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FIFA 2001 MLS (PSX) Review

Publisher - EA Sports
Developer - EA Canada


I remember as recently as 1998 when EA's Fifa Series was the king of soccer games. Fifa 98: Road to the World Cup, and World Cup 98 remain two of the best ever soccer games. However, after Konami released ISS Pro Evolution (which uses the same game engine as Winning Eleven 4 and ESPN MLS GameNight) the standard for realism in soccer games was raised almost exponentially. Corresponding with Konami's release of Winning Eleven 4 in Japan, EA sports started to move towards a more arcade-like experience with Fifa 99. In the opinion of most hardcore soccer gamers, they really dropped the ball last year with the horrendous Fifa 2000. Matters weren't made any better for EA when Rage released the surprisingly good Striker Pro 2000. While the move towards arcade play didn't hurt EA in terms of sales, it's really dented the mind share that EA had with hardcore soccer fans. So which direction does the series take this year? Does EA Sports reclaim the respect of soccer gamers with Fifa 2001?

Presentation/Graphics : 83
The game starts off with easily the best intro in the series. Using a montage of hi-res footage from the PS2 version, in tandem with an awesome remix of Moby's Body Rock, Fifa 2001 had me pumped before I even played a game. Once in game, however, things became decidedly less impressive. As the players walked onto the pitch I was surprised by the graininess of the textures and the bland colors. After playing ISS Pro Evolution and MLS GameNight for the past two months I'd been spoilt by their much cleaner, sharper and more vibrant graphics, and Fifa 2001 was clearly a step down. Don't get me wrong, the graphics [b]aren't bad[/b]; in fact, they're quite impressive and upon comparison to the other games in the Fifa series they're easily the best, yet they still don't come close to the benchmark set by Konami.

The first graphical improvement that EA made over last year's version are the player models. In the off-season, EA has decided to feed their players and they're no longer the skinny Calista Flockhart clones that plagued Fifa 2000. The players are still a little bit too alike and I still couldn't tell the size difference between little Michael Owen and the much larger Emile Heskey. EA Sports also acquired a license from the FIFPro – the professional soccer player's association – and this gives them permission to use the player's likenesses in the game. To put it bluntly, if EA Sports went to the effort of acquiring such a license, they should have used it better. Most of the players bear little resemblance to their real-life counterparts. For example, most soccer fans know that Liverpool's Emile Heskey has a bit of an afro, but in Fifa 2001 he's completely bald. Other examples are the absence of Edgar David's characteristic sunglasses, and not a sight of Christian Ziege's bleach blond hair. EA have, however, acquired rights to all the team sponsors so you get to see the sponsor logos on your favorite team's jerseys.

EA Sports also spent a lot of time and money motion capturing some of the biggest soccer stars for the animations in Fifa 2001. However, motion capture animations are only as good as the transitions between the various movements and it's here that Fifa 2001's players sometimes look stiff and mechanical. The dribbling and shooting animations are fine, but when you make quick turns to shoot, or do a “special move” the transitions look very awkward and unrealistic. The goalie animations have been touched up, and the new one-handed diving save is pretty impressive. The goal celebrations are very similar to last year's version, although they are now are a little more context-specific.

Stadium models are decent and most are instantly identifiable. The animated crowds, which can only be seen upon close-ups, are impressive for a Playstation game and are far better than the pixilated dots and giant flags present in ISS Pro Evolution and Striker Pro 2000. The pitch textures are quite good and you can spot the difference between hard, soft and normal pitches. All in all, Fifa 2001's graphics are impressive--it's just that ISS Pro Evolution's models and animations are so much better that Fifa 2001 pales in comparison.

Presentation/Audio : 95
Usually the Fifa series has had a rich tradition of excellent commentary; however, last year's commentary was a travesty with the useless Julie Foudy and Phil Schoen handling the calls. Fortunately, this season EA Sports went back to basics and while Andy Gray doesn't make a comeback Mark Lawrenson fills in admirably with the analysis, and, as always, John Motson is great with the play-by-play. They both do a great job of doing the pre- and post-game analysis, and during play their comments are almost always spot on. While neither Motson or Lawrenson get as excited as Striker Pro 2000's Jonathon Pearce, their comments are much more impressive and varied, and as a result Fifa 2001 has the best commentary I've heard in a soccer game.

Accompanying the impressive commentary are somewhat confused crowd sounds. The crowds react mainly to goals, bad fouls and penalties; however, I still can't really tell the difference between the crowd reaction for goals scored by the home team and goals scored by the away side. Crowd chants are present; however, they're used in very odd circumstances. For example, while playing a game between two in the English Premier League you'll often hear the crowd chant “ENG-ER-LAND.” Another chant that caught my attention was one that sounded just like the distinct “Viiiieeeeeerrraaaaa” drawl that you hear directed towards Arsenal's Patrick Viera by opposing fans. I liked this touch, but I think EA needs to expand a little more on this area of their presentation, and perhaps get more team-specific chants.

