2002 FIFA World Cup
So This Is where I'm supposed to berate EA for its despicable tactic of releasing essentially the same game every six months. The FIFA series has often made a mockery out of the so-called games industry: embittered journalists rail against it, PR people flap, yet every incarnation continues to outsell the previous one regardless. For all the difference it makes, we might as well get proper jobs.
However, there's work to be done, and as ever I'm ready to give the latest FIFA incarnation a thorough going over, in the hope that it'll throw up enough nuances to make me sit up from my cynical stupor and take note.
Lets face it, I've had enough pratice with these games in the past, and an almost equal amount of disappointment, so I should know what I'm talking about by now. In fact, the work I've garnered from reviewing the FIFA series has paid for most of my furniture.
It would seem that the reason why the FIFA games do so well is the same reason insipid pap tops the music charts and romantic comedies fill the cinemas: many people are happy settling for less. But that's their right. If people want to keep buying the same game, why shouldn't they? So long as they're happy.
Break It Like Beckham
Going on past evidence, it's hard not to think that 2002 FIFA World Cup, will be anything but a nailed-on certainty to be among this summer's biggest sellers. That said, we wonder how sales in this country would have been affected had Beckham's last gasp free kick against Greece gone the way of his previous eight efforts, and England had then been eliminated in the playoffs. Golden Balls, indeed. Sven's boys are heading East though, (and I'll be joining them) and this irksomely named official game gives every honest Englishman the chance to attempt the impossible. Or you could just play as France.
Allegedly in development for more than a year, World Cup is of course 'completely different' from FIFA 2002. That's different in the same way that a shit on a string is different from a turd on a rope. Not a reflection of the game's quality in any way, simply a vulgar analogy. The gameplay has been marginally tweaked, the biggest change being the addition of so-called star players. In the England squad, for example, David Beckham is an exceptional passer, whereas Michael Owen has the pace of a whippet. Fair enough, but surely these are simply reflecting the attributes of the players and should be included by default. On the pitch, the star players are recognisable not only by the star hovering over their head, but also by the motion blur when they embark on a run, and the fact that their shots resemble meteorites, replete with flaming trail. Frankly it's absurd, giving the game something of a cartoon feel, although for the purist it can be switched off.
Otherwise, it's largely the game we know and don't love. The passing seems to have improved marginally, and it is generally possible to find a team-mate. Crossing the ball in the air is a largely worthless tactic though, as headed goals are rare. The best ploy is to slip the ball to a forward in the area and hit it as hard as you can towards the goal. It's not subtle but it is effective, and exciting games are by no means uncommon. More a test of gaming dexterity than football acumen, it takes an almost physical effort to succeed, frantically pumping the sprint button and grappling with the opposition for possession of the ball.
The slide tackle is as exaggerated as ever, making it something of a lottery, whereas the foot-in approach involves a lot of leaning into the player, making it akin to a wrestling match. Tricks are reduced to a solitary shimmy, and bend can be put on the ball both when passing and shooting. The concept of sending a player on a run and slotting a through ball ahead of him remains, and when it comes off is very effective, although the ball will often go to a different player than intended. But with practice, it is possible to play something resembling football, and it certainly isn't easy on anything but the amateur and beginner levels, with a huge leap to professional and world class.
EA says its main aim was to recreate the atmosphere of the greatest show on Earth, and it's certainly managed that. The stadiums look magnificent, and while I can't vouch for their exact authenticity just yet, I'm looking forward to being there (although I might give the dog noodles a miss). Once again, John Motson and Andy Gray supply the commentary, and they would appear to be in the pay of the Japanese and Korean tourist boards, spending almost as much time waxing lyrical over the benefits of the local environs as they do describing the action.
It may be riddled with inaccuracies -12 substitutes, Ronaldo starting as a left-sided midfielder - but as a piece of official merchandise, it's certainly a lot classier than Big Brother's Bubble and Dean's World Cup record. Ultimately, the best way to look at it is like an interactive wall chart. By the time the real thing starts, you'll know your Saitamas from your Yokohamas and will be able to discuss the emergence of the African nations with a degree of confidence. And as a bonus, it's just about playable enough to fill the month before the r tournament. Then the real fun begins.
Give Me Head
You Know You're A Star Player When Your Head Is Recreated In A Game
The star players in 2002 FIFA World Cup are given the benefits of realistic heads, and look uncannily similar to their real life counterparts. It's very impressive, and the likes of Owen, Beckham, Sol Campbell, Rio Ferdinand, and Steven Gerrard are immediately recognisable, along with a smattering of other world stars. Modelling the heads of every player in the game might have seemed the obvious move, but apparently this was impractical as it is a far more complicated process than simply scanning in their faces in the manner of EA's NBA basketball games. As such, supposedly lesser players are simply given generic heads, which in the case of the Neville brothers is a marked improvement.
Download 2002 FIFA World Cup
With the Japanese/Korean World Cup looming the smart money was on another FIFA and EA is never one to disappoint. Previous incarnations of the series have been criticised for the 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it attitude', but the developers were obviously listening and introduced a few changes which we thought actually broke the last version. Unfortunately. Things are slightly better this time around and with World Cup fever breaking out across the country you could do a lot worse than having a hack at this exclusive demo that offers a full 45 minutes of South American rivals Uruguay and Mexico. You get to choose which team to play as, but that's pretty much all the thinking you need to do as EA has disabled all of the options screens for the demo.
You can't just tap the pass button and watch as the ball sails, uninterrupted, to the feet of your opponent. Identify the location of a player before attempting to pass and make sure you give the ball enough power to reach him. Be careful though, if you pass too hard the receiving player will lose control and possession.
A star icon just above the head identifies your best player when he is in possession of the ball. He's your most valuable asset and can do things other players can't, like shoot with more power or pass more accurately. If you can get the ball to him in a forward position, it's worth going for a goal.
It's easy to get caught in possession so don't be tempted to dribble past everyone on the field, you need to pass if you want to go forward. And remember, free kicks and corners are easy ways of scoring once you've got the hang of them so use them wisely.