STAFF REVIEW of 2002 Fifa World Cup (Xbox)

Monday, June 3, 2002.
by Stephen Cameron

2002 Fifa World Cup Box art FIFA World Cup Soccer is in its own right, a very solid game. While not completely flawless, this is a game that can be enjoyed by a ?true futbol? fan at any level. Upon starting, you will find that the game is limited to just two playable modes. Understand however, that the difference between the game modes in this year?s version and years past is not laziness on EA?s part, instead it simply provides the player the opportunity to become much more involved with just the 2002 World Cup- The central event, and focus of the game. These two available modes are: ?Friendly? and of course, the ?World Cup Tournament.? In a friendly match, the user is allowed to choose his/her team, the opponent, the stadium, and of course the standard time of day settings. Unfortunately though, World Cup Soccer doesn?t offer a selectable weather option; which is really too bad- those snow-bound and torrential downpour matches in earlier versions were always fantastic fun. In the tournament mode, the user chooses a team from a qualifying selection of 32 teams from across the world (plus eight or so other selectable teams that just barely missed this year?s WC cut) who are then seeded into eight different groups. Each of these teams then competes against the others in its group in an effort to earn as many points as possible to advance through the next several rounds, and eventually into the World Cup Final. The overall presentation of this title is both smooth and easy to navigate. Cool bonus features include a few videos featuring John Motsen and others, a number of extra ?All-Star? teams that can be unlocked for use in friendly matches, and also a video segment that covers the creation of this game. One area however that I was not especially pleased with, was the occasional ?buggy? computer AI. Something that occurred a bit more frequently than I would like to have seen is computer controlled players running in the opposite direction of a ball passed straight to them, and yes sometimes (though rarely) this included the keeper as well- Overall though, I have to rate this title very highly, despite its lack of options and the few quirks in the gameplay and AI. I suppose if I had to sum up my experience with FIFA World Cup Soccer in one word, I?d have to offer an emphatic: "GGOOOAAA

The gameplay is what really sets this disc apart from so many other Soccer titles spanning across numerous platforms. I have personally been a fan of this series for (going on) two World Cups now (the other being Road to the World Cup: France ?98), and as with every other new version in this series, FIFA World Cup continues to make improvements with regard to its playability and control. The game allows you to select between four difficulty settings, which include beginner, amateur, professional and world class. The first two are almost entirely indistinguishable from one another, while the third and forth settings become exponentially more challenging. If you?re going to get serious about playing this game, I recommend spending as little time as possible on the easiest setting and move directly into amateur, just to feel out some strategies. Or if you want, you can just delve straight into the mid difficulty in preparation for the World Class level? A place where you?ll think twice about lacing up without your shin-guards. The most notable change in the overall in-game action is the use of the cross, or centering pass. In past versions, it was commonplace to take your fastest wing, boost him up the side of the field until he reached the pitch between the outside line of the goal box and the sideline, and then mash the cross button. Typically, this maneuver would yield a solid entry lob to a waiting Roberto Carlos, who would blast the ball through the net with a spectacular diving header or bicycle kick on 7 out of 10 tries. Well, all that has changed now, and in my opinion- for the better. Gone are the days of double digit scoring, and subsequently many of the ?arcade? aspects are out of here as well. While crosses can still be preformed, they are now left much more to the user to execute- the player is now wholly responsible for not just kicking the cross, but putting either right or left spin on it as well. Other enhanced gameplay features include adjusting the power of a shot or pass, a feature that is determined by how long the respective button is pressed. Basically the emphasis in this year?s version focuses much more on groundplay than on airplay; which effectively makes it much more realistic. Another really cool new element offered in this year?s version is the ?Star Player? feature- As we all know, virtually every team in every sport has a superstar player, or players- These are your crunch time guys that can do things better than everyone else, and get it done in clutch fashion. In this game, a ?Star Player? will (appropriately enough) have a star icon over his head as opposed to the arrow that ?Normal? players have. When you get the ball to this player, a streak will flash behind him or the ball depending on what his enhanced ability is; for example, if he is an all-world passer, there will be a white streak behind the ball, and it will also travel more crisply, and accurately to its intended target. Really knowing your team and its players? abilities will really help you out greatly over the course of the game. Again though, be warned before engaging in the hardest difficulty setting without having mastered the new control scheme! While the control differences are not altogether mind-numbingly different, they will take some getting used to, even for fans of past games in this series like myself.

