Wednesday, July 08, 2009

FIFA 2002

FIFA 2002
Electronic Arts
Gameboy Advance
Review Score: 5/10

April 28, 2003

Goodness knows, the Gameboy Advance should be a goldmine for Electronic Arts. The Nintendo handheld is often seen as a 16-bit system on steroids, which often means many ports from the Super NES and Genesis. Goodness knows, I have no idea why some of these titles have been ported over at all, aside from the bona-fide classics, but this situation is perfect for EA. These were, after all, the years of their legendary sports franchises; starting with Madden, they managed to perfectly capture every sport they tried, setting the gold standard for the sports videogame.

That software developers still struggle to create with modern 3D polygons what EA achieved effortlessly is amazing. I would still argue that the NHL Hockey series on the Genesis was as good as anything today, and the Madden's and FIFA's have only aged marginally. For the Advance, portable versions of these games still work. I still enjoy the new Madden as much as the old Genesis classics, and NHL Hockey 2002 is almost worth the price of an Advance alone.

I'm puzzled at FIFA, though. This should be a standout title; obviously, the effort has been made to modernize the game instead of merely porting an old copy of FIFA '95. And, yet, somehow, it doesn't quite work. It's almost as though the final game was rushed out the door before it was properly finished. This isn't even the usual comparison against Konami's brilliant soccer games; even though, again, there's a better version of International Superstar Soccer waiting nearby.

There are some things I like, starting with the field. The old angled viewpoint is thankfully retired in favor of a standard side-scrolling view. The players are large and distinct, and even move fairly well, even if it's more than a little limited. And there are an obscene number of teams to choose from, with more leagues and names than most Americans like me have ever heard of.

The best quality of this FIFA is its fast-paced, arcade-style play. This is one of those games that you can pick up and run with almost immediately, and EA should be thanked for that. The limited number of buttons on the Advance is no doubt a factor; there is only so much you can do with four buttons, so only the basic moves are included. I'm fine with that, as long as the game on the field moves swift and smooth. You can probably play a full match in five or ten minutes, passing and scoring with ease.

I just wish some more effort was put into the making of this game. For instance, take the players on the field. As I've already noted, they look fine and move well, but the animation is pretty much limited to running. There's not much interaction between two players fighting for control of the ball, or passing, or pretty much anything. And the team uniforms are usually two colors, one of which is always white. And there is only one stadium to play in, with the same grass patterns and crowd chants. What's the point of this? The cynic in me suspects that FIFA has fallen victim to the dreaded Franchise Curse, where the first installment has only the bare essentials, and too many important features are left on the shelf for next year's version.

Of course, I enjoy this game for short bursts, but after awhile, I become aware of something that turns me off to the whole experience completely. Put simply, the computer is stupid. As dumb as a bag of rocks. Want to score? Just take control of the ball, and then sprint to the end of the field, wait for the goalie to run towards you, and shoot the ball in. There's a little weaving around defenders, but it's more like a glorified obstacle course; there's no real defense going on here.

Artificial Intelligence simply doesn't exist here, at least not compared to any sports games over the last decade. When you have the ball, your teammates all run forward, in unison. When the other team has the ball, they all retreat, in unison. There's no attempt on the computer's part to defend or capture the ball. They just return to their original starting points, and then just stop. It's downright insulting to watch a defender charge an opposing net while three defenders stand by, twiddling their virtual fingers. And it's even more insulting knowing that it was Electronic Arts that did away with this primitive practice in the 16-bit era.

Now we're back to the Intellivision age, where you do all the heavy lifting. Playing, I get flashbacks to Football on the Atari 2600, where you move the entire team as one unit. That game was made in 1977.

There's no excuse for this. I don't want to wait a full year to see if the developers put in the features that should never have been missing in the first place. What happened here?

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