Four years ago, EA Sports turned the soccer gaming world on its ear with the release of Fifa: Road To The World Cup 98, featuring brilliant gameplay, excellent graphics and a massive selection of teams. RTWC was the best soccer game available by a country mile. Unfortunately, in the years since the Fifa series has seen a clear decline in the quality of its gameplay. The last two incarnations, Fifa 2000 and Fifa 2001, were awful with overly simplistic, button-mashing, arcade-style gameplay. Perhaps realizing that they were losing the hardcore soccer audience to the far superior ISS PE series by Konami, EA Sports have tried to incorporate more simulation aspects into this year’s title, Fifa Soccer 2002. Unfortunately, Fifa 2002 is riddled with gameplay problems and bugs that make it only slightly better than last year’s version and still a very poor game.
Presentation/Graphics : 60
Graphically, Fifa 2001 was underwhelming compared to other EA Sports’ titles released at the time such as Madden 2001 and SSX. A year later, and graphically the PS2 has gone from strength to strength with great looking sports games like GT3, Tony Hawk 3, and Winning Eleven 5. Unfortunately, Fifa 2002 looks almost identical to last year’s version.
One of the worst things about Fifa 2002 are the player models. Somebody really needs to tell EA Sports that not all soccer players are body builders because every single player in Fifa 2002 has rippling, Roberto Carlos-esque, thighs. It really is ridiculous to see beanpoles like Nwanko Kanu, who could fall through a subway grate in real life, have massive thighs that ‘Arnuld’ would be proud of. EA Sports have said that they included differential player models, but you wouldn’t realize if you played the game; all the players look exactly the same height and build. In fact, if you go to the Player Edit mode, a created player who weighs 50kg looks almost identical to created player who weighs 110kg, the difference being a barely noticeable bulge in the waist and chest area. The player faces are also hideous, most with deformed and exaggerated features, and in many instances the heads are too big for their bodies. A few players are done well but the vast majority of the players bear little resemblance to their real-life counterparts - Teddy Sheringham has stunning blonde hair, and he was the PFA player of the year last year!
The catalogue of animations is almost the same as last years’ with far too few animations, even when compared to ISS Pro Evolution 2 on the PSX, let alone Winning Eleven 5. The transitions between animations are also still far too robotic and the goal celebrations are still not context-specific like in ISS Pro Evolution, so expect to see backflips by Bahrainian strikers even if they’re down 8-1 with 1 minute to go.
Madden 2002 has more than 30 stadiums while Fifa 2002 has only five! Four years ago in Fifa:RTWC 98 you could chose from sixteen stadiums and that was on the PSX. Now while the stadiums in Fifa 2002 are modeled nicely with good lighting effects and crowd animations, they’re not nearly as good as the stadiums in MLS ExtraTime and J-League Winning Eleven 5, and both those games have more than five grounds to chose from. The TV-style presentation is also poor, with no automatic replays of good scoring chances like in ISS PE and no end of half highlights like in ExtraTime.
It’s not all doom and gloom though, the game runs at a solid framerate, there are 4 new camera angles and the kits are done well - but there are still no player names on the back.
Presentation/Audio : 85
Unlike the graphics, Fifa 2002’s audio is one area that has improved a lot. Andy Gray returns to do the color commentary alongside John Motson, and the game’s commentary is quite possibly the best I’ve ever heard in a soccer game. They still don’t say as many player names as they used to in Fifa 99 (which is odd, since Fifa 2002 comes on a DVD) but they offer a lot more insightful and interesting comments than before.
Unfortunately, EA Sports’ didn’t work too hard on the crowd sounds and they’re still as confused as ever, cheering for each team just as loudly and I also found it funny that during a Liverpool vs. Leeds match the entire ground began to chant ‘England, England!’
Interface/Options : 50
You’re probably thinking how in the world could a game that has 16 domestic leagues, partial World Cup qualification and 75 national teams get such a low score in the options department. While that sounds impressive, let’s review some of the features that were present in Fifa:RTWC 98: 16 international stadiums, 172 international teams, World Cup qualification from all 6 qualifying zones, an indoor stadium, international squad selection, Training Mode, Penalty Kick Shootout, tactical player positioning, individual attacking bias, multiplayer tournaments, individual player aggression settings, and sleet and snow weather conditions. None of the 13 features I just listed that were present in Fifa: RTWC 98, 4 years ago on the PSX, are present in Fifa 2002! The Fifa series must be the only commercially successful series were EA Sports can actually take stuff out of each successive release and still have the game sell well. Fifa 2002 doesn’t even have a Training Mode! You’d think with all the much-touted control improvements they’d have at least kept a training mode so you could try them out without being pressured.
