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World Tour Soccer 2002 (PS2) Review

Background

Screens(4)
North American soccer gamers can't really afford to be picky. While the rest of the world feasts on phenomenal soccer titles, those who don't (or just simply can't) go the import route to get these games are left feeding on the scraps. The latest morsel to fall off the dinner table is World Tour Soccer 2002. Don't let the 989 Sports tag fool you, this game was developed by Team Soho from the UK and released in Europe last September under the name 'This Is Football 2002'. How does it stack up? Well you'll have to read on to find out!

Presentation/Graphics - 70
WTS 2002's visuals are pretty mediocre. The player models are poor, though not as ugly as the ogres in Fifa 2002. The players all seem to be slightly hunchbacked and all of them have square heads. On the bright side though the differences between player sizes are quite noticeable. The players also have their names on the back of their jerseys which is a nice touch and many of the big-name players have their faces represented quite well. While the player models are so-so, the animations are excellent. The catalog of different animations still doesn't come close to the variety found in PES; however, there seem to be many more animations than Fifa 2002 and most importantly the transitions between animations are very smooth and never look robotic. There is some slowdown during corners when the ball is cleared and there are a lot of players on screen; however, it's not terribly bad and doesn't ruin the gameplay experience at all. The game also features several stadiums; however, the pitch textures for each stadium are very similar and the same goes for the pitch-side objects and as a result every stadium looks and feels the same once the match starts.

Presentation/Audio - 80
World Tour Soccer 2002's commentary is handled by Peter Drury who does a good job of keeping up with the on-field action and chiming in with some basic analysis every once in a while. The commentary, though, isn't up the high standards set by Fifa 2002, but it's still one hundred times better than anything you'd hear in any of KCET's English-language games. The crowd sounds are decent with a few nicely recorded chants, though like most soccer games there's no real differentiation between home and away fans.

Interface/Options - 90
World Tour Soccer 2002 features more options than you can shake a very large stick at. The game features the following domestic leagues; England (EPL and Div. 1), Spain, Holland, France (Div. 1 & 2), Italy, Germany, Scotland, Belgium, and Portugal. Each of these league competitions feature domestic cup matches as well as the league schedule; however, there is no 'franchise' mode per-se and you can't transfer players during the season. Of course all of the teams (including the lower division ones and international sides) can be incorporated into user-made custom competitions and also be used during friendlies. There are also 6 international tournaments that correspond to the World Cup and the 5 continental championships. The roster of international teams is quite thorough with the only noticeable absence being Senegal. The game also features a ton of 'Special' competitions such as a 'Timewarp' competition between all-time classic sides such as the 70s Liverpool side and the Real Madrid side of the 50s. Team Soho acquired a FiFPro license so while the team names aren't authentic (ie 'Highbury' = Arsenal) the player names are correct for almost all the teams with Holland being the only notable exception. The game also features a widescreen mode, 4 difficulty levels and multiplayer support for up to 8 players. Strangely, a training mode is absent.

Gameplay - 65
The first thing that struck me about World Tour Soccer 2002 was the game speed. If Pro Evolution Soccer is the English Premier League and Fifa 2000 is the National Hockey League, then WTS is definitely the slow-paced MLS. However, this isn't a bad thing at all as it makes learning the controls easier and it also seems to suit the slightly exaggerated player momentum (think Striker Pro 2000).

The control scheme in WTS is pretty thorough allowing extensive control of your players. There are three types of basic passes – a regular ground pass, a through pass and a lobbed pass, and there are also give and go passes for each of those basic types (i.e. give and go with a return through pass). Thankfully there's no power bar for ground passing which means you can pull off some nice one-touch passing movements. Shooting doesn't have a visible power bar but it seems like the longer you hold it down the higher the ball goes. Heading is similar to Fifa in that usually the sooner you press the pass or shoot button the more likely you'll make contact, but you can't really perform effective flick-ons or knockdowns. World Tour Soccer features three types of tackles; the classic Fifa-esque 'blocking tackle' where you assault the opposing player and take the ball, a two footed sliding tackle (when you want to get sent off), and a ridiculous 'hook slide tackle' that I'll talk about later. The game also features several special moves such as 360 spins and shimmys, fortunately none of them work well except for knocking the ball ahead (tapping the sprint button twice when you have the ball). Two important functions are L2 to make your goalie rush out of his net and L1 which is 'Teammate assist' where you call a double team on the opposing player with the ball. Finally, there's also a hilarious 'Deliberate Dive' button which, thankfully, gets you carded most of the time you use it.