The graphics in this game look very nice. The character models all look proportional and real, and some of them strike an alarming resemblance to their real life counterparts. The stadiums (modeled after the real Korean/Japanese stadiums that will be used in the real World Cup) look absolutely fantastic. The crowds are lively, and as always, they come equipped with their native flags? Yes, even the Hooligans are there to represent. There are two places however, where I feel that the visual presentation of this game could be improved, this is in: 1) The Framerate, and 2) In the faces of the players during certain animation sequences. The framerate, while generally solid, can get a little herky-jerky during long airborne passes that cover large distances across the field. While this doesn?t directly affect the gameplay itself, it does become an annoyance that could have been eliminated with just a little more tweaking during development. It doesn?t occur often at all, and more than anything, this is just me picking apart an otherwise outstanding Soccer disc. With regard to the players? faces, they do (during some post-goal celebrations) tend to look a little less than human (mouths especially). Also, the collision detection could be better- The players tend to pass right through one another during certain celebrations as well. Again though, I must note that none of these shortcomings really has much of an impact on the way the game is played. Because this is an officially licensed FIFA product, all of the names, teams and jerseys are there, and to that end- in fine fashion. Overall, the animation looks great, and the visuals as a whole give you a feeling like you?re actually sitting there in front of the ol? Trinitron, watching the US get swept out of the first round? Again.

Terrific! All around, this is definitely one of the brightest points for an already bright game. The commentary provided by John Motsen and Andy Gray is quite similar to other year?s versions in this series. I?m not writing this to suggest that it?s bad at all- in fact, just to stress how good it?s been all along. Motsen keeps the on-the-field action sounding good, while Gray provides his own unique brand of color commentary- especially when it comes to a player embarrassing himself one way or another. Another fantastic feature of the audio is the crowd noise; cheering, whistles, boos, and team-specific chants all make the enormous stadium audiences seem that much more real. Even the players on the field get into it; you?ll occasionally hear the banter between a few of them, using their native tongue (or something close to it) to express varying emotions and excitement about in-game situations. The musical interludes within the game also seem very appropriate. These range from the very serious dramatic sounds of an ESPN Classic highlight reel symphony, to more of the upbeat, energetic tunes we?ve grown so accustomed to hearing in this series. The drawbacks in the sound department are few, but as in most sports games, the commentary can occasionally grow a bit stale and repetitive, especially under certain situations in the game. Aside from the repetition in commentary, EA offers us a very nice sounding game that really brings to life what it?s like to be on a field before 30,000 onlookers- but as they say, ?It?s in the game!?

Fix up both the framerate, as well as the computer AI. Adjust the faces on some of the players as well. I understand the lack of options in the World Cup version, but next time, please, please, please, add more match types! This could well be one of the greatest Futbol titles of all time, had there been country-specific leagues or even the ability to qualify for the tournament. A season or training mode would have really pushed this game over the top. One thing that I really missed from the N64 version was to create crowd and drum noises after a goal? I know it seems hokey, but is there anything more rewarding than pounding your buddy through the pitch, and then hammering on a drum just to let him know ya won 4-0? Anyways, as others have already mentioned, a create-a-player feature would have been nice, especially considering that personal customization has been a large part of this franchise since the N64 days. I know that this final request is a bit of a stretch, but another cool feature to include would be the Dynamic Player Performance model used in Microsoft?s NFL Fever 2002 and the upcoming NBA Inside Drive 2003. Soccer is largely based on hot streaks by certain players- Representing such a thing from game to game would really do this beloved sport right. All-in-all though, you?ve got a fantastic title here. FIFA World Cup is a great simulation that any Soccer Loving, X-Box owning fan should take a look at. Keep up the great work!

Overall: 9.0 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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