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FIFA 2002 (PC) Review

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Almost four years since the incredible Fifa: Road To World Cup 98, the Fifa series is still going strong…in terms of sales numbers. Unfortunately, for die-hard soccer fans this once great franchise has seen a steady decline in quality since Fifa: RTWC 98, especially when compared to Konami's ISS Pro soccer games. A complete reworking of the passing system in Fifa 2002 makes the game much better than the past two installments of the series, but still disappointing when compared not only to the newest soccer games in the ISS Pro series but to Fifa: RTWC 98 as well.

Presentation/Graphics : 65
Fifa 2002 for the PC looks almost exactly like Fifa 2002 for the PS2, except for the fact that you can you can play at a much higher resolution if you have the horsepower. Consequently, the graphics are even more crisp and clear than the PS2 version; however, Fifa 2002's graphics still suffer the same shortcomings as its PS2 cousin and when compared to the visuals in some more recent PC sports games (in particular Madden 2002) Fifa 2002's visuals are quite mediocre.

Firstly, all the players, from Amoroso to Zola, look like they've been pumped up on massive doses of steroids (there's a Jaap Stam joke here somewhere) and as a result they all have huge rippling thighs that Eddie George would be proud of. The game is also supposed to have differential player models but I'm not seeing it; every player looks almost exactly the same and just like in the PS2 version if you go to the player edit mode and compare a player who weighs 50kg to one who weights 110kg the only difference is a barely noticeable bulge in the waist and chest. Naturally, the thighs stay the same size! The player faces are hideous - it looks like all the players have been beaten senselessly with an ugly stick as the facial features are grossly exaggerated and very few of the players bear even a slight resemblance to their real life counterparts.

Just as disappointing are the animations. Firstly, the catalogue of animations is far too small when compared to ISS PE2 and other EA Sports such as Madden 2002. The transitions between animations are also very robotic and unnatural. These transitions also have an effect on the ball itself, and you'll often see a player dribbling with the ball 3 or 4 yards ahead of him and then the instant you press shoot and initiate the shooting animation the ball will mysteriously get yanked back to the shooter's foot as if it were on a string.

Much like the PS2 version, Fifa 2002 for the PC features a very disappointing 5 stadiums. While the stadiums are done pretty nicely with trackside details like cameramen and ad boards they're still not nearly as good as the magnificent stadiums in Pro Evolution Soccer or J-League Winning Eleven 5…and both of those games have more than 5 grounds each. This is even more shocking when you consider that Fifa: RTWC 98 had sixteen different stadiums! The TV-style presentation is also lackluster which is a shame since a few additions like instant replays after close scoring chances and half time highlight packages (both present in ESPN MLS ExtraTime and Pro Evolution Soccer) would have complemented the excellent commentary perfectly.

On the bright side the kits are very well done and the higher resolution afforded by the PC version allows you to further appreciate the authentic kit sponsors for the club teams However, just like in last year's version those teams that are sponsored by breweries or other videogame companies (ie Arsenal with their Sega/Dreamcast sponsorship) are left blank. It's also a mystery as to why EA Sports didn't include names on the back of the jerseys.

Presentation/Audio : 85
One area where Fifa 2002 shines brighter than all other soccer games is in its excellent commentary. Andy Gray and John Motson do a wonderful job of covering the play and chiming in with comments pertinent to the play at hand and often to the larger league or cup status of the teams playing. I was quite impressed during a UEFA (or 'EFA' as it is called in the game) Cup match to hear them mention the importance of away goals scored in the match!

Unfortunately, the crowd sounds aren't nearly as good. Even at the Alpha stage EA Sports said Fifa 2002 would feature dynamic differentiation between home and away sound effects – I didn't hear it then, and I still don't hear it now. The crowds cheer just as loudly for the away sides as they do the home teams. The crowd chants are also pretty sparse and pretty confused with chants of 'England, England' in games where England aren't even playing!

Interface/Options : 50
Just like the PS2 version, the PC version of Fifa 2002 receives a low score in the options department because it's clear that EA Sports have stressed quantity over quality. Furthermore, despite the fact that Fifa 2002 has a wide variety of shallow leagues and gameplay modes it still has fewer features than Fifa: RTWC 98! Some of the more notable absences are: a training mode, a penalty shoot-out mode, an indoor soccer stadium, multiplayer tournaments, individual player aggression settings, and sleet and snow weather conditions. All of these options were present in Fifa four years ago but are mysteriously missing in Fifa 2002.

