Windows – 1997
Also available on: Genesis
|Alt names||FIFA: Rumbo al Mundial 98, FIFA: En route pour la coupe du monde 98, FIFA: Die WM-Qualifikation 98, FIFA: A Caminho da Copa 98, FIFA ロード・トゥ・ワールドカップ 98|
|Theme||Licensed Title, Soccer / Football (European)|
|Perspective||2D scrolling, Bird’s-eye view|
|Publisher||Electronic Arts, Inc.|
|Developer||Electronic Arts Canada|
Description of FIFA: Road to World Cup 98
Going once…. Going twice… EA Sports. The most successful of PC sports gaming companies had a terrible last year. I am not referring to their sales figures, but rather to the quality of their games. Their 97 line had a common problem- too much looks, too little play. One game that went disastrously wrong in this regard was FIFA 97 – it is now one year later, and I STILL can’t make heads or tails of its, err, intricate control system. But one has to admit- FIFA 97 looked good. Very, very good, in fact. With most of the other EA Sports games suffering from this same problem in 1997, I was a little cautious when the 98 ones appeared. Especially as they were saying the same things all over again- improved graphics, improved looks, improved feeling of being there… it all sounded a bit too familiar. Then, slowly but surely, my worries were set aside. First it was NHL 98, a fabulous looker, obviously, and incidentally the best PC arcade Hockey game ever. Then came one of the loveliest surprises of the season, NBA Live 98, that, while still needing a patch to reach its full potential, is one heck of a fun game to play. Need I say that it looks amazing too? But as the days went by, and FIFA 98 was growing near, those worries crept slowly back in. We all know that football, not the American version, is one of the hardest sports games to put on a PC screen. We know that, not only by any objective criterion, like the slow nature of the sport, but also by the fact that good PC soccer games are so impossible to find. Sega World Wide Soccer was, and I quote myself, “the best 3D football game for the PC”. While it is true that it is indeed a good game, it certainly isn’t on par with games like Links LS or Nascar Racing 2 when compared to the sport they are representing. Note that I used the word “was” back there. When referring to WWS being the best. And if you wish to know why, well, you will simply have to read on, won’t you? Just a little more patience, please Patience, because I wish to talk about the little details first. You know, things like installation and options and interface. Things that I am obliged to mention as a reviewer and that you need to know as a prospective buyer, but that you might not really wish to spend a lot of time reading about. I’ll try to keep it short, then. First of all, installation. FIFA 98 uses the same installation method that the rest of *EA Sports****Win95*** games use. It is simple, effective, trouble free, and comes in six languages (English, French, Dutch, German, Swedish and Spanish). Being the brave (and stupid) reviewer that I am, I decided to check the installation options when I started writing the review. This constituted of an uninstall and reinstall… then a phone call dragged me from my computer during the uninstall part, and I absent-mindedly turned it off when it was done. I am happy (happy? overjoyed!) to say that after all of this, reinstalling later restored everything to the way it was before, including all my saved files and configurations. Good job there. The game, by the way, takes less than 120MB for the full installation (which you can only do through choosing everything in “custom”), not 150MB as it says, and I highly recommend it as it is only 12MB bigger than “typical”. When you are done, you will have the option to install DirectX5. When installation is complete, and you run the game, you are immediately treated to a great opening video, and also a double-great, super-wonderful, wowee! soundtrack. FIFA 98 ‘s “theme song” is Blur’s “song 2”, which is also the theme song of the movie “Starship Troopers” advertisement. This song fits so well into the opening video, and my only wish is that I could listen to it without actually running the game. Then again, I guess that’s intended, as I will probably go and buy Blur’s CD separately. Ever heard of a computer game promoting a music CD? Interesting opportunity for the two businesses. I digress. FIFA 98 ‘s menu interface is slick, similar in many ways to the one used in FIFA Soccer Manager (does anyone know what actually happened to this one?). It uses the Mondial 98 mascot (that silly blue bird), which enters the screen in all sorts of amusing ways if you don’t do anything for a while. You can reach any menu from within any other menu with one mouse click, which is fine and dandy. What isn’t so fine is the fact that I could not change button assignments. I can understand that there is good reason for that- FIFA 98 simply requires an 8 button gamepad to really enjoy. Reconfiguring would have been a confusing and laborious process, but I would still like the option. I may have missed it though, as my Hebrew translated