Star-Bulletin Features

Monday, July 29, 2002


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‘FIFA 2002 World Cup’ scores

The PS2 game boasts a thrilling realism


By Shawn "Speedy" Lopes
slopes@starbulletin.com

Call it the World's Greatest Game. Futbol. Futebol. Soccer.

With a global fan base numbering in the billions and legions of supporters on every continent, no sport can boast the kind of fanaticism brought on by the World Cup, the greatest sporting spectacle on the planet. We saw it for ourselves last month as Japan and South Korea co-hosted the monumental event. The question was: Could EA Sports' FIFA World Cup 2002 for the Playstation 2 duplicate all the pageantry and nail-biting drama of the real thing?

The answer to that is a resounding yes. This is a video game in which pressure goals and agonizing near-misses are every bit as thrilling as they are on television or in person, and momentum-shifting strategies are often met with dramatic results. Compared to previous FIFA titles or ESPN's clumsy "Extra Time" for the PS2, FIFA World Cup 2002 is much more realistic, with players reacting intuitively to the ball and relying less on a human controller to guide their every move.

Adding to the game's realism are its graphics, which depict each stadium and player with amazing detail. A frustrated striker who's missed a sure-fire goal will cover his head in anguish, while another who has his legs taken out from under him by an overly aggressive defender will fall flat on his face, scowl in disgust, grab a handful of turf and toss it skyward in anger. Crowds numbering in the tens of thousands will chant, cheer and jeer appropriately, and players will call out to each other on the field in their respective languages.

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EA Sports obviously did its homework by modeling every real-life player and team after the genuine article. Each player is judged on abilities such as shooting, passing, tackling, speed and strength. Technically skilled teams like Portugal and Spain play a possession-based game to perfection, while a squad like Saudi Arabia, true to its nature, is pathetic on defense and can be scored on in bunches. Your aim as team manager is to play up your strengths, protect your weaknesses and exploit those of your opponent with various formations and attack modes.

Marquee players are designated by a star above their heads, which signifies blistering speed, mesmerizing ball-handling skills, a (figurative) cannon for a leg or a combination of these traits. England, for example, boasts five star players in their starting lineup while Israel -- a World Cup non-qualifier -- has none. Had the crew at EA Sports taken stats from this year's tournament, the surprising U.S. squad might have been afforded more than one star in Landon Donovan. Similar designations for fleet-footed teammate DaMarcus Beasley and 2002 World Cup all-star Claudio Reyna would have been a nice touch.

John Motson and Andy Grey provide accurate and halfway-entertaining commentary throughout, although as with every other sports title ever made, the novelty wears off after several plays.

It's not a perfect game, of course. Two of the biggest disappointments of FIFA World Cup 2002 are its lack of a create-your-own-team function and its inability to allow more than one player to engage in anything other than a friendly exhibition game with another player. If you want to involve your friends in a playoff, they will either have to play a computer-selected team or wait until you've finished your tournament.

A fair portion of the game's resources are spent on DVD-like extras, such as a behind-the-scenes look at the orchestra assembled for this all-out production. While this gives you an idea of the grand scale on which FIFA World Cup 2002 was conceived, if it means reduced playability, I have to believe most World Cup and PS2 fans would rather do without the extra features. Overall, this is a tremendous game with a few kinks that will no doubt be worked out by the next World Cup in 2006.


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