EA Sports’ FIFA International Soccer (http://www.ea.com) series has had its share of ups and downs. Starting off as a fairly decent Genesis cart in 1993, the series reached its peak when it was released on the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer. It was this game, in fact, that was responsible for the 3DO receiving a following as a mildly successful gaming system. The next year’s version for the Sega Saturn and the Sony PlayStation also faired very well.
But then came the ’97 lineup. It was this version that made gamers wonder what went wrong. The gameplay was very sloppy, and the graphics were unbelievably slow. Even on the powerful Nintendo 64, the cart looked so tragic, even the 3DO version made it look like an 8-bit game. Competition suddenly arose, in the form of Konami’s outstanding International Superstar Soccer 64 and Sega’s very impressive Worldwide Soccer series. It appeared that EA Sports’ dominance on the soccer pitch was over. However, they are back on the winning track with their newest release, FIFA 98: Road to the World Cup. While not as impressive as ISS64 or Worldwide, it still can be considered one of the better soccer games on the Nintendo 64.
Gone are the blurry images and horrible frame rates that plagued FIFA 64. Using a new mid-resolution technique, FIFA 98’s images are greatly improved. They aren’t as sharp as Quarterback Club’s, but the difference between 64 and 98 are like night and day. There still is a great deal of slowdown when all the players are on the screen, but it’s not as constant as before. Also, there is no speed-killing PIP (Picture-in-Picture) camera that was used in the previous game, so frame rates are obviously faster.
Also, gameplay is much more realistic. The ball actually has a real sense of physics, and doesn’t feel like you’re playing with a brick. The players control well, as there are buttons to sidestep players, hurdle over them, and make a successful through-pass to a teammate to score the winning goal.
AI is also improved, but I have noticed that there are still a few gaps. Sometimes when I made a shot right at the goal, the goaltender just stood there and let the goal score. Also, one time my net was swamped by three attackers. One took a shot, another got the rebound, and what did the player do? He passed it on to a heavily covered teammate, when he had a wide open net.
Commentary is also improved. There are now three voice overs in the broadcast booth, play-by-play, and color commentary similar to what is used in NHL 98. But while the broadcast booth and play-by-play announcers come out crystal clear, the color commentary is hard to understand. It is not because of the sound quality of the Nintendo 64, it’s just because the British accent is so exaggerated, that it’s hard to make out what he says. (He must be a royal.) Otherwise, the sounds are pretty good.
One definite point on the cool factor is that the title theme is Blur’s "Song #2," also known as the theme to Starship Troopers. One would expect this to be on the CD versions, but it’s also on the N64 cart, and done quite well at that. I only wished there was a way to play the whole track, since it changes to another track during the game select screen. After all, NBA Hangtime has a full 90-minute rap soundtrack (complete with lyrics), so why can’t we have it again? But I digress.
FIFA 98: Road to the World Cup is a step in the right direction. It might not be an ISS killer, but it’s pretty decent, especially compared to the disaster of ’97. If they keep this up, I’m sure that FIFA 99 will attain the same status that FIFA 3DO had.