While Fifa 2002 has a World Cup qualification mode you can only qualify using teams from CONCACAF, CAF, UEFA and CONMEBOL, so if you’re a fan of any of the African nations or nations from Oceania you’re out of luck. In Fifa: RTWC 98 you could play using teams from all six zones and not only could you qualify for the World Cup with Malawi, you could also guide them through the finals and try to win the whole thing. Not so in Fifa 2002. When you qualify for the World Cup you’re simply given a congratulations message and the option to save your game!
The Season mode is almost identical to the season mode that was present in Fifa 2001. This means there’s no CPU-initiated player transfers, no transfer rejections, no player retirements, no youth players promoted to the first team, every team plays the same style, no cash bonuses for winning, and ‘stats’ tracking consists of only goals and cards!
One of the big ‘advantages’ of the Fifa series over the ISS Pro series by Konami has been Fifa’s extensive licenses. However, I don’t see the advantage to having a license if Fifa has so many problems with roster and player accuracy. As I mentioned before many of the players look nothing like their real-life counterparts, despite the fact Fifa 2002 has a FIFPro license. Furthermore, this year Fifa 2002 finally has acknowledged that players do have a preferred foot, so you’d then expect each player’s preferred foot to be accurately noted. Now while, I can perhaps forgive EA Sports for wrongly making John Arne Riise a right footed player, but when Rivaldo, Roberto Carlos, and Ryan Giggs – three of the most famous left footed players on the planet – are listed as being right footed in Fifa 2002, you know something’s fishy. Another major problem with the rosters is that many of the teams don’t have real player names, well to be exact, they don’t have ANY player names! These teams have their entire rosters filled players that just have numbers such as ‘#1’ and ‘#11’ as the player names! If you think this must occur on only a few teams, you’re in for a shock: in the AFC World Cup qualifying region only 6 of the 41 teams have actual player names, the rest have ‘blank’ rosters. In CONMEBOL, Ecuador, Peru and Venezeula have mostly ‘blank’ rosters, same for Panama, Jamaica, Honduras, El Salvador and Costa Rica in CONCACAF. The biggest shocker, though, is that Holland also has a ‘blank’ (numbers only) roster! Unbelievable, especially when you consider that Fifa: RTWC 98 had many more teams than Fifa 2002 and yet all of the teams in that game had fully named rosters! The club rosters also aren’t up to date with many players missing.
When you’re in the game the tactical options are just as bad, and there is a massive bug regarding player formations--if you pick a formation that involves wingers that make runs, when you step out onto the pitch, your players will be in the wrong positions. For example, I was playing with Juventus and prior to the match, in the tactics menu, I put Del Piero and Kovacevic up front, with Zambrotta and O’Neill on the wings. Imagine my surprise then as Del Piero ended up playing at left back, while Kovacevic played on the right wing and Zambrotta was up front! When I paused the game and went to the tactics menu it showed the original formation I had chosen prior to the game, even though the players clearly weren’t in their assigned positions on the field! This has happened several times with a variety of teams. Imagine playing Madden 2002 and subbing in Trung Canidate only to see him line-up at quarterback for the next play while Kurt Warner became the left tackle! Gridiron football fans would never stand for a bug of that magnitude in Madden so I don’t see why soccer fans should have to.
The only good thing about the options are the new Rewards system and Creation Center. The rewards system unlocks new competitions such as the European Championships when you win any of the default tournaments/leagues, while the Creation Center allows you to create new teams and players. However these two options don’t make up for the lack of options in other areas, the massively inaccurate rosters, and the tactics bug.
Gameplay : 50
This is the second year in a row EA Sports have really suckered me with Fifa. After extended playtime with the alpha I really thought that EA Sports had a solid arcade soccer title on their hands, provided they fixed some of the AI problems on defense and the tackling. Unfortunately, EA Sports didn’t fix these problems and further play just revealed more and more flaws in the gameplay that make playing Fifa 2002 more of a chore than an enjoyable experience.
