Nothing beats a good soccer game. I started playing console soccer way back in the days of the Atari 2600. The cheesy three-man soccer kept me happy for several years. Now we need detailed three-dimensional graphics and realistic play to keep us satisfied. Sega tries its own recipe with Virtua Striker 2002 for the Nintendo Gamecube. Virtua Striker 2002 is the latest in the Virtua Striker franchise, and the first since the somewhat dubious Virtua Striker 2 on the Sega Dreamcast.
Presentation/Graphics : 70
Like the older Dreamcast version of the game, Virtua Striker 2002 does not disappoint when it comes to appearance. The player detail is very good, as items such as muscles are modeled in nice detail. The country names on the jerseys are clearly readable as the players make their way downfield as are player numbers. Equally impressive are the animations. The close-up animations are comprised of sliding tackles, spectacular headers, and virtually every classic soccer move. One negative with the animations, however, is that the players seem somewhat animatronic in nature. After goals players celebrate and may even pick up a small megaphone and cheer.
The reason the graphics look so good, however, is also the problem with the game. The camera puts you right down on the pitch. Unfortunately there is no way to adjust the camera's position or zoom. While it makes for a gorgeous looking game, it makes actually playing it more difficult. There is a radar showing teammates and the opposing players, but looking at both the radar and the player controlling the ball is difficult. The defense collapses on the player in control of the ball quickly, so you must always keep an eye on the action. This setup makes blind passing commonplace.
Presentation/Audio : 65
The sound package in Virtua Striker 2002 is a near copy of the older versions, meaning there's not much to get excited about. You won't find the slick commentary found in other footie games, but instead here a human voice telling you what you already know. The extent of the commentary is a phrase like “Goal” or “Corner kick.” When balls are kicked the thud is realistic, but unfortunately tackling sounds are cartoonish. The sound can best be described as arcadish and adds little to the quality of the game.
Interface/Options : 30
In keeping with the arcade nature of the game, Virtua Striker 2002 has simplistic controls. Aside from player movement with the analog stick (much better than using the D-pad on the Dreamcast), you use the three of the four face buttons as well as the R, L, and Z buttons. The L button is used to change players, but don't think that means a real time player switch on defense. Rather, it is used to make a substitution on the next stoppage of play. The R and Z buttons are used to change tactics and formations, respectively. That leaves 3 buttons for all the play mechanics. The X button is used to shoot the ball, the A button is used for long passes, and the B button is the short pass and tackle button. The simple controls mean you won't have to worry about such things as through passes, one-two passes, and all those other quality features of other soccer games.
The game modes are equally slim. The Road to the International Cup mode is a franchise type mode where you are given an allotment of credits from which to develop a team. The ultimate goal is to win the International Cup four years later. The Match Play mode lets you play with any of the available teams and set the rules of the game. There's also single or multi-player League, Tournament, and International Cup modes. In all the modes the number of available tuning options is limited. You can adjust some rules but AI adjustments are nowhere to be found.
Gameplay : 50
Virtua Striker 2 on the Dreamcast perplexed me. I bought the import, hated it, and sold it. I then got the domestic version, hated it, and sold it. But then I saw it cheap and said what the heck. It's like a car wreck in that you don't want to look at it but you can't help it. Fortunately the Gamecube version of the game is better than the Dreamcast version, though both can't stand up to some of the better soccer titles available.
One of the problems with the game is that you never get the sense that you are controlling your players while on defense. You can't switch between defensive players; the game decides which defender will be human controlled. When you finally get control of a player you feel that his first few steps are in autopilot mode. Further, you can't cut in any direction. The controls seem to be derived from the 8-way arcade stick. This is especially troublesome when on offense. Your limited motion restricts the number of evasive moves you can make.
The AI is perplexing. The CPU makes good decisions when it marches downfield but on defense the play is less consistent. Many times the midfield opens up and you can make a rush unabated towards the goal. Of course this may be the CPU trying to exercise an offsides trap, but without instant replay and the close camera there's no way to verify this. When you fly down the sides the CPU defense converges quickly and you find yourself trying to outsmart a two or more defensive players. If you penetrate deep into your opponent's half of the field the AI players will often clear the ball out of bounds rather than risk an intercepted pass deep in the zone. Your own player AI goes bonkers. It seems like players stay in their zones and will often run away from the ball if it's outside their area. This leads to some open runs by the opposition and also keeps you guessing as to which player the CPU will allow you to control.
Replay Value : 50
If you get right down to it, Virtua Striker is molded from a different clay than the likes of Konami's or EA's efforts. Some may argue that EA's FIFA series is pinball soccer and somewhat arcadish. But FIFA is a sim compared to Virtua Striker. Virtua Striker 2002 is the soccer equivalent of NHL Hitz or NFL Blitz. It's not as extreme as those titles, but the experience is quite similar. It's not my first choice for a game of football, but I do find it a mindless diversion compared to more heady games like Winning Eleven 6 on the PS2.
Overall : 54
Virtua Striker 2002 will win awards for its beauty, but it does so at the expense of gameplay. The close camera makes the game less of a sim in that passing is hit or miss. The AI tends to show hints of brilliance followed by complete idiocy. If you're bored with the usual soccer games and want something that provides arcade and simplistic controls, Virtua Striker 2002 is an option.