While many soccer titles have come out in the past years, none has reached nearly the level of gaming or technical perfection of EA’s FIFA series has from its start on the Genesis and 3DO those many years ago. The latest installment is the best yet, with the depth of features including hundreds of teams, infinitely customizable players, deeper playbooks, better mechanics and an incredibly deep team management system that allows you to sit in the coach’s chair, trading players, changing formations and strategy, configuring lineups and selecting the kickers. The simulation aspects have been deepened but EA also deserves credit for significantly updating the presentation. The camera can be adjusted in game, and players will find more variety to the angles offered as well. The post-goal cut scenes are more dramatic this time out with more varied animations and the game’s sleek interface has been enhanced with an impressive replay mode that allows you to change viewpoints at will, spin the camera around 360 degrees, zoom and replay those golden goals to your heart’s content. All in all, this is another impressive step in the series continuing technical evolution.
There’s a massive
number of teams to choose from with more than 400 local, national and
international clubs included from 16 different leagues including the English,
Japanese, and European professional leagues as well as all the MLS teams from
the US, making for an impressive lineup that should please most soccer fans. In
addition to the predefined leagues, players can also create their own as well.
What’s even more impressive is that each of these many teams can be customized
and you can create your own players and trade or sell players and even customize
the uniforms of the players. This gives you plenty of options to play arounf
with. When you go deeper, you can also adjust your formations and strategy to be
more or less aggressive and emphasize a defensive game when going against a
tough opponent or spend more time on getting goals when you’re confident.
There are several play modes including friendly matches, tournament modes and an
extensive season mode where you can drive your teams to the championship.
There’s also a World Cup qualifying mode, but the actual world cup isn’t
included this time around. You are also able to unlock extra tournaments and
modes when you win championships, giving FIFA 2002 even more depth. This is
great, but the outstanding gameplay is where the title shines.
Eschewing the arcade-style approach of the last couple of games, FIFA 2002 instead offers a deeper, more authentic style of play that emphasizes the strategic elements of the game. The matches are lower-scoring but also more satisfying that previous titles. FIFA 2002’s controls are also more elaborate this time around. They’re just as intuitive but they’ve been enhanced and allow more complicated passing and shooting techniques to come into play. This is all enhanced with the excellent controls the series has become known for in evidence whether or not you possess the ball. The way that the controls have been set up is quite intuitive, with the same button having different effects depending on whether you’re in possession of the ball. The button layout is well thought out and takes good advantage of the Gamecube’s controller.
The mechanics have also been improved substantially in many areas. This makes shooting on goal easy but players will need a great deal of practice to actually connect their shots. One aspect of the game that’s been improved is that passing has been simplified and is thus much easier this time. Players will also find that the tackling has become more nuanced with a greater amount of control and accuracy offering you the option of coming at the opposing players with varying degrees of aggression. All of the standard moves including headers, bicycle kicks, slides and tackles are available and easy to perform. Though you might need to be careful in this area or you may end up booked or worse ejected from the match if you’re too aggressive with these moves. Obviously, the way you implement tackling techniques play a much greater role this time around and makes the matches feel more like a real soccer game. Running the ball and controlling the ball have also undergone some major tweaking and this gives each match a much better flow throughout. Overall, the controls are intuitive and simple making this incredibly fun to play.
FIFA 2002’s noticeably
tighter offenses and much better defensive positioning creating many more
options and a deeper experience overall. Some of the changes are more subtle
though the game has made ball-handling easier to understand, yet harder to
master. This makes the flow of the game much more realistic with lower goal
counts and more strategic play making for an authentic feel throughout. While
single player mode is fun, those accustomed to the ease of previous games will
be surprised to learn that the AI Teams are now much more flexible and
unpredictable in their attacks and aggressively defend the goal, making shots
much less likely to pass through the keeper’s hands. This again is a major
enhancement on the gameplay mechanics, making for a more challenging, yet more
satisfying experience. The thing to know about this is that teams have varying
degrees of sophistication that is reflected in their attacks and defense. This
means that playing a match between two lesser teams doesn’t require the
strategic play and isn’t nearly as intense as a match in between two English
Premiership powers such as Manchester United and Arsenal does.
Visually, FIFA 2002 is spectacular with more detailed players, better animation, improved environments with day or night games plus weather effects adding to the realism. There are also some outstanding cut-scenes that truly capture the excitement and emotion of the sport perfectly. The look of the game is dramatically improved with some incredible details in facial animations and player reactions, making the experience even more authentic. There’s still some blurriness and we noticed a few glaring animation glitches on the system. However, the high polish of the engine is impressive and far beyond that offered in other soccer titles with the most convincing player animations seen in a video game to date. The graphics are excellent and this precision extends to FIFA’s audio. The sound is also excellent with in-game commentary, chanting fans and techno music adding to the authenticity of the experience. Overall, EA offers a highly polished engine that seems to take advantage of the Gamecube’s powerful abilities.
While all its features are impressive, the downside is that FIFA 2002 isn’t made for casual sports fans, while there are a couple of streamlined modes, the complexity may be lost on some players. However, while this title may be a bit intimidating at first, it offers solid depth of play. The interface is impressive and allows precise control of the players. It takes some practice to become familiar with all the nuances but once you get the hang of it, the gameplay’s depth and challenge comes into play and adds immensely to the longevity and fun. By any objective measure, this is a solid title and is another jewel in the EA Sports crown. The depth and subtlety of play is quite impressive as are the intuitive yet flexible controls which combine with the outstanding presentation to accurately reflect the excitement of the sport. While its appeal may be lost on people who don’t care about professional level soccer, FIFA 2002 is the best in the series to date and offers plenty of enjoyment, depth and challenge and is a worthwhile entry that should satisfy the discriminating sports gamer.