The FIFA series of soccer games has undergone a transition in its latest entry, FIFA 2002. Previous entries in the internationally popular franchise favored arcadelike gameplay and encouraged button-mashing contests, but with 2002, the days when your team of choice scores a dozen goals a period are gone. Instead, EA has decided to convert its popular franchise into a more simulation-oriented game, and the results are definitely pleasing. With the addition of enhanced graphics, as well as an all-new passing system, fans of soccer will find that this latest FIFA game is the most challenging, most realistic, and also the greatest yet.
Graphically, FIFA 2002 is a notch above last year's formidable title. The player models and detailed faces look extremely good this time around, especially during the replays, and they're accompanied by equally impressive player animation. The uniforms are nicely done, and the players' facial expressions throughout each game are entertaining to witness, if a bit overexaggerated. If you can keep your eyes off the players for a moment, you can take in a great-looking pitch surrounded by delicately detailed grass and overenthusiastic crowds waving flags and lighting fires in the stands. Traveling between stadiums doesn't feel repetitive, as there are enough subtle differences between locales to keep the game looking fresh each time around. Several camera angles are available, some more functional than the other more attractive ones that showcase the graphics, but the choices available are satisfying. Even outside the game, the menus are slick, and the interface is easy to navigate.
Perhaps the most noticeable change made to the way one plays FIFA is the more realistic gameplay. In this newly renovated passing scheme, instead of simply using directional passing, players must now deal with the strength of passes, as well as the trajectory, by using pressure-sensitive control. Mastering this type of control is essential to success because the passes lead the players they're intended for rather than heading toward the players' current location. Therefore, accurate passers will be able to gauge which teammates will be able to make a through run and send the ball ahead of them properly enough to get it in their control. This change to the gameplay takes last year's shot power gauge one step further and forces you to pay attention to every ball movement. In addition, one-two passes, or swift exchanges between players, can be performed by pressing the right analog stick in the secondary teammate's direction. While this move isn't inherently easy to perform, it adds another option for players to use against pesky goalkeepers in this more challenging offensive scheme. Slide tackles are a much riskier endeavor now than ever before, but properly completing them has also become much more satisfying. They are less effective than in last year's game, and the refs will not flinch when handing out the penalty cards. Ball control is just as important as positioning now, as players are more limited by fatigue and well-duplicated human error. The AI will second-guess a scoring attempt if your defense is set up properly, and the wise player will do the same conversely. The AI steps up and usually plays a very good match, so there's a true sense of reward for every goal scored. What these gameplay changes amount to is a slightly lower-scoring game, but also a much more satisfying simulation of real-life soccer.
Those looking for a multitude of options in their sporting games will find that FIFA offers a wide selection of game modes to satisfy. In addition to playing a friendly match, you can take on the world in the FIFA World Cup Qualifier tournament or start a season with your favorite team. The FIFA World Cup pits national teams against each other in elimination matches that lead toward the coveted cup. Playing as France, Korea, or Japan will allow you to also select to play through their actual friendly schedule, where the challenge is to maintain their current world ranking or improve upon it. In the season mode, one of the hundreds of teams from 15 leagues is chosen to play through an entire season, with the league championship, the World Cup, and the European Cup all up for grabs. If this sort of time investment seems like too much, a tournament can be played for the European Champion's Cup or the EFA trophy, with more to unlock by defeating opponents in the World Cup mode. There are so many teams, leagues, and tournaments available that soccer fans can realistically be playing this game indefinitely. When playing with the 400-plus teams isn't enough, you can also dive into the wealth of options available in the creation centre, where you can create leagues, cups, teams, and players. The players can be detailed rather nicely, with options to change their physical appearance, skills, and uniforms. Managing a team indirectly is nearly as important as playing the game, as you are expected to closely direct formations, lineups, substitutions, strategies, and kick takers.
Topping off an already solid game is the excellent audio production that has helped complete this year's experience. Returning are play-by-play commentators John Motsen and Andy Gray, providing a capable and often entertaining discourse throughout the matches. The commentary is often fresh, rarely repetitive, and very well timed with the course of the game. The crowd will add its contribution to the audible experience with clapping, cheering, and horn blares. Thirteen excellent, energetic electronica tracks set a vibrant pace to the action, courtesy of BT, Ministry of Sound, Gorillaz, and many others. The music may not be suitable to the tastes of many, but anyone who enjoys upbeat dance tracks should find something here worth listening to.
While die-hard fans of Konami's international hits ISS Pro Evolution and Winning Eleven may not find that the renovated gameplay is as realistic as those found in other titles, it would be hard to argue that FIFA 2002 is not in itself an enjoyable and fairly accurate representation of their favored sport. FIFA 2001 was a technically sound, albeit arcade-style soccer game, but those players willing to spend the money on an upgrade should find that the positive additions made to the series in 2002 are substantial and well worth the expense. Fans who have been playing the franchise since its inception will find that this latest FIFA game is quite possibly the most challenging to master, but the rewards you reap for doing so make it quite worth the effort.