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FIFA 2001 (PC) Review


PC Screens(22)

PC Screens(20)

PC Screens(20)

PC Screens(22)

EA Sports' Fifa series is one of the top selling videogame franchises of all time and the newest incarnation, Fifa 2001, has been hotly anticipated. Unfortunately, while Fifa 2001 continues the series' great tradition of excellent visual and aural presentation, it also continues the series' recent tendency towards shallow, arcade-like gameplay, and at the end of the day is a huge disappointment for the hardcore soccer gamer.

Presentation/Graphics : 92
Fifa 2001 starts with the same brilliant intro that was used in the PSX version; however, once you step onto the pitch it's a whole new ball game. As soon as I loaded up a game I was blown away by the simply outstanding stadiums. Using the furthest camera angle the game almost looks real! The stadium structures are incredible and they're all easily identifiable. Lining the stands you can see the stewards walking around and watching the crowd. Closer to the pitch you can see animated camera men following the action and linesmen running down the touchline. Dugouts are also visible and you can see the management team sitting and watching, as well as the subs warming up. The pitch textures are also astounding and Fifa 2001 features wonderful lighting effects from the flood lights. Unfortunately, there are only a total of five stadiums modeled. This really is disappointing as both Fifa 99 and Fifa 98:RTWC had a lot more. It also puts a huge damper on the realism when you see Bradford playing Ipswich at the San Siro! The crowd graphics are great from far away, but close up they're a little blocky and grainy.

The player models are incredibly detailed and you can even see the individual studs on players' boots! However, the game doesn't feature differential player model sizes. So little Gianfranco Zola looks about the same size as towering Marcel Desailly. Teams also have official sponsors on their jerseys; however, I noticed that those teams whose sponsors are beer companies, such as Liverpool, did not have logos. Unfortunately, there still aren't any names on the back of the jerseys.

This year EA have also acquired a FIFPro license so that they can officially use the likenesses of the players in the game. Some players faces look just like their real-life counterparts such as Robbie Fowler and Jaap Stam. Yet, for every player that is done right there are a lot more that are done very poorly. For example, Emile Heskey is bald, Nelson Vivas is black, and poor Wes Brown looks like the Nemesis character from Resident Evil 3!

However, the player faces and features don't really come into play because of the game's poor camera angles. The default 'Tele Cam' is far too close and the angle is practically unplayable; the 'Action Cam' is a useless diagonal view; and the 'End to End' angle makes judging depth difficult. You can adjust height and zoom, but only to a very small extent. The only playable angle is the Tower Cam with maximum zoom. Yet, even then the camera is still a bit too far, and from that angle the only way you can visually differentiate players is by their sizes…that is if Fifa 2001 had differential player sizes! Of course, you can still identify players by text indicators and what position they're playing, but the Tower Cam basically makes most of the graphical improvements to the players redundant, except for when you score a goal or receive a card and the game provides an automatic close-up.

The player animations are a little bit better than last year's and are generally excellent. However, I still see problems with volleying when a player seems to hop back, and then jump forward to volley the ball. This would look weird in the middle of the park, but it looks even worse in a crowded penalty area. The ridiculous kamikaze sliding tackles are still present, and are even more exaggerated than last year's. Of the new animations, EA Sports seemed to have spent most of their time with the foul and tackle animations, and while there are great motion captured elbow strikes, mid-air body-checks and forearm hits I can't help wonder why animations more suited to a wrestling game are featured while other aspects of the graphics, such as the camera angles or the tackling, could have be addressed instead.

Presentation/Audio : 94
John Motson is back for the play-by-play and alongside him is former Liverpool star, and soccer pundit, Mark Lawrenson. Last year's horrific commentary with Phil Schoen and Julie Foudy was an disastrous experiment of Frankenstein proportions, and it's good to hear two established British commentators calling the shots again. Motson and Lawrenson are wonderful, Motty always keeps up with the play while Lawro's comments are usually intelligent and pertinent to the play at hand. Motson also says a lot more of the players' names than Schoen did last year, and both commentators make pre- and post-game comments, along with a short half-time analysis.

