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Fifa: Road To The World Cup '98 Review

Publisher - E.A.
Developer - E.A. Sports
Platform - N64
Type - Sports
Score - 6/10

Midway has released their first sports sequel, Gretzky '98 and EA has just done the same with FIFA Road to the World Cup '98. FIFA '98 is EA's follow-up to last year's lack luster soccer game. The new FIFA has cleaned up it's act a bit, but it doesn't surpass International Superstar Soccer as the champion of sports games (much less soccer games) on the N64.

I have to admit that the development team patched the biggest hole in the original game. The controls in FIFA '97 were abysmal. Not only were the controls unfriendly, but they flat out didn't work. While the controls in '98 are not crisp, they get the job done. When playing this game, I felt a disjoint experience. It was as though I was a spectator rather than a participant. I firmly believe that this is a result of the graphics, not the control.

Just like ISS Soccer, the controls can get pretty complex. There exists a subset of the controls that beginners can use to get the hang of gameplay. There are complex ways to pass and shoot the ball, but you can use basic maneuvers until you get the hang of things. That's a big plus for those of us who are not only new to the cart, but initiates of the game of soccer as well.

When I reviewed the first FIFA, I said, "[the] graphics are not up to the standards of most of the other N64 releases, although they aren't particularly bad." That was quite some time ago. My standards for sports games have been blown out of the water by ISS Soccer and especially Quarterback Club. In comparison, FIFA '98's graphics look weak. I have to say that the game does look like a soccer match, but the N64 has proved that it can do better.

The most substantial graphics problem is the frame rate. It's not like playing soccer in a strobe light, but it seems like it needs just one or two more frames to be fluid. This is not in itself a major weakness, but it compounds the separation of the player and the game. There is no symbiosis that allows you to project yourself into the game. Another graphical problem lies in the camera angles. It appears that the designers placed a greater emphasis on realism than gameplay. Most of the camera views available are ones you might encounter in a televised broadcast. While these views are good for spectators, none of them allow you to play the game as gracefully as you might in ISS Soccer.

One thing that FIFA '98 has the ISS Soccer lacks is a decent announcer. The sportscasters (yes that's plural) in FIFA '98 are very convincing. There isn't a lot of music to listen to (although they managed to get a sound bite from the band "Blur") but the crowd noises are just peachy. The game gives you the option of displaying the text in English, French, German, Italian, and other languages, but the announcers are always in English. I know I shouldn't expect to have the announcers speak Italian, but I can hope.

After playing ISS Soccer, there are things in this game that seem just plain wrong. The computer will not automatically switch which person you control so that you are always close to the ball. Another thing the CPU won't help you with is passing the ball to people off screen. In ISS Soccer, you can target team members you cannot see. I think this is the way to go. Obviously, the person represented on the screen should be able to look downfield and see his comrade. The fact that his friend doesn't fit on the screen should not be an impediment. To help remedy this, FIFA '98 provides a radar display. The display is a little hard to read and it's annoyingly at the top of the screen. I assume it's possible to learn to use this information, but I don't think it's worth the effort.

It's also obvious that ISS Soccer has more player animations than FIFA '98. When one player attempts to steal a ball from another in ISS Soccer, you can see the little feints and footwork between the two. In FIFA '98, it's rigid and mechanical. That's just one example of FIFA's graphic inferiority.

FIFA '98 retains FIFA '97's poor penalty and goal shoot outs. ISS Soccer gives you a targeting box and a clear definition of what buttons make your players act. FIFA '98 gives you no help and poor control over the situation. That makes penalty kicks as reliable a a coin toss. I don't see how your skill has anything to do with the situation. Just kick and pray.

On the up side, FIFA '98 is probably the most accurate simulation of the World Cup and all the games leading up to it. It's also jam packed with more options and teams than ISS Soccer. Not only can you choose to play a certain country, but you can play a specific team from a specific city from that country. You can also play within the real geographic divisions that vie for World Cup superiority.

FIFA '98 gives you another weather condition not found in ISS Soccer- slush. I dunno what makes that exactly different than snow, but hey- more options are usually better than fewer. In the more options department, FIFA '98 gives you more stadiums to play in than ISS Soccer. There are so many options available in this game that if ISS Soccer has an option, you can bet that FIFA '98 has it too.

There are a plethora more options that FIFA '98 gives you that ISS Soccer won't. FIFA will show wear on the field. Sure it doesn't really change the game but that's so neat. You have better control over how touchy the referee is and you can turn player fatigue off. One really spiffy option is the ability to exaggerate player abilities and skills. You can tell the computer to let you play arcade-like uberteams for kicks. You also have more control over the CPU's artificial intelligence. You can play an AI that doesn't cheat or one that gives a losing computer team a greater edge to close gaps in the score.

The only hassle that comes with all those swell options is the very complex menu system. The menus do their best not to intimidate, but they are scary. They do get better the more you play with them, but make sure you have the instructions manual your first time out.

Like ISS Soccer, FIFA '98 will allow you to trade players between teams and modify player stats. This is a plus for any game 'cause nothing is as much fun as playing your personal team against a friend. The player modification menus suffer from the same unfriendliness as the rest of the game. I'm not saying that ISS Soccer is the model for user-friendly design, but FIFA's interface will discourage you from investigating this avenue.

FIFA '98 is far from a masterpiece, but there is a place for this game. It may not be as spiffy and polished as ISS Soccer, but it strives to present the feel of a realistic soccer sim. If you care more about the World Cup and are interested in an accurate trip getting there, FIFA delivers the goods. If you want a great looking, genuinely fun soccer game, FIFA just can't compete with ISS Soccer.