manual is so poorly translated, that I simply could not use it for advice. I sincerely hope that the manual is translated better into other languages (and wonder if EA Sports would care to send me an original English one…) You can play a friendly match, and a penalty shootout. You may also train yourself in various aspects of the game- and this is a must if you really want to master free and corner kicks. Time spent there is well spent, and I have a replay of a 90th minute free kick match winner to prove it. The first of the two really interesting modes of play, though, is the Road To The World Cup mode, which allows you to play as any of 172 international teams in six regions, through the exact same qualifying process as in real life. When you do qualify, you get to play on the world cup itself- and you need to qualify at least once to get there directly from the main menu. The same rule applies to the second stage- you need to pass the first stage at least once to be able to get to the “last 16” stage directly. The other mode is league mode, which allows you to play as any of the sides in any of 11 leagues, like the Premiership and the Bundesliga. The wealth of options in FIFA 98 is no less than staggering. You have all the usual tactical options for every team, like positioning and general strategy (conservative vs. attacking slidebar), but you can also give attack and aggressiveness biases to players. You can edit your team, right up to the design on their socks and shorts, tertiary shirt colors, and stadium name. You can edit individual players, which not only includes changing any of their 13 skills (using a point based system), but also changing their skin tones, shirt number and preferred position, and up to adding facial hair. International teams are manageable too, and they all have reserve squads available. You can arrange for trades and cash transfers between teams. You can obviously decide on things such as weather and ref strictness, but also, and not so obviously, on things like AI assisted headers (a godsend), shot targeting (controlled either by you or by the CPU), automatic crosses and passback on or off (also nice until you become familiar with the control system). Inside the game, in EA Sports time honored tradition, you have an almost infinite number of camera angles, and, as it was in the very playable FIFA 96, there is really no reason to change the default one. As for multiplayer, the game offers all the regular options, including serial, modem and IPX network connections. All in all, FIFA 98 will not disappoint in the options department. Does it do well in the gameplay department too? Patience is a good thing No, I won’t answer this question just yet. Let me say a few things about “immersion in a gameworld” first. No, I am not talking about an RPG here, I am referring to this totally amazing, whizbang PC soccer game. People, NHL 98 seems miserable when compared to FIFA 98. Let me repeat that. NHL 98, another of EA Sports’ titles, the one which was, only three months ago, considered the new standard to which others must conform to graphically, seems terribly outdated when you run it near FIFA 98. That’s because the latter has SO many intricate little details inside, that even after an accumulated over-20 hours of play, new things keep popping up all the time unexpectedly. Look at the players moving their heads to follow the ball in flight. See the striker shake himself as he comes up after a rough tackle, then makes a little, annoyed hand gesture. Watch how the referee raises his head to look straight in the eyes of the red-carded fullback, as the latter is shouting and waiving his hands at the former in agony. Evidence the attacking midfielder doing his little dance as he blitzes past yet another defender, switching legs and giving the ball a little push with the outside of his shoe. See the player about to throw a ball from out of bounds receive it as it is thrown from the sidelines, and watch he net moving satisfactorily when a goal is scored. FIFA 98 simply looks tremendous, and I shudder in anticipation to think about next year’ installment. The movements of the players are so fluid, so realistic, that in my first few games I had to stop once in a while simply to admire them. It is the first game ever in which I sometimes run a CPU only match, because it is so much better than any screensaver. EA Sports are claiming an increase of up to 500% in the number of frames (up to an amazing 15 frames per movement!), and it certainly shows. No, don’t ask me if the non-3dfx (FIFA 98 also supports PowerVR straight from the box) version is good enough to play- it simply doesn’t matter. I know I said this about a few games this year (notably Moto Racer and Screamer Rally), but I had no idea what I was talking about, really. So I will say it again, and this time with conviction: if you love soccer, even a little, and you do not have a 3dfx card, buy FIFA 98 and a 3dfx card. It is a really cheap ticket to gaming heaven. Trying hard to find some fault in the graphics, I can think of two things: in crowd