Sharing the field with the publisher's perennially popular FIFA games, EA Sports' UEFA Euro 2004: Portugal is designed to deliver the pride and competition of the title tournament to futbol fans in North America. The 2004 Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) finals matches, held in a selection of Portuguese cities through June and early July, are the focus of this game, which features the 51 national teams involved.
Gamers can play a friendly with any of the included squads, or enter the "EURO 2004" mode and try to take their teams to the top of the ladder. To earn the championship, however, even FIFA veterans may need to master this release's new moves, such as through passes, chip shots and fake shots, bicycle kicks, and diving headers. Other modes in UEFA Euro 2004 include "Home and Away," which supports the two-leg format; "Situation" and "Tournament," which allow users to create custom challenges; and "Fantasy," which lets fans draft a "dream team" from a pool of all players available in the game.
I admit that little opening was a tad cliché and probably not as funny as I had hoped, but I figured that it's a pretty good lead in to the new soccer game for PC by EA Sports called UEFA Euro 2004. Obviously, I'll get into all the good stuff here in a sec about the gameplay and whatnot, but let me just open this whole thing up by saying that I don't really care for soccer that much. Well, it's not that I don't like it ... it's just that I'm more of the football and hockey kind of guy and usually when I watch matches on TV, it's not much more to me than a bunch of guys running around kicking a ball. I honestly learned a lot more about the sport after playing this, and while die hard soccer fans will like this game, it takes a REALLY good game to make someone like me enjoy it when they aren't even really into the subject matter to begin with.
Euro 2004 does not include all teams from all countries in the game to play with, as you can imagine since it's not FIFA, but instead focuses on the biggest league out of Europe (per my understanding) so you can select from teams like Portugal, Russia, Spain, and the Netherlands. The controls, which are changeable to your individual liking, work pretty well on the keyboard if you don't have a gamepad to play with. Movement of the players is done through the arrow keys, and things like passes, lobs, headers, volleys, fakes, and sprinting are all done using keys that are close together and in easy reach (W,A,S,D,Q, etc). Also, holding the shoot or pass keys down will enable you to shoot or pass it harder or softer, which helped out a lot in trying to be as accurate as possible.
There were a couple of things that really helped me to get into the game and enjoy it, even though I didn't really know what I was doing the first time I fired it up. For starters, there are a couple of different game modes that you can select from, like a tournament mode, a friendly game, online mode (oh yes, online mode!), and a cool practice mode to help you learn the controls, learn how to pull off some fancy shots, and even do some tricky maneuvers like faking a shot to send the goalie the wrong way so you can pop an easier goal out of him. The practice mode puts a few of your guys out against a goalie (or you can add more defenders once you feel up to it to try your skill), and this really helped me get into the game a lot more. In addition, there is also a Fantasy mode (which I'll get into here in a second), a home and away mode, a situation mode (set your own scores, timer, etc), and even a PK (penalty kick) Shootout mode.
After hitting the practice field, off to a friendly game I went to see how good I had really gotten. Now, I will admit that I played as one of the top teams in the game, and got hammered by the worst team by a score of 3 - 0, but I still had a lot of fun doing it. The gameplay was pretty solid, and teammates really did move and react the way that I thought that they should have. Anytime I was moving the ball down the field, other players would try to get open or sometimes they would head in near me to help me out if I were getting approached by a defender. Also, the opponent AI is pretty sharp as well, and while it wasn't overly difficult (even though I did get beat), they put up enough of a challenge so that I didn't walk all over them like I have done in games like Madden or NHL when I have the difficulty down or I'm playing against a bad team.
Lastly, there is a kind of "Dream Team" mode called Fantasy Mode that you die hard Pele's out there can utilize to trade players and build up your ultimate soccer team based on your favorite players from the league (if you follow it). This of course really will add a lot of gameplay and enjoyment for those of you who can really get in and assemble your own teams to your liking, and ultimately will be a lot of fun to put your own players together and head online to battle it out with other people and their ultimate picks. You can also play a two player game on the PC itself, provided that one player is OK on the keyboard and the other can hang with a gamepad.
Graphically, Euro 2004 is really sharp in my opinion. The players move well and look decent, and while watching the action from the high up camera vantage point, the action on the field looks like it does if you sit down to watch it on TV. The replays were great (in typical EA replay fashion), and in addition to that, the crowd of course goes nuts over good or bad plays or yellow / red cards that are tossed out for penalties, and there are even some little additions in there like three players standing in a line that will hop together to the sides as you try to line up a wall for a penalty kick.
The sound in Euro was also pretty top notch, with commentators that called the game pretty straight (none of that "5 minutes after the fact" stuff here), and the crowd will begin chants and such as the game is being played, which really added to the realism of the experience. The music consists of actual rock and techno tracks too, which was cool to listen to even if it didn't really jump out and grab you while playing the game.
Overall, as I stated before, EA did a really good job on Euro 2004, even if some of you may not be hip on not being able to play as the U.S. or one of the other teams not featured, but ultimately it's a solid game with good gameplay, good graphics, and good sound. It also contains enough features to give the majority of gamers out there something to fit to their liking, and even people who may not be huge soccer fans can still get in and play it and will probably have a good time.
People who downloaded UEFA Euro 2004 Portugal have also downloaded:
UEFA Euro 2000, UEFA Champions League 2004-2005, FIFA World Cup: Germany 2006, 2002 FIFA World Cup, FIFA World Cup 98, UEFA Euro 96 England, FIFA Football 2003 (a.k.a. FIFA Soccer 2003), UEFA Champions League 1996/97
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