I’ll start off, however, with the good. One of the most touted improvements is the new control and passing system. There is now a powerbar for both the passing and the shooting, both of which are largely dependent upon which direction you’re facing and there is also a button to make your players go on runs (L1) into space. The right analog stick performs a give-and-go with a teammate, while the rear shoulder buttons add swerve to passes and shots. The 360-spin has been replaced by a few step over moves – thankfully none of these are guaranteed ways of getting past a defender. All these additions and modifications finally add a skill element to the game and also somewhat of a learning curve. The first few hours of playing Fifa 2002 are actually quite enjoyable as you pass the ball around into space and try to play soccer rather than hockey on grass. Unfortunately, after a few hours you start to see more and more cracks in the gameplay and before long the entire cookie crumbles.
The first problem is that once you get used to the new passing system you realize that teamwork, passing, and possession play isn’t necessary for success; in fact, it’s much easier to play a simple 4-5-1 formation with a speedy forward, get the ball up to your forward, hammer the speed burst button, and just run at the defense by yourself. Individual play and hogging the ball is still the order of the day. Furthermore, while you often produce errant passes, the CPU has no problem consistently spraying pinpoint 50 yard passes across the field that go from CPU player to CPU player perfectly.
Another major problem with Fifa 2002 is the ludicrous ball physics. The company line for Fifa 2002 is “EA Sports re-invents the beautiful game” this should be changed to “EA Sports re-invents the laws of physics.” I would really love to kick a ball at a Fifa programmer’s head. Is this a manifestation of my disgust at Fifa 2002? No, it’s merely a simple demonstration; once the ball conks off the programmer’s head he’ll hopefully realize that the ball did not 1) mysteriously slow down as it approached his head, 2) hang in mid-air before it reached him, 3) magically swerve in mid air to orient itself exactly in-line with his forehead, and 4) hit an invisible force-field surrounding his head before flying off in another direction at 120 mph. All of these things happen in Fifa 2002. It’s just hilarious to see a CPU initiated cross-field ball that is originally ahead of a CPU forward mysteriously veer backward to land perfectly on the forward’s chest. Also odd is the lob that looks like it will fly over the intended pass receiver until it magically slows down and hangs in mid-air so that the receiver can get to it. Now while lobs magically slow down in mid-air, shots and headers zip around at 150mph, and consequently, even though the players move at realistic speeds the game flows way too fast to be realistic.
The wacky ball physics don’t just apply when the ball is in the air; when the players dribble the ball never touches their feet! I mentioned before that Fifa 2002 features players’ preferred foot for shooting - the ball physics make this a non factor, since when a player who has the ball on his weaker foot shoots, the ball simply gravitates over to his stronger foot during the shooting animation! The biggest consequence of the ‘re-invented’ ball physics is that the gameplay is incredibly scripted, and there is very little variation in the way goals are scored and even in the build up to goals. Interactions between players also suffer, especially tackling, and sometimes you can be right next to a player but can’t tackle him because an animation has initiated and the ball is stuck to his foot in the meantime.
Just as big a problem as the ball physics is the AI. One thing you quickly notice about the CPU teams and players is that they all play the same style of soccer. It doesn’t matter if you play against France or Sri Lanka, Real Madrid or DC United – each team plays exactly the same way and exhibits the same skill level. Be it Zidane or ‘#8’ on Sri Lanka, both can spray pinpoint 50-yard Beckham-esque passes with consummate ease. There are also ‘zones’ on the pitch where you can dribble, stop and the CPU players will just watch you for several seconds before doing anything. This is brilliant for wasting time as you simple take the ball, dribble into space, and the CPU players will stare at you for a few seconds before one will very slowly make his way towards you, at that point you just dribble a yard or so to the side and stop again, the CPU player will then stop once more and stare before coming after you again. You can repeat this process all game long with a single player and never lose possession!