As you'd expect from a Fifa game the soundtrack is brilliant. Featuring tunes from Moby, Utah Saints, GTA, Curve and The Source, the soundtrack is, in my opinion, the best in the series.

The crowd sounds are generally good, but really nothing has changed much in this area of the Fifa series since Fifa: RTWC 98. You still can't tell which team is the home team as each goal is accompanied by an equal roar, and the same goes for fouls and penalty decisions. The Fifa series really is behind the curve when it comes to this aspect of the audio. Both the NHL and Madden series have crowds that react to the events in the game, so I don't know why the Fifa series still lags behind. As for chants, while the PSX version had slightly confused crowds (chants of 'En-ger-land' in Premier League matches), the PC crowds are thoroughly confused. At one point, in Brazil versus Argentina game the entire crowd started chanting 'EN-GER-LAND' for a minute or so. The other sounds of the game are incredibly exaggerated, and the sound effects accompanying a tackle or a mid-air collisions sound like they've been stolen from a kung-fu movie!

Overall, however, the excellent commentary and great music go a large way to redeeming the aural aspect of Fifa 2001, but it would be nice if EA put more effort into the crowd sounds.

Interface/Options : 85
If there's one aspect where Fifa series excels above other soccer games is the number of leagues available for play in Season Mode, and Fifa 2001 is no exception. Available domestic leagues are; the MLS, Netherlands, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy and the K-League. Most of the leagues featured in the Season Mode allow you to play in the domestic league and cup competitions, as well as European competitions.

Of course, there's the obligatory Exhibition mode, as well as a Tournament mode that allows you to play in the World Cup, UEFA Cup or the Champions League. Internet play is also available using EA's matchmaker service. A player and team edit mode is available, and the game also features the usual audio and graphics options.

Now while there's no doubt that Fifa 2001 is packed with options, it's apparent that EA Sports definitely went for quantity over quality. For starters, while the season mode features 16 leagues it's up for argument whether or not those are the top 16 leagues in the world. Notable absentees are the Brazilian, Argentine, and Portuguese domestic leagues.

While the season mode does allow you to participate in several competitions, it falls prey to the same problems that plagued last year's version. For example, the stats tracking is almost non-existent with only goals and cards being tracked. Both ISS Pro Evolution and MLS GameNight track goals, assists, winning streaks and form! Fifa 2001 doesn't track suspensions properly either, so if you get red card in the League Cup, the suspension carries over to your next game even if it's a European match! Furthermore, you can still only select one team for a season..

There are also some major absences in the selection of national teams. While Fifa 2001 includes previously un-featured teams such as Mauritius, Palestine and Lebanon, missing are some of the best teams in the world such as Nigeria, Ukraine, Morocco and Iran! Three of those four teams were in the last World Cup! Now while the absence of certain leagues could be down to EA catering to a target audience, are there really significantly greater sales in Mauritius, Palestine and Lebanon than in Nigeria, Ukraine and Iran?

In-game, Fifa 2001 offers more options for changing attacking and defending styles; however there aren't many formations available, and no options for setting individual player logic or man-marking.

However, at the end of the day, most of the leagues featured are exclusives and Fifa is the only place you're going to be able to play domestic leagues from nations such as Greece, Israel and Austria. Internet play is also a great addition.

Gameplay : 65
Around the net there's a great sense of anticipation surrounding the latest incarnation of the Fifa series. EA Sports more or less admitted they lost the plot with Fifa 2000, and promised a whole host of changes to bring the series back to the 'glory days' of Fifa: RTWC 98 and, after playing the PlayStation version, I was excited at the prospect of playing a more refined and perfected game on the PC. So did Fifa 2001 meet my gameplay expectations? In a word; no. In fact, Fifa 2001 didn't even come close to meeting my expectations, and while it's not as bad as Fifa 2000, it serves as the strongest reminder that the Fifa series really needs a complete overhaul.

