FIFA is tremendous fun in two-player mode. There's none of this piddling around with pea-sized characters, watching scanners': it's good, clean, healthy isometric action with a gigantic hoola hoop stuck to the feet of the player you're in control of, just in case you can't figure out which one it is. The viewing perspective and the quality of the animation are the two key ingredients that make FIFA stand out over other soccer games. You play diagonally (at a 30 degree angle) up or down the pitch and a control panel allows you to toggle between normal joystick up, down, left, right control or the slightly more bizarre but game friendly angled control where the upright joystick position makes your player run up the field while the down-left position makes him run down etc.
At first playing down-field seems to be a disadvantage: the 30 degree angle would appear to make things more difficult, but once you get used to it there's no problem - it's just like playing down field in any other football sim. Sprite animation is where it's really at though. This is easily the nearest thing to 'real' football in terms of presentation. The players' running animations are gorgeous and when they do a shoulder charge, head the ball, do a diving tackle, or a keeper saves a goal it just gets better. In the past animations like this have tended to look out of place or have been maddeningly slow, but in FIFA everything happens with pace -especially on an A1200.
On a 500/600 FIFA is good, on a 1200 it's great. It's so fast it outpaces the console original. Control is easy too, and supports one or two button joysticks and the original's three-button joypad. However, for football game purists this is where FIFA falls down. Regardless of how many buttons you have available it just doesn't have as many moves, and isn't as intuitive or skill intensive as Sensible Soccer or the first two Kick-offs.
I mentioned the two player mode earlier on and this is really where the game comes into its own. It's pure fun to play and you don't have to be a twitching maniac with 20-20 vision to learn it. The moves and their execution may be simple but you still need skill and quick responses to win and what FIFA lacks in computer game joystick bashing credibility it makes up for in look and realism.
If there's one thing EA are keen on it's their options and statistics. They love 'em, but manage to make them extremely palatable for the rest of us too. Options include five weather conditions, which change the state of the pitch, grass or astroturf fields, three foul settings, manual or computer goalies, halves of between two and 45 minutes and 'Action' or 'Simulation' modes, the latter results in your players getting tired as the game drags on.
Once you've decided on the above you get to choose the team and players' skill ratings, the formation, the players' coverage (how much ground the defenders, midfielders and strikers cover) and the style of play - all out attack, all out defence, long ball etc. Finally, during play you can make substitutions, change strategy and all sorts of other groovy things. And once it's all over EA's statistics men tell you how many shots at goal you've had and how many saves etc.
So what are its downsides then? Well, not a lot really. As I've mentioned before the controls are too simple for some, which means that there's not enough scope for arcade skill development (this doesn't really concern me). And while the A1200 version is faster than the Mega Drive, it's a bit slower than the Mega Drive on other machines but by no means unacceptably so. No, FIFA's worst crime is the length of time it takes to load and its disk swopping shenanigans. Patience is the order of the day here: not only does it take several minutes to initially load the game and get started but every time you finish a match it takes almost as long to get another one going. Hard drive owners will be delighted to know that it is installable though, and this saves considerable time.
I really like FIFA, it's a bit American in concept but this is a product of being an EA Sports game (Madden's Yank Footie, NBA etc.) and has to be expected. It is very slickly put together and presented and quite easy to pick up and play without making a fool of yourself. This is not to say that it lacks any depth though. With all its options, speed and realism FIFA is great fun to play and watch and has real long term staying power. However it will never wean the true football fanatic off Sensible Soccer. Also, unless you have a hard drive, it can be hard to live with - it just doesn't have the plug in and play facility of the console version.
If you had to have two football games in your collection; one a top-down view speed and skillfest and the other a cracking good arcade sport sim that's gorgeous to look and not too demanding to play then FIFA would have to be the latter. Go on, treat yourself.
Official EA Sports and FIFA game. It runs on A500, but requires 2Mb of RAM. Better to use A1200. It's a cool soccer game, but loads extremly slow. If you use an emulator, switch on the Floppy speed boost.
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FIFA International Soccer, FIFA World Cup 98, FIFA Soccer 97, FIFA: Road to World Cup 98, Fighter Bomber, FIFA Soccer 96, Dune 2, Dune
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