Since the 2002 World Cup is right around the corner EA Sports having included a World Cup qualification mode. Unfortunately this is very poor when compared to the same mode in Fifa: RTWC 98 as you can only qualify using teams from four of the six regions (UEFA, CONMEBOL, CONCACAF and AFC) so if you're a disgruntled Socceroo who wants to take Australia to the 2002 World Cup in the digital realm at least, you're out of luck. Likewise if you're a fan of any of the African nations since the CAF qualifying region isn't present either. If that wasn't bad enough, just like in the PS2 version, once you've qualified for the World Cup Finals there isn't an option to play them! Also missing is the great International Selection that was present in Fifa: RTWC 98 so if you feel that Ledley King and Wayne Bridge should be playing for England there's nothing you can do about it.

Fifa 2002 features 15 domestic leagues from England, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, K-League, MLS, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, and Denmark. Unfortunately, the season mode is practically identical to that in Fifa 2001 and as such there are no CPU transfers, no transfer rejects, player retirements, newly created (youth) players and stats tracking is just disciplinary cards and goals.

The tactics bug that plagued the PS2 version is also present in the PC version as are the multitude of roster inaccuracies and the plethora of teams (most notably Holland) that have 'blank' rosters consisting of only numbers and not player names. On the bright side, the game does feature a brilliant Creation Center that lets you edit and create not only players but entire teams. There's also a rewards system that allows you to unlock a few player cards and new competitions upon winning any of the default tournaments/leagues. However, these two quality features don't make up for the multitude of other problems.

This Options score is based on the game as it is out of the box and with any official EA Sports patches. Of course, you can download and apply numerous user-created patches on the net that correct and fill in the rosters and with that in mind you could easily add another 10 or 15 points to the Options score. However, at the time of writing the tactics bug has yet to be fixed, and no amount of tweaking will make up for the pathetically shallow season mode, the lack of a World Cup Finals mode, the many missing tactical features that were present in Fifa: RTWC 98, and the missing weather modes.

Gameplay : 50
Again, without the aid of any of the user-made patches for Fifa 2002 that are floating around the net I could just cut and paste the gameplay section from the PS2 version since unmodified it plays exactly the same way. The biggest change to the game since last year's incarnation comes in the form of the passing which now features a power bar for both ground passes and lobs. Like the PS2 version there's also a button to send your teammates on runs into space and a button for a give and go. There are also buttons to add aftertouch/curl to the ball after you pass or shoot the ball, and shooting also has a powerbar similar to last year's version. The ridiculous 360 spins have been removed and replaced by a few step over moves. With these modifications (especially to the passing system) the game finally has a skill component and a learning curve that were missing from last year's abysmal version. However, while the first few hours of play are actually quite fun the game still suffers from the same problems that plagued the PS2 version.

Firstly, once you bump up the difficulty level you begin to realize that there really is no need for build up play and essential prerequisites for success in real life soccer like possession, teamwork and passing aren't needed to be successful in Fifa 2002. In fact the most successful tactic is just booting the ball up to a speedy forward and taking on the 2 central defenders yourself. Once you're into the box you can score every time as keepers have no answer to shots that you put swerve on. You basically spend entire games just tacking a CPU player, lobbing the ball up to a forward, hammering the speed burst button, get into the box, press shoot and one of the curl buttons, score, repeat. One of the reasons that contributes to the lack of build-up play is, in fact, the new passing system itself. Since you have to 'charge up' the passing powerbar to make a pass it makes quick, one-touch, passing almost impossible. On the hardest difficulty settings you have to get your passes off quickly and that second or two that you wait for the bar to charge up usually results in your losing the ball. This is made much more infuriating since the CPU has no problem making incredible 50-60 yard passes with terrifying accuracy and doing so on a very consistent basis with any player. As a result it's so much easier to just forget passing and just take on the defense with one player.