Two of the most touted 'improvements' to Fifa 2001 were the increased pitch size and the slower speed of the game. Indeed, the pitch is a lot larger than Fifa 99 and Fifa 2000, and probably the largest in the series. There are four speed settings and at the slowest setting the players run at a very realistic clip. So what's wrong then? Well the problem is these two improvements are negated because the ball moves too darn fast. Even regular passes seem to be in excess of 70mph, and quite often headers from the midfield seem to move faster than the hardest shots and carry for 50-60 yards! Consequently, you have slow players who pass the ball with lightning speed and pinpoint precision, and as a result you get only a slightly modified version of the ping-pong effect in Fifa 2000.

Another addition was that of an ISS-style shooting power bar. Unfortunately, unlike ISS Pro Evolution and ESPN MLS GameNight where the power bar is an integral part of the game, Fifa 2001's power bar is no more than an annoying gimmick. The ISS power bar gives you a huge degree of control over the speed, height and power of the shot. It also puts a huge skill element into the game, and it takes most gamers a long time to even put shots on target. The power bar in Fifa 2001 basically gives you no more control over the shot than previous versions of Fifa. It's still ridiculously easy to the net once you're 20 yards away, and if you're in the 18-yard box you can just charge the power bar to the max and you'll still hit the target. You also still don't have the same freedom to place the shot anywhere you want as in Evolution and GameNight, and you can only basically shoot to top left or right corners, bottom left or right corners or the middle of the net. You can sidefoot a shot in using the pass button, or chip the goalie using the lob button, but only when there aren't any teammates around. This results in ridiculous situations where you're on a breakaway, decide to lob the goalie, and then a computer controlled teammate comes streaking in and instead of shooting you lob the ball backwards to him! In fact, because of the button mashing nature of the game the power bar makes shooting even more frustrating than previous versions. Heading and volleying is the same as it's been for the past few years, just a single- or double-tap, and whoever presses it first wins --nothing is position-dependent.

Another problem with Fifa 2001, and the Fifa series as a whole, is that it still uses the same ridiculously simple and inflexible passing system that has been in place since Fifa 97. Short pass, lob and useless through pass – that's all you get, and you can't control the power or height of any of them. As a result you get pre-scripted ball physics, and the robotic, pinball passing of old. A pass always goes to a teammate or gets intercepted, the concept of passing into space is absent. The through pass is useless – it's just a pass that's a little bit ahead of the receiver; he then controls it and the ball sticks to his feet as he 360-degree spins his way to goal. The lob pass is useless as it always goes directly to the player you're passing to. So you can't do a lobbed through pass because even if the receiver is past the defense he has to stop, turn around, bring the ball down and then run on, by which time the defense has caught up. In both Evolution, GameNight and even Striker Pro 2000 you can play a lobbed pass in front of another player so he can run onto it. Crossing is equally moronic as the pass always goes directly towards the attacker in the box. Effectively there's no difference between a cross from David Beckham or a cross from Tony Adams as they'll always be directly to the striker in the middle.

Just like Fifa 2000, the tackling and refereeing are woefully poor. Quite frankly, even on the highest discipline setting, the referees are blind. You can slide tackle players from any angle without even bothering to play the ball because more than half of the time the referee will keep his whistle in his pocket. This is ridiculous enough when you're the one doing the tackling, but when the computer does it you'll want to plough your head through the wall in frustration. There's nothing more annoying than hammering the shoot and 360 spin buttons like mad to get a breakaway and then have a defender take out your legs, injure your player and the ref does nothing. Even when the ref does call fouls he's not consistent, and after 5 years the Fifa series sill hasn't got the professional foul rule correct and upon that rare occasion when you do get called for bringing down a player on a breakaway you usually only get a yellow card. Another problem is that players can slide for about 10 yards on a tackle and the tackle moves at lighting speed! Even the blocking tackle isn't really a 'tackle' – you simply thump the other player, knock him off balance and then take the ball away. Throw in the great elbow strikes, mid-air body-checks, kung-fu movie sound effects, and it makes you wonder if EA Sports thought they were making a hockey game instead of a soccer game.