animation, EA Sportsare still using that 2D overlay, although this time there is some low resolution movement at the front row or two. And you may also get a very rare bug, in which the ball seems to go into the goal after it had hit the outside part of the net, and vice versa. As for sound, well, it doesn’t disappoint. The graphics are so superbly done, that the audio is belittled in comparison, but let me assure you that EA Sports did a great job here too. Yes, you still get the occasional funny mistake by John Motson in the play-by-play, like forgetting to mention that a penalty was given until after it was actually shot, or claiming that the referee was “a little lenient” when an opposing player just received their second yellow and was thrown off the field. And Andy Gray is as boring as he ever was, at least in the FIFA series (sorry, Andy). But these errors are rare, limited to maybe once or twice per 12 minute game, which is way better than anything else on offer in your local computer shop. They have also included some nice, colorful remarks, like when Motson claims that this is great treatment they are getting back in the media booth. Lastly, ambient sounds, like crowd cheers, are good and add to the overall experience. OK, OK, gameplay Ah… the big question mark. Is FIFA 98 a blast to play? Surprisingly enough, the answer is a most emphatic yes. This year, EA Sports went back to the tried and true arcade methods of shot control, then made them much more complex while still keeping their basic simplicity. Sounds confused? I will try to explain. First of all, an 8-button gamepad is fully used- there are buttons for lob, shot, and pass, and also avoid tackle and speed burst. The latter replaces turbo in a much more realistic way, allowing the player a short burst of speed to pass an opponent, but also tiring the attacker. You cannot use too many of those during a break, as the player will simply run too tired too quickly, and the defender will easily catch up and strip him of the ball. You also have the R(ight) and L(eft) buttons, which, combined with other buttons, perform specific actions, such as a spin or leg change or any other of a large number of different combinations. Every move you ever saw in real life is possible in this game, if you try hard enough, and are quick enough with your fingers to perform it. OK, so this is pretty basic, except for the R and L buttons. Where the control system gets complicated is in the fact that a different type of execution of each button press will have a different result. For example, you may shoot normally by pressing and holding the shoot button (the shot gets stronger the longer you hold down the button, up to about one second), but you may also make a direct, strong, low shot if you simply tap it once, or a chipshot if you tap it quickly twice in succession. You can pass to a player normally, or may pass to an open space by tapping the pass button. You can lob low or high, depending on how you use the lob button, and you can even “lob” the ball to yourself, preparing for a bicycle kick. Did I mention already the necessity of training? If you really want to master this amazingly rich control system, then you will have to spend some serious time with it. But if you don’t, you can do very well with the few basic options, never caring about the flashier moves. Still, where’s the fun in that? And how does the AI perform? Very well, thank you. No, FIFA 98 isn’t perfect, but then again, I don’t think anyone can expect it to be. Today’s computers are simply not advanced enough for that. But compared to other soccer games, this one is a leap forward- players move realistically, changing places and running for open spaces. Defenders switch positions and cover for each other, executing offside traps with cunning accuracy. Your teammates will position themselves well in almost any situation, but only as dictated by their level and skills. Goalies and defenders let balls slide over the line, protecting them from advancing strikers. No more of the “two defenders leaving the ball, undecided” phenomenon seen on other games- in FIFA 98, if you want to score against a better team in World Class level, you need to work for it. The other two levels, Amateur and Professional, are good for the first few games, but it’s in World Class that the most fun can be had. Another nice touch that has to be mentioned is the how the different teams play- you can expect different things from Colombia and Germany when you pit your lads against them, with the former going for many short, on the ground passes and flashier plays while the latter being much more effective- and boring. All in all, when it comes to gameplay, FIFA 98 scores heavily. The pace of the game is right- it feels like real soccer is being played. Movements are realistic, and your plays are rewarded or punished as your would expect them to be had the match been real. Controlling your players is as impeccable as you want it to be- if you spend the time learning the game, your can do precisely what you want to do. It takes some time to