To top off what is a very impressive aural package is the best Fifa soundtrack since Fifa RTWC:98. As mentioned before the intro sequence is accompanied by an awesome mix of Moby's “Body Rock,” and the game also features tunes by Utah Saints, Grand Theft Auto, Curve and The Source.

Interface/Options : 96
Another area where Fifa 2001 excels is the horde of options that EA have packed into the game. The main modes of play are; Exhibition, Season, Tournaments, Custom Cup and Training. Exhibition speaks for itself, while season mode allows you to go through consecutive seasons in the top division of the following available leagues; Austria, Belgium, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, the MLS, Netherlands, Norway, Scotland, Spain, and Sweden. The season mode not only allows you to participate in the league, but also in the domestic and European cups. The European competitions available are the EFA Trophy (the UEFA Cup), and the European Champions Cup (the Champions League). The league also features promotion and relegation from lower divisions.

Tournaments mode allows you to play in the EFA Trophy, the European Champions Cup and the World Cup. Custom cup allows you to create your own competition and you can set various parameters such as league or playoff format, club or national teams, number of groups, games, legs, and even the month that the cup begins.

Training mode involves the usual suspects: Penalties, Set Pieces and Scrimmage Game. However, in the scrimmage game the minimum number of defensive players you can select is seven, which makes trying to practice your moves or passing without any pressure completely impossible.

Of course, no Fifa game would be complete without a multitude of gameplay options and Fifa 2001 doesn't disappoint.. Firstly, the game features four different camera angles, and you can adjust the height and zoom of each. Fifa 2001 also has three difficulty levels, Amateur, Professional and World Class. Four different game speed settings are present; normal, fast, faster, fastest. There are also settings for referee strictness, cards, offsides, injuries, and dual shock vibration.

On the field, EA have improved the team management options from last year's version. The game keeps the same IGM (in-game management) system from the past few years where you can choose 3 different IGM formations and can cycle through them by pressing the select button. There are seven different formations available, and while you can adjust the defense, midfield and forward positioning, you can only use EA's default schemes so you don't have complete freedom to position your players as in ISS Pro Evolution. You also select your Attacking Style (Neutral, Possession or Counterattack), Passing Style (Long or Short), Defensive Style (Pressure, Withdrawn or Contain) and your Marking Style (Man to Man or Zonal). Unfortunately, there's no option for mixed passing, nor an option to only man mark a specific opposing player.

As I mentioned before, Fifa 2001 has club teams from more than a dozen leagues, as well as more than fifty international sides. With so many teams, I was very impressed with how up to date the rosters are. All the big transfers of this past off-season are present such as Batistuta and Emerson at Roma, and Figo, Makelele and Conceicao at Real. Unfortunately, while the rosters are up to date, some of other details such as squad numbers, player positions, and team formations are incorrect. For example, Liverpool's Steven Gerrard incorrectly has the number seven jersey, while the real number seven, Vladimir Smicer, has the number four jersey. Furthermore, Fifa 2001's default Liverpool side plays a 4-3-3, with Owen, Fowler and Heskey upfront. However, being a Liverpool fan I know that the Reds only played this formation once all last season! The inaccuracies in formations aren't just at Liverpool either. Manu Petit plays on the outside left wing at Barcelona, while Cocu plays just inside and Overmars, a left winger, plays on the [b]right [/b] wing! The most striking discrepancies occur for set pieces. Concede a free kick close to the 18 yard box against Manchester United and you'd expect an effort from Mr. Beckham. Not so in Fifa 2001! Instead, up steps Paul Scholes while Beckham watches. I'd understand if EA Sports fluffed details for smaller clubs, but Manchester United and Barcelona are two of the most popular soccer teams in the world! However, despite these small problems Fifa 2001 is unsurpassed when it comes to options in a soccer game. No other console title comes close to having as many leagues, teams, players or tournaments.

Gameplay : 77
Normal, Fast, Faster, and Fastest. Those are the speed settings for Fifa 2001, and when I first saw them I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. To be completely honest, I had an expectation level of zero for Fifa 2001. ISS Pro Evolution is so darn good that I don't really care for Fifa's arcade-like play. Fifa 2000 was truly a soccer travesty, with pinball-like gameplay and a game speed more suited to a hockey game. So you can imagine my surprise when I picked the 'Normal' setting in Fifa 2001, headed out onto the pitch, and lo and behold, the game speed was perfect! While there are several problems with Fifa 2001, there are still a lot of improvements over Fifa 2000 and Fifa 99, and I think it's the best Fifa since World Cup 98.

Along with the game speed, another area of improvement over previous versions is the ball control. The ball still sticks too close to your feet, and dribbling isn't as dynamic or realistic as ISS Pro Evolution, but it's still probably the best in the Fifa series. Now speed bursts are much shorter, and dribbling around other players is requires more skill and subtle changes of pace. The ridiculous Maradona-esque 360 spin is still present, but now once you do a spin, the player will stumble and lose speed for a second or two. Not only is this more realistic, it prevents you from 360 spinning your way from one end of the field to the other as occurred in previous incarnations.

