FIFA 2002 was, in my opinion, the best sports game of 2001 and maybe the best soccer game ever. It might even fight for the No. 1 spot on my list of best overall games of last year. Why? Because it is beautiful, the passing system was greatly improved, and the controls were totally intuitive. Most importantly (from a person who has played the sport) it played like soccer.
So after installing 2002 FIFA World Cup I expected more of the same. I started the game and choose to step right into the World Cup tournament. I guess I didn't have much of a choice; the only other option was to play a friendly (FIFA's term for an Exhibition). When I started the game I was instantly impressed by the excitement of the whole thing. The stadium seemed alive and jumping. It put me in the mood to start my quest for soccer's most coveted prize. The first few minutes I thought "Wow, they improved on what was already my favorite soccer game by far." The way the characters look is better, players now perform new, useful actions (like sliding and keeping the ball in play as it rolls toward the sidelines), and everything else that made FIFA 2002 great was still there. Well, not quite...
This is hands-down the best looking soccer game ever. Everything that FIFA 2002 did right World Cup takes an extra step further. The crowd (which may not be important to gameplay) sticks out more than anything. No more paper-flat looking crowds. This crowd is very animated without looking cut and copied throughout the stadium. It jumps up and down and wears the color of their favorite team. Flags and signs wave vigorously. There are camera flashes, toilet paper rolls and streamers flying around, and balloon animals and mascots everywhere. This definitely gives the game the hectic feel a major sporting event should have.
The player animations have also been taken to the next level. The players' faces are fully 3d modeled and look and react wonderfully to their situations. It is very realistic to see a player look upset or angrily chew his gum as he waits to kick off after his team has been scored on. They also will act frustrated when they blast a shot of one of the bars, or ecstatic when they put one by the keeper. Players have never looked or acted more real than this.
Sound and Music:
The sound has always been good in the FIFA series and this one is no exception. John Motson and Andy Gray provide the fitting and accurate commentary people have come to expect from EA's FIFA. And the crowd reacts perfectly to any situation. After a violent challenge from a defender that the ref declares to be fair, the crowed will taunt at him with boo's and whistles. And maybe I just never noticed it in the earlier titles, but the players seem to talk to each other constantly. This sounded great. As a person who has played soccer for most of his life, this dialog makes it feel like you are really in the game. Players call for passes, yell when they are open, and goalies bark instructions at the defense.
This time around EA decided to go with classical music to put you in the mood. It does seem to give the game a different atmosphere, but I'm sure some people will prefer the pounding techno style music of FIFA 2002. It all depends on which you prefer, I won't hold their new decision against them, it sounds excellent either way.
Remember how I kind of cut of the last sentence of my introduction (if not scroll up)? Keeping reading and you'll see why.
The best part of FIFA 2002 was it's very intuitive controls. The passing could be done into space and not just directly at players. Shooting and bending the ball seemed like second nature. Everything just came very naturally, including heading and volleying the ball out of the air. This is the area where my main complaint comes in, and will ultimately keep FIFA 2002 my soccer game of choice over World Cup. In World Cup EA boasted of a new "air play" system that allows you to juggle the ball or do other flashy special moves all while heading towards the goal. This system also introduced power based (like regular shooting or passing) head shots and passes. Now this all sounds simple enough but I had many problems with it. Powering a header (pass or shot) is no problem, but most of the time after I did my player would just chest the ball down to his feet and then shoot or pass it. This is awful in front of the opponent’s goal or in your own end. It gives the opposing goalie too much time to take the ball off of your feet, or allows your opponent's forward an opportunity to tackle your defender off the ball. I know it might just take time for me to master this, but I am generally a subscriber to the K.I.S.S. (keep it simple, stupid) theory and I find this unnecessarily complex. I prefer FIFA 2002's simplistic approach to "air play" much more and have never found it limiting.
Other than this (and other minor changes like I mentioned in the introduction) the game plays almost exactly like FIFA 2002, which is a very good thing.
There is nothing special about the multiplayer. It is almost identical to having a bunch of controllers on one computer, but that doesn't mean it isn't fun. I prefer most games I can play with a friend. It is just more fun to trash-talk a person after scoring a goal, as the computer doesn't respond much. One multiplayer aspect that may be discouraging for some people is that two players cannot select different teams in a tournament and go for the Cup. I know some people who enjoy playing for the Cup and possibly matching up with a friend along the way will be disappointed they left this out.
If I would have easily picked up the "air play" system, then I would say this is the best soccer game on the market. But since I didn't and don't find the benefits worth the frustration, I will stick to FIFA 2002. There are also far too few gameplay options, making this game not worth shelling out cash if you already own FIFA 2002. But if you don't own it, this is a very good game and if you are patient enough to learn all the tricks, it could be great.