understand that things are not perfect. To finish the section, I am reminded of one incident that happened while I was writing this review. Remember the “Rosenthal miss”, in the premiership, from several years ago? The one where he hit the crossbar from 5 yards, after a breathtaking break, and while standing alone in front of the goal? You must have seen it, as it is still starring in almost every “premiership bloopers” collection shown. Well, it happened to me too… same player, different setting. And in another match, I managed to duplicate Poborsky’s goal in the Euro championships. These little moments of deja-vu are evidence of how good FIFA 98 really is. From time to time, the game really makes you feel as if it is real football you are watching, that you remember the play you just saw from sometime in the past. The niggles, nudges, and annoying tidbits Yes, FIFA 98 is not perfect. First and foremost, there is the “catchup logic” problem. EA Sportshave included a bizarre feature in the game, which takes effect during the second half if the computer is down at halftime. What happens is that the computer will start shooting wildly, from improbable distances, making your goalie smack his lips in anticipation of a big bonus after so many saves. I am not talking simple long shots here, I am talking ridiculous- 40-50 yard attempts become rather commonplace. You can “disable” this feature from the options menu- I strongly recommend that you do this before you begin to play- thus reducing the problem to a much more bearable state. You still get the occasional “shooting streak”, but in general, CPU teams at least try to get closer to goal most of the time. In any case, EA Sports have promised a patch for this problem, and to be honest, with this feature disabled, my enjoyment from the game was not ruined. Other, much more minor problems, are also there. Goalies still make some silly mistakes sometimes- the most noticeable one is leaving the ball to the closest defender to clear, effectively allowing a charging striker to reach the ball first and force the keeper to make an instinctive jump to save a possible goal. Would have been easier to collect the ball in the first place, but most of these situations do not end up in goals anyway, as the striker is under pressure from just behind. Trying to reach a ball that is lying just by the sidelines seems impossible for computer controller players, as they will almost always push it over. Players about to take a corner kick usually try to fix the position of the ball, only contrary to real life, they do not move it to the edge of the marked area, but rather to the middle, which seems a little unrealistic. Lastly, but for me, the most annoying aspect of the game, are those little animations during deadballs. Just before freekicks, goalkicks, or any other such activity, the game “treats” you to a short, admittedly beautiful, animation of the player “doing something”- fixing the ball position, moving away to prepare for the shot, etc. This is nice in the first match or so, and in an impromptu “screen saver mode” as I mentioned earlier, but becomes terribly annoying when you’ve seen it all for the umpteenth time already. I really wish EA Sports would have added an option to skip those annoying little animations automatically. Triumph So, with these problems admitted, how can I dare give FIFA 98 a gold? Maybe I will try to explain it this way: playing FIFA 98 comes in four stages. The first stage, of shock, is where you become stunned by its amazing performance. It takes a few games just to register everything that is going on around you, and to start getting used to the controls. Then comes stage two, of pure enjoyment. You begin to understand what you are doing, get excited by scoring your first goal, and the like. The third stage is the one where you get annoyed by some of the glitches the game has, like the “catchup logic” problem. And the last, fourth stage, and the one I am in right now, is that of growing admiration. Even after playing 40 games I am still enjoying this game tremendously. I keep on learning new things. I become excited by new funny moves I find out that I can perform. I do silly things like grow beards for all of my players, and then give them all black outfits, hopefully enlisting the ref on my team. You see, FIFA 98 is truly a masterful creation. It is one of those rare games, where you simply keep on playing over and over again, but never actually feel like it is beaten. It always has something new up its sleeve to throw at you, something exciting, something special. And to top it all off, FIFA 98 is also revolutionary. How so? Well, it is the first PC soccer game ever where the graphics actually contribute to gameplay, rather than simply being beautiful by themselves. EA Sports have really outdone themselves with this one, and they deserve all the praise I can give them. So I don’t give squat whether it has some sillinesses. Who cares? With such an amazing play value, how can I complain?
Review By GamesDomain
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