24th Sep 2004 | 14:59
By a cruel stroke of fate, the review copy of FIFA 2005 dropped on my doormat on the very same day as an early copy of Pro Evolution Soccer 4. Guess which one I've been playing the most? The one I'm being paid to, naturally, as beyond all else, I am a professional. Not that it makes an iota of difference. Anyone who can distinguish between shit and treacle knows that PES is by far the superior game, yet FIFA continues to outsell it by the bucketful - thanks largely to official licences and a marketing budget that could buy Rooney.
Much of the game's appeal has to do with aesthetics, and while there's undeniably a minor thrill to be had in running out at Old Trafford in this year's kit, for all the difference it makes you might as well be watching it on TV. And while Pro Evo is traditionally categorised as the more hardcore game, in actual fact this is something of a red herring - it's FIFA that actually requires the greater joypad gymnastics to instigate such half-baked ideas as the Off The Ball controls.
This year's gimmick is the First Touch feature, whereby a tap of the second analogue stick causes the receiving player to play the ball into space. At best you'll buy yourself half a yard, but as often as not it results in losing possession and is scarcely worth the risk.
So with the main new feature largely redundant, you're simply left with yet another sluggish, indistinguishable FIFA game. It's also tactically perverse, with defenders lurking on the edge of the box, and forwards showing little inclination to push up.
The counter-intuitive control system means that you're often battling against the game rather than the opposition, and it's mainly unsatisfying. The set pieces remain dreadful, and in football you're only as strong as your weakest link. Overall, it's a remarkably uninvolving experience, and scoring or conceding goals barely registers a flicker of emotion.
If you can cope with it, there is a 15-season career mode in place, although it's not entirely realistic. For instance, having been sacked from Chester City following a dismal start to the season (that bit is realistic) I immediately secured a post at crack Brazilian outfit Vasco da Gama. Along with these two ends of the footballing spectrum, there are more than 350 official team and league licences from around the world, as well as some 12,000 licensed players.
But I'll never see more than a fraction of them, as FIFA 2005 has already been ditched in favour of PES4, a game that will comfortably last through winter and beyond. I'm wasting my time. Thank you and goodbye.