EA SPORTS' best-selling soccer series continues with 2002 FIFA World Cup, featuring all 20 official stadiums in Japan and Korea complete with team mascots. Animation has been improved in the area of ball jostling between players, "Moment Zooms" intensify the action by providing athlete close-ups, and "World Cup Moments" offer multiple angles of key plays during the match set to music by the Vancouver Symphony.
Tournament mode offers a seven-game series punctuated by a storyline, while a new feature entitled "Air Play" is designed to simplify more complicated maneuvers, such as headers, scissor kicks, and so forth by binding them to a single button. The atmosphere surrounding the sport has been enhanced as well, with home crowds showing team colors, waving flags, throwing confetti, and cheering for their country.
First a little background on the FIFA World Cup. Every four years, the top 32 teams from around the world meet to do battle on the soccer field. The teams are split into eight groups of four, with the top two in each group qualifying for the second round. Sixteen become eight, eight become four, four become two until one team is crowned champion.
You know when your favorite TV show goes through that 'slump' period? When the buildup to each new episode fills you with that combination of excitement/dread? You want it to rock - but you are prepared for the worst... That's how I feel about EA for its latest version of the zillion selling FIFA franchise. Will the game have the balls to take soccer video games to the next level?
Simply put, comparing 2002 FIFA World Cup to FIFA 2002 is like comparing the new 'Spiderman' movie to 'Batman and Robin'. They are totally poles apart. As with each new version of any EA Sports Franchise, World Cup 2002 is crammed to the gills with cool features (both new and old) and neat extras such as the DVD like 'Bonus Features' section. You also get all the joys of commercialism that come with any world event. There are over 70 different licenses dotted around the game, including the official team logos, sponsors on ad boards, even the correct match ball has made it into that game.
This game is visually and aurally stunning. EA has outdone itself in recreating each of the tournament venues authentically, while the players actually look like their real life counterparts. As you begin each match the camera swoops and pans around the stadium, recreating the pre-match laser light shows, ticker tape downpours and stadium fanfares. Anyone with a decent soundcard and speaker system are in for a treat. As my players lined up for the first match against Sweden, the hairs on the back of my neck got a little tingly!
Once the game starts all the usual FIFA flicks, passes and shots are at your disposal, along with a few new jinks, barges and tackles. The one new feature I do love however is the Star Player System. Depending on where they are ranked in the world, each player has a certain number of 'Star' players allocated to their team. In the real world, these players make a huge difference to their teams, and that difference is faithfully recreated here. Roberto Carlos, Luis Enrique and Michael Owen are all here and each of them can turn a match with a burst of speed, killer pass, last-ditch tackle or rocket shot into the back of the oppositions net. This gives the game a sense of realism that puts it far above the competition.
Passing, defending and scoring all seem to come more intuitively here than in previous outings. That does not mean the game is easy, the different skill levels cater to novice and veteran players alike, so once you have completed 'beginner' mode, you want to pit your skill against the machine in the tougher modes. Winning a match in 'World Class' mode is an achievement in itself, imagine winning the whole tournament!
So what else is different from the last version? Well EA has taken all the criticisms people had of the last few versions of the game and gone to work on them - big time. Here are some of the improvements:
Stupid Defenders - GONE
Before: They would fall for the same long ball tactic every time and are really slow when it comes to reading and intercepting opponents' passes.
Now: Defenders track back, follow the runs and passes of opposing players and even overlap to sweep up knockdowns from long ball attacks!
Inflexible Team Selection - GONE
Before: If you try and tinker with your team's formations, the computer goes crazy and starts putting players out of position on the pitch - severely hampering your team's performance.
Now: You select a player in a certain position - he plays there - AMAZING! No longer do you have to guess where certain players have disappeared to, and the game is far better for it.
Inaccurate player stats and positions - GONE
Before: Some of the players are just plain inaccurate in their ratings or positions, causing much joypad throwing when you found that a player with the tackling prowess of a butterfly had just been popped into the center of your defense.
Now: 100% accurate player positions - 80% accurate player stats!! (Well everyone has different opinions on how good or bad certain players really are...)
There are of course one or two little glitches still in the game, player response to your commands seem to occasionally vary from telepathic to total lethargy, and the goalkeepers sometimes have a disconcerting habit of going walkabout at free kicks -- leading to empty goalmouths and easy goals for the opposition. These are only occasional irritations and distract very little from the enjoyment of the game, though.
FIFA World Cup 2002 is the best PC Soccer game available at the moment. Like Muhammad Ali pulling the 'rope-a-dope' EA has bounced back from producing three or four dodgy incarnations of the license and answered the criticisms of the past with a knock out blow to all opposing PC Soccer games.
Now for FIFA 2003 - I challenge EA to raise the bar again. Give the fans more tactical flexibility, include all the competitions in one game and add a better in-game management structure. Then we will have the ideal soccer game.
People who downloaded 2002 FIFA World Cup have also downloaded:
FIFA World Cup: Germany 2006, FIFA World Cup 98, FIFA Soccer 2002, FIFA 2000, FIFA: Road to World Cup 98, FIFA Football 2003 (a.k.a. FIFA Soccer 2003), FIFA Soccer 07, FIFA 2001
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