Offensively, your teammate AI is pretty good with players moving into space and on the wings there's some pretty good overlapping movement which compares favorably to ISSPE1. Such overlapping or backtracking doesn't seem to occur very much in the middle of the park but your teammates aren't brain-dead like they are in Fifa either so you can still set up some flowing passing movements from one side of the field to the other. The in-game tactics (such as 'Wing Attack') work really well and are a nice touch; however, I don't really notice the CPU implementing any of these tactics.

The ball physics are right smack in between Fifa and ISSPE1; they're not completely scripted (ala Fifa) but they're not totally unscripted either. It's very odd. Passing and shooting don't seem scripted since you can pass ahead of players nicely into space and shooting is varied with the ball traveling with a fairly realistic trajectory and not speeding up and slowing down in mid-air like in Fifa 2002. However, when you dribble things are just like Fifa with the ball magically glued to your feet. As a result, the only way you can lose the ball is to be tackled or to go out of bounds. The same magnetic ball physics also seem to be at work with crosses as they go directly to forwards waiting in the middle. However, if you're dribbling and tap the speed burst button twice to push the ball ahead then the ball's movement is unscripted – in other words; it doesn't automatically come right back to you as if on a string and the ball can be intercepted by a defender if you don't get to it in time.

The best thing about World Tour Soccer is definitely the massive variety of goals that can be scored. I've seen a ton of different goals in WTS from headers at the near post, to 35 yard belters from the midfield, to free kicks, to volleys from inside the box. Because of the unscripted shooting and passing you can also create some nice sweeping passing plays on the counter-attack and this is especially true on the lower difficulty levels where the CPU defenders aren't as aggressive. Although each player's preferred foot is listed in his profile I haven't noticed this come into play during either passing or shooting.

So the game speed is realistic, the controls are thorough, the offensive AI is good, the ball physics are decent and there's great variation in goal scoring – so why then the poor score of 65/100? Well,World Tour Soccer 2002 is kinda like Fifa 2002 in that everything seems fine and dandy for the first few hours until suddenly flaws in the gameplay come flying out of the woodwork and slap you in the face. The flaws really come to light once you bump the difficulty up to World Class, and for most ISS veterans it'll only take a few hours before they start consistently beating the CPU at the lower (Amateur and Pro) difficulty levels and want a challenge. At the World Class level they'll get a challenge all right as the CPU players are insanely aggressive and the slide tackling becomes ridiculous. At times it's just as bad as the insane slide tackles in Fifa 2001. The CPU players just hammer your players from every angle and the most amazing thing is that these tackles aren't called by the ref because, if you look closely, these tackles are legit! Remember I mentioned the 'hook slide tackle'? Well this is it; a tackle that allows you to not only kick the crap out of the player you're tackling and leave him on the ground, but one that actually hooks the ball away before making contact with the opposing player!

What's also ridiculous about these tackles is the distance the players travel – like a flashback to Fifa 2001 these guys can fly several feet in the blink of an eye, and the shooting/kicking animation takes longer to complete than the slide tackle one so if you press the shoot button at the same time a CPU defender moves in for a tackle, even though he's 5-10 yards away he'll not only stop the shot but also leave your player flat on his back while the referee will simply stand there and watch. You can't even receive a pass with your back to goal because these slide tackles will 'hook' the ball away! So of course to get over this you have to pass the ball around quickly and don't dally on the ball with a player for too long; and I wouldn't have a problem with this if it wasn't for your forwards suffering from Fifa 2001-esque slowdown when they're on a breakaway! I find it incredibly annoying to see fast forwards like Owen or Henry on breakaways suddenly slowing to a crawl (even though you're holding down speed burst) while previously slow defenders like Tony Adams amazingly make up 10-15 yards to 'hook' the ball away. This isn't a matter of realism, this is just the game cheating.

Of course you could try double tapping the speed burst button to push the ball ahead, but even then there are two associated problems; firstly, every player pushes the ball ahead by the same distance (so there's no difference in ball control between players) and it's just way too far ahead. Secondly, if you double tap to push the ball ahead but it seems that the ball is going to be intercepted you can't switch players to control someone closer to where the ball is! You're stuck controlling the initial dribbler until he either regains the ball, the CPU intercepts it or it goes out of bounds.