The icing on the cake, however, is the incredibly simplistic computer AI. Although there are slight improvements from last year, the AI hasn't fundamentally improved over the past few years, and is absolutely laughable compared to the AI in ISS Pro Evolution and Striker Pro 2000. There's hardly any movement off the ball and players rarely run into space. If you dribble up with a midfielder and approach the forwards, rather than running into space, most of the time they'll just run alongside you! If you come up with a defender, rather than supporting you or covering back like in ISS PE or GameNight, the midfielders simply stand and watch! There's no overlapping movement whatsoever. Fifa 2001 also relies far too much on the extravagant 'party tricks' like 360 spins, rainbow flicks and double step-overs to go past other players. On the World Class difficulty level the computer opposition does special moves almost all the time and it's ridiculous when you see defenders 360 spinning their way out of trouble in their own penalty area! You also see things like computer opposition players getting a clear lane to the net and instead of running with the ball into space, they stop and lob ball to a teammate who's being tightly marked! It's almost like watching young children play soccer; almost everyone runs after the ball, and practically no one moves into space – the only difference is that every player can do 360 spins and rainbow flicks with ease!

As a result of the AI, the passing, the shooting and the tackling, the gameplay is basically the same as Fifa 2000: assault the opposition with an illegal slide tackle, get the ball, hammer the speed burst button as if your life depended upon it, hit the 360 spin button 3 or 4 times, hold down shoot, score, repeat ad nauseam. It's unrealistic and at the end of the day the biggest indictment is that Fifa 2001 really isn't that much fun to play. There's very little skill element involved, you don't need any knowledge of soccer or soccer tactics, and it has a learning curve of 5 minutes. Gameplay-wise there's only a slight resemblance to soccer. Fifa 2001 looks like soccer, it sounds like soccer, but it doesn't really play like soccer. Perhaps if EA Sports had spent more time on the gameplay aspects of Fifa 2001 rather than signing the latest musical artists, or spending money on motion capturing soccer's biggest stars then maybe Fifa 2001 wouldn't have been so disappointing.

Replay Value: 60
I guess Fifa 2001's replay value all depends upon whether or not you can stomach the gameplay. If you like pinball, arcade-like gameplay then Fifa 2001 has a truckload of leagues and tournaments to offer as well as online play. However, there isn't any depth in the game; after 5 or 10 minutes of play you can completely master the controls, and there's no real strategic aspect to the play. I don't think I'll be playing this game ever again.

Overall : 62
A huge portion of this score is due to the excellent presentation, and not the gameplay. To be completely honest, I had a lot more fun with the PSX version of Fifa 2001. Sure, it's also an arcade experience, but the passes don't move as fast, the tackles aren't as vicious and there isn't the useless shoot bar. Fifa 2001 PC is a huge disappointment and it's time the Fifa series got a major overhaul. There are serious issues with all aspects of the control, the scripted ball physics and most of all the AI. Gameplay-wise the game bears more resemblance to hockey than it does to soccer. Yet, regardless of how poor Fifa 2001 is, I'm certain it will be a hot seller for one simple reason – it has no competition. Fifa 2001 is the only live-action PC soccer game available this year. If you liked Fifa 2000 then I'm sure you'll look upon Fifa 2001 favorably, but then again if you wanted a fast, hard-hitting experience you'd just get NHL 2001! However, if you're looking for a deep, realistic, fulfilling futbol simulation my suggestion is that you stick to playing Fifa: RTWC 98, or better yet, pick up a second hand PlayStation with a copy of ISS Pro Evolution.

By: Lavan Chandran 12/4/00

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