Another reason why there's no build up play is because of the poor AI. Your players will make runs when you tell them to but almost all the movement is forward; running forward anticipating a breakaway. As such there's no support play or overlapping movement - it's all about constant end to end action with no creativity or movement in the midfield. Defensively, your players are almost brain dead and will often just stop and stare at long balls over the top by the CPU. This just leads to more breakaways further perpetuating the breakaway-relay nature of the gameplay. Like the PS2 version, it's also very apparent that each and every team from Argentina to Sri Lanka has the exact same playing style – which is basically the long ball to a winger with a cross into the middle, shooting from far and knocking in the rebound while your defenders have a cigarette and watch, or firing off long range shots from a ridiculous 40-45 yards out that have your keeper stranded. Further accentuating the parity between teams is the apparent parity between player attributes. There really isn't a noticeable difference between Owen and Adams in terms of speed, especially considering the fact that each and every player slows down to a crawl when they have the ball at their feet. Speaking of when the ball is at your feet, the dribbling attribute also appears to be pretty much useless since a player with a dribbling attribute of 1/7 seems to be able to dribble just as well as a player with maximum 7/7 for dribbling. The new passing system also means that there's no difference between a user choosing to pass with David Beckham or Christian Dailly, and as mentioned before all CPU controlled players have perfect passing ability.

Another major problem area for Fifa 2002 that is slightly better in the PC version than the PS2 version are the ball physics. If you keep the default settings the ball physics are just as wacky as in the PS2 version, with the ball magically hanging in mid-air, mysteriously veering towards CPU controlled players, flying off players' heads at 150mph etc. However, the ball physics can be slightly improved if you download some of the user-made patches on the net. These basically edit the ini.big file in the Fifa 2002 data directory and have the same effect as changing the sliders in NHL 2001 & 2001 that affect the puck physics. The result of the changes is that with most patches you can get the ball to float a lot less than it does usually, which eliminates the ridiculous situations where the ball flies at 150mph only to stop and slowly drop down to earth as if it were attached to a parachute. Unfortunately, these changes still don't fix the other problems, but nevertheless it's better than nothing.

In fact, these user-created patches are what earn the PC version of Fifa 2002 a higher score than its PS2 sibling as not only can you make the ball float less, you can also find patches which affect CPU aggressiveness, shooting power, shooting accuracy and others. This of course raises the all-important question of why on Earth EA Sports didn't just include in-game sliders to change these variables as they have in their other titles, instead of users having to edit them manually.

However, no matter which patches or tweaks you download they still don't fix the problems with the AI, don't solve the lack of build up play, nor the parity between the teams and their identical playing styles. As a result, while some of the user-made patches add a bit more longevity, the game still pretty boring, pretty quickly. The game is flawed at a fundamental level and no amount of tweaking can change that. You basically repeat the same pattern of getting the ball up to a speedy forward, hammering the speed burst, shooting and either scoring directly or following up on the rebound. There's very little variation in the goals you can score, and most importantly there's no sense of satisfaction or accomplishment in scoring or playing well as there is in KCET's soccer games. The 50/100 score is for the gameplay as it is out of the box, but even if you chose to download some of the custom gameplay tweaks available you could only add another 5 or so to the score since while they make the gameplay slightly more realistic, they really don't make the game much more fun or engaging at all.

Replay Value : 50
Much like the PS2 version, the first few hours of Fifa 2002 are quite fun, but once you realize that every match follows the same breakaway relay formula there really isn't much incentive to keep playing. The multitude of leagues available don't add a great deal to the replay value either since every team plays the same way, and the season mode is pathetically shallow with no sense of continuity when you go from one season to the next. User-created gameplay patches make the game more realistic but not necessarily more fun. Likewise, you can download a plethora of user-created leagues, kits and even stadiums, but once you've got the game figured out these only add another 5 minutes of playing time each before you realize it's just the same crap, different package.

Overall : 50
Despite receiving the same overall score as its PS2 sibling, of all the versions of Fifa I've played (PS2, PC, & PSX) the PC version is probably the best by virtue of its customizability. If you've got the bandwidth you can download a ton of different patches to change the sounds, the stadiums, the kits, and as mentioned before, you can also tweak the gameplay somewhat. However, at the end of the day no amount of tweaking will ever change the basic core of the gameplay and it's there that Fifa 2002 really lags behind not only KCET's soccer games but even it's older sibling Fifa: RTWC 98. If you liked Fifa 2001 then I'm sure you'll like this year's incarnation; however, those who've found the Fifa series disappointing in recent times should steer well clear.

By: Lavan Chandran 1/22/02

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