On your side of the ball your players make fairly intelligent runs when you make them, but the movement into space is forward – there is no support play or overlapping movement from the midfield or defense; it’s all about moving the ball forward instead of keeping possession which means the game flows back and forth like a breakaway relay. Defensively your players are as thick as a plank. Often on long balls over the top your defenders will just stop and stare at the ball as the CPU forwards run past them. This results in several breakaways per game, but thankfully the CPU players often like to perform clever cross-field balls to their wingers even when they have 50 yards of clear grass between themselves and your keeper. Speaking of your keeper it’s not uncommon to see him get beat from 40-45 yards out! In fact there are four types of CPU-scored goals which you’ll see 99% of the time: the ridiculous 40-yard blockbuster, the rebound goal from a shot 18 yards out, the 150 mph header from a perfect cross and the breakaway goal that comes via a perfect long ball to a streaking offside forward.
Finally, player attributes are very odd. Despite the fact that players have different attributes when you look at their profiles (each attribute has a paltry range of 1 to 7) when you step onto the pitch the player attributes seem all the same. The players all seem to be the same speed - there’s no tangible difference between running with Overmars or Blanc. For passing it makes no difference who you’re controlling when you make a pass and all CPU players are amazing passers. The ball also sticks to your feet when you dribble so there’s no noticeable difference between dribbling with Jay Jay Okocha or Tony Adams.
However, at the end of the day the biggest indictment is that, apart from the first few hours, Fifa 2002 just isn’t fun to play. The fact that slide tackles from behind are now called and the 360-spin is gone mean that the game isn’t as annoying as Fifa 2001; however, the ludicrously scripted ball physics and play mechanics, in tandem with the poor AI and ridiculous parity of the player attributes, means that Fifa 2002 is a very boring and tedious game. It’s like tweaked version of Fifa 2001--instead of fouling an opposing player and doing 360 spins down the pitch, you simply slide tackle a player, pass the ball up to your forward, hammer the speed burst, make a few cuts to go past the 2 central defenders, get into the box, press shoot, score, repeat ad nauseum. Once you get the pattern down the game isn’t much of a challenge even on the World Class setting. There’s hardly any variation in the goals you can score, no variation in the playing styles of opposing teams, and no sense of satisfaction or accomplishment when scoring a goal or making a good play like there is in ISSPE1/2 and ESPN MLS GameNight/ExtraTime.
Replay Value : 40
The first few hours of play are actually quite fun, but once you get the control scheme down you realize that every game is exactly the same as the one before and things begin to get very boring, very quickly. The garbage World Cup Qualification mode - with no World Cup at the end of it and numerous teams with blank rosters hardly adds to the replay value, and neither do the various leagues as each team plays the exact same way and the there’s no depth whatsoever to the season mode. Multiplayer adds the most replay value and in fact it’s where Fifa 2002 actually shines as games aren’t as predictable. Unfortunately, you can no longer play tournaments or leagues with more than one player and this is yet another feature that was present in previous Fifas that’s now missing in 2002.
Overall : 50
To see if I wasn’t blinded by nostalgia, I recently popped Fifa: RTWC 98 back into my Playstation to see how it fared by today’s standards. To be honest it didn’t come close to matching the excellent gameplay of the ISS Pro series; however, it was still a very solid game of soccer and the wealth of quality options, especially the ‘Road To The World Cup’ mode still make it a very enjoyable experience. Four years later on, the Fifa series really is a pathetic shadow of its former self. Fifa 2002 certainly isn’t as bad as last year’s version, but when push comes to illegal slide tackle, it’s not a great deal better and still doesn’t even come close to ISS PE1 let alone ISSPE2 in terms of realism, depth, and fun-factor, and both of those games are for the PSOne! When compared to J-League Winning Eleven 5 on the PS2, Fifa 2002 is simply laughable. Perhaps the numerous gameplay shortcomings would have been slightly offset if Fifa 2002 had a wealth of quality options; however, despite the game’s numerous licenses it’s filled with roster inaccuracies and bugs that are quite simply inexcusable and would never appear in such magnitude in any other EA Sports game. The game just feels rushed and unfinished. Much like last year, at the end of the day the question is this: are you a Fifa fan or a soccer fan? If you’re a Fifa fan you’ll undoubtedly pick this up regardless, but I can’t imagine even the most hardened Fifa fanatic forgiving the multitude of flaws in Fifa 2002. If you’re a soccer fan, steer well clear and keep playing KCET’s soccer games.