot the computer's balancing intelligence at work (like the way it slyly aligns players for tackles). FIFA 2005 keeps things tight at least, by making, say, Van Nistelrooy inexplicably shin one from five yards, or urging the keeper into a great save.
It's far from bad news. The new First Touch feature works sublimely. A flick of the right analogue stick as you receive the ball, pokes the ball in the corresponding direction and lets you steal a yard on a defender - a feature sorely missing from FIFA 2004, where it was impossible to break the defensive line without repetitive passing triangles. The skill move system has also been refined, so rather than perform a pointless on-the-spot dance before losing possession - like FIFA 2004 - you can snatch a yard and lose the defender. By tapping the right stick at 90? angles to your movement, you can shimmy past opponents sideways, like the invaluable R2 shuffle move in PES. Hold the right analogue away from your direction of movement, and great strikers like Henry will even skip the ball over an advancing keeper another great touch, dependent on timing.
Standard passing is intuitive, if slightly sticky due to the (beautiful) lengthy animation frames. In five minutes, you'll be stroking the ball about like Arsenal, exploiting open space and cute angles. The ability to press o and send players on runs works brilliantly, unlocking defences and showcasing the enhanced through ball dynamics. (Hold L1 and Triangle for lofted passes, like PES). The 'revolutionary' - ie. shit and confusing involving four button presses - Off The Ball system returns, but tucked away like a ginger stepchild. Your capacity to initiate teammate runs is so flexible, it's as if the developers have chosen to keep them still unless prompted. Is it really too much to ask for Frank Lampard to move five yards ahead without having to jam down the Triangle button and pray he reacts in time?
As usual player likenesses are superb, with realistic animation and loquacious commentary. Naturally. Game modes are extensive from the LDV Vans trophy to Spanish Second Division but the haphazard quantity diminishes the prestige of individual events. The 'throw enough shit and it sticks' approach extends to the music, lurching unfathomably from Morrissey, to The Streets to dire Italian house. The Career mode lets you tinker with every element of a club, but when tactics make little difference to the way you play, and with players feeling so similar there's little to choose between Rooney and, say, Tommy Doherty the effort seems wasted.
In terms of individual elements shooting, passing, trickery it's the best FIFA by a mile. Sadly, like Chelsea under Claudio Rainieri, it fails to gel as a team. As with every FIFA, you'll love your first ten minutes, but the compulsion to return soon diminishes. FIFA 2005 might have the First Touch, but lacks the lasting impression.
FIFA 2005 is out now on PS2, Xbox, Gamecube, PC and GBA