Electronic Arts' second soccer game for Nintendo 64, FIFA: Road to World Cup 98 features an exclusive World Cup license so players can take to the pitch in 16 international stadiums, join sides with over 170 international squads, and take a peek at stats for more than 4,500 players. Motion capture animation was used in an attempt to recreate player movement, and realistic weather effects have gamers toughing it out in rain, snow, and even sleet. Commentary from John Motson, Andy Gray, and Des Lynham is designed to add a further sense of realism to each match. Players can take on "World Cup 98," "Friendly," "League," "Penalty Kick Shootout," and "Training" modes, and multiplayer options let up to eight people compete online in the same game. A management option also lets gamers edit squads and players to create their own personal dream team.
The basic idea is, you pick a team and try to take it to the World Cup finals where you will be tested by some of the greatest teams in the world. Sounds easy, right? Wrong. There are so many teams and so many variables that picking a team is just the beginning of what will be a very nerve-wracking experience, but I mean that in a good way.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Gameplay is very similar to the actual game of soccer, in which you must move your attackers downfield while being careful not to leave your goalie alone. I used a Force Feedback joystick at first, but it was so distracting that I pulled out my old reliable gamepad and went at it with that. It quickly became apparent that this game, more than any other I have played recently, is like two or three games in one. It is of course soccer, but it is also like chess. You have to have a strategy both before and during each game, and that is what separates this game from the other sports games available.
Also, you can customize each player by taking points from some attributes and transferring them to others. For instance, I took a defenseman and gave him better ball handling, while subtracting from his scoring ability. What I got was a much improved defenseman who was very hard to take the ball away from. You can also customize players' faces, uniforms, and hair. While those things are not really relevant to gameplay, the option to do so made me feel like I made my team, giving it a more personal feel.
If you don't want to take the road to the World Cup, you can also play league play for more of a regular season, or you can go on the Internet or a LAN and play against your friends. On a LAN, you can actually have full teams of up to 20 players being controlled by human opponents, and by modem you can have up to 8 in the game at once. It's a much expanded multiplayer format from most of the current sports games, and a welcome one as more and more people have Internet access.
As I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of teams to choose from: 172 from six different zones in all. And unlike some games where everyone plays similarly and just has different uniform colors, there are detailed stats for over 4,500 players, all with motion-captured moves and many with individual signature moves!
What amazed me the most about the graphics in FIFA '98 was the field. EA has spent a lot of time on the players and how they move, but has also spent time on the stadiums and fields. For instance: along the front of the goalkeepers' lines there were wear and tear marks as if there were really people playing the game. I hate it when a field in a game, whether it be football, baseball or soccer, looks like a flat, unchanging shade of green. That was just one example of the graphic detail which EA has incorporated into the mix.
Before I forget, one of the other things that impressed me was the player movement. Gone are the times when the players you weren't controlling stood still or just sort of jittered around. Now you have guys running to help you when there are two defenders on you and others setting themselves up in front of the goal waiting for a header! Be careful, though; when you are controlling the ball, only one tap is necessary to pass - more than one tap could make the next player pass it where you don't want it to go. On my gamepad the controls were as follows: thumb pad for movement of the player, A button for high passes, B for passes to yourself, C for low passes, and D for taking a shot at the goal.
There is no music during gameplay. Instead, you have a NEW 40,000 word play-by-play color commentary script. If you play sports games, you know that 40,000 words is not a lot and that the commentary can get annoying. So EA includes volume controls on every aspect of the game, from commentary to in-game sounds (bodies crunching up against one another). I found on both systems that the sound quality was equal, and the standard up-tempo EA soundtrack in the menus and elsewhere gives a nice, fast-paced feel to the game.
As a hard-core gamer, I do not take my approval or disapproval of games lightly. My family and friends rely on me to give them an honest and unbiased opinion of the games I play. So the bottom line is: if you love the game of soccer, you will love this game. And if you don't like soccer, or even hate it as I did, chances are that you too can be converted, as I was. I give my word that this game is not only fun, but addictive.
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