However, these slide-tackle related problems still don't make the game impossible to win on the World Class difficulty setting since you can just return the favor with some slide tackles of your own! Of course, once you start giving the CPU a taste of its own medicine then the game becomes a farcical mix of Fifa 2001 and WWF Smackdown. Even if you don't slide tackle back and just rely on quick passing to keep the ball, the game just isn't fun; it's not so much a feeling of satisfaction when you put the ball in the net, but rather one of relief that the CPU players didn't manage to kick the crap out of you before you scored.

Of course these problems only become really apparent when you turn up the difficulty setting so you could try to make the easier difficulty levels (Amateur and Pro) a bit harder by just playing with really poor teams. This helps somewhat, but you still end up winning most of your games. However, even without the CPU being so aggressive there are still problems with the game, specifically the defensive AI. As I mentioned before, on offense your CPU-controlled teammates are fairly intelligent; however, on defense they're absolutely useless, making little attempt to get into position to cut out passes and there's very little (if any) back-tracking and support play from midfielders. This also applies to CPU-controlled teams as well. As a result there's just no structure to team defenses, be they player- or CPU-controlled--most of the time you just beat a defender and it's 20-30 yards of clear grass to the net – of course defenders can still catch and kick the crap out of you once you mysteriously slow to a crawl! Compounding the problem is that since your players aren't good at cutting out passes one defensive strategy is to manually backtrack with a midfielder and hold down L1 ('Teammate assist') to force the CPU to send defenders to tackle the player with the ball; however, this results in something straight out of primary school soccer with several players all chasing the ball. There's also the problem of crosses always going directly to the striker in the box making even the most crap wingers seem like David Beckham, and also the ridiculous swerving free-kicks that look like something straight out of 'Roy of the Rovers'.

Another niggling problem is that even though you do notice when different teams play different formations, there isn't much difference between individual players when you're controlling them except for differences in speed. Ball control and dribbling are all pretty much the same since the ball is glued to your feet, crossing and long passes into the box are also all pretty much the same with every player being able to pull off Beckham-quality crosses with ease. Even shooting seems the same regardless of the player and I've managed to rip a few 30-yarders into the top corner with both Paul Peschisolido and Martin Nash. Free kicks also seem ridiculously easy with whomever you get to take them and I even saw a CPU-controlled Deon Burton curl a free kick around the wall (and I quite literally mean around the wall – banana style at waist height) for a goal.

These complaints of World Tour Soccer 2002 aren't a matter of being anal about 'realism' and ignoring fun-factor, these flaws in the gameplay are directly related to how satisfying and fun the gameplay experience is. Even when you're not being clattered by the CPU, the lack of defensive structure means the game is simply a slower, more cultured, variation on the Fifa breakaway-relay formula – get the ball out of defense, up to a forward, beat a defender and you've got a breakaway. Or of course you can also work the ball down the wing, press the long pass button and you've got a perfect swerving cross to the forward waiting in the middle. After a while this just gets really boring. You can work the ball around the field if you want, but there's no point (unless you want to waste time) since you only need to beat a defender to get a clear path to goal or a lane down the wing anyway. Even the original ISS Pro Evolution has much better defensive and midfield structure; you can't simply waltz past one or two defenders and get a breakaway. That's not to say WTS 2002 is totally unbearable either--it's still a lot better than the recent Fifa games but it's just a shame that the aggressive AI on higher difficulty levels in tandem with very poor defensive AI drag this game down into mediocrity. Gameplay-wise ISS Pro Evolution is still a much more satisfying and enjoyable experience.

Replay Value - 60
As mentioned before, WTS 2002 features a truckload of teams, leagues and competitions as well as custom competitions and a decent team/player editor. The degree of replay value then depends on how much of the gameplay you can stomach. If you can put up with the flaws in the gameplay then the game offers an insane degree of replay value. Personally, I don't see myself playing this much in the future.

Overall - 65
So I guess this is the part where I say something along the lines of; “if you can't go the import route you should stick to playing ISS Pro Evolution 1 on the PSX”; however, that game is several years old now and at the very least WTS 2002 represents a new, non-Fifa (i.e. non-totally crap) soccer experience for North American soccer fans and, as I said before, it's not a horrible game - on the lower difficulty levels it's reasonably fun and it also has a ton of teams and competitions. If you simply cannot go the import route to get the vastly superior KCET games that are out in Asia and Europe then I guess WTS 2002 is a game you should look at; however, gameplay-wise, don't expect anything as good as ISSPE/MLS GameNight and if you are fortunate enough to have imported either ISS PE2 or Pro Evolution Soccer, don't even bother with World Tour Soccer 2002.

By: Lavan Chandran 4/1/02



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