The pitch size has also been slightly increased, and you can spread the play around the field easily without the crowded feeling experienced in recent versions. Icon passing, one of the few good features in Fifa 2000, makes a return and is very useful for dead ball situations. I also really like the various strategy settings, such as your passing and marking styles, and these become quite useful at the higher difficulty settings.

Unfortunately, some of the great additions brought to the table are negated by quite a few negative points. First off is the asinine refereeing. More than a dozen times a game I've been hammered from behind with a sliding tackle and the referee has called nothing. It's unbelievably frustrating to work hard to create an opening, make it into the opposition's penalty area, and then be clearly fouled and the referee does nothing. What makes even less sense is that the crowd and the commentators react to the blown call! Several times I've been clearly been up-ended, the crowd begins to jeer, the commentators agree a foul should have been called and still the referee doesn't react. In a closely contested game you really feel that you're being cheated and several times I wanted to throw my Playstation out the window in frustration!

Secondly, the goalscoring and shooting in the series need a major overhaul. I recently read in an EA Sports Q & A regarding Fifa 2001 that they were going to incorporate an ISS-style Shooting Power Bar. Unfortunately, this feature didn't show up in the game, and as a result Fifa 2001 can't compare to ISS Pro Evolution or Striker Pro 2000 when it comes to the variety of goals scored. There are only fewer than a dozen different ways to score, and there's no skill element whatsoever when it comes to shooting. You can control the height and direction, but not the speed or aftertouch. Once you enter the box you just press shoot and the ball hits the back of the net. You can't even dribble around the keeper or lob him! Furthermore, the old system for heading and volleying is far too unrealistic and limited. Heading is a single tap, while volleying or executing a bicycle kick is a double tap, and your success depends upon how soon you press them, regardless of your positioning. Both Striker Pro 2000 and ISS, on the other hand, use the player's exact positioning with regard to both the ball and any defenders to determine what move you do and how successful you are.

Another problem is the special moves. Fifa still heavily relies on the extravagant and rarely seen moves like 360 spins and rainbow flicks. While I said before that the effectiveness of 360 spin has been toned down a bit, it's still an unrealistically potent weapon once you enter the penalty area, and the worst thing is that you can spin in any direction regardless of your initial momentum. So you could easily fake a defender in the box by sprinting to the left and then immediately spinning back with the ball to the right. Even Pele couldn't do that! What's worse is that every player can perform these moves, and when you play the computer on the hardest settings you'll be seeing no-skill defenders like Phil Neville doing spins and shimmies with consummate ease.

The final problem is the computer AI, especially when you're on offense. Every time I play ISS Pro Evolution I am amazed at the intelligence of my computer controlled teammates, not only they way they move into space, but how they also make overlapping runs and also provide support. Playing Fifa 2001 is clearly a step down. Players do get open, and you can create attacks, but you never get the realistic overlaps and defensive support from teammates. As a result attacking is almost always dependant upon getting the ball to your forwards and letting them do the work. The midfield is purely transitional, with little movement or possession required in the middle of the park to succeed. The end result is that you never really feel you are playing [b]futbol[/b], merely arcade soccer. Fifa's play feels far too modulated and pre-scripted--when you pass it either goes to a teammate or it gets intercepted; there's never an errant pass. The concept of playing the ball into space for a teammate to run onto is almost absent. A through pass is available, but it's pretty much useless and is always along the ground.

I understand, however, that EA Sports may not be positioning this game as a true simulation of “the beautiful game,” but more of an arcade/simulation hybrid and in that respect Fifa 2001 is a success. If you loved the most recent Fifa games, especially Fifa 99, you'll absolutely fall in love with Fifa 2001. I would have liked to have given the gameplay a slightly higher score, but the idiotic refereeing and primitive shooting system bring the game down.

Replay Value: 80
While mastering Fifa 2001's gameplay will only take a few hours, the massive number of leagues and cups will keep fans busy for a quite a while. There are a whole host of international teams to play with, and there are also a truckload of different domestic leagues featuring improved season modes with promotion, relegation, and even qualification for European competitions. However, I just feel there isn't nearly as much depth in the game engine as other competing soccer titles. For that reason, once you've mastered the control scheme, beating the CPU even on the hardest setting isn't a huge challenge and most gamers might find the game languishing on their shelf after a short while.

Overall : 80
As I said before I really didn't really have any high expectations for Fifa 2001 after last year's dismal effort. Fortunately, Fifa 2001 was a pleasant surprise and I had quite a bit of fun playing it. It's not perfect, and there are problems with the refereeing and shooting that take away some of the fun, but it's easily the best Fifa game since World Cup 98, and it's got me thoroughly excited about playing the PC and PS2 versions. However, despite its good points I can't give the game a much higher score because it's just not nearly as deep, challenging or rewarding as ISS Pro Evolution or even Striker Pro 2000. If you want a solid arcade soccer title then Fifa 2001 is the best there is, but if you want a futbol simulation then stick with ISS and Striker Pro.

By: Lavan Chandran 10/17/00

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