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International Soccer Superstar Pro 98 (PSX) Review

Background Info

Since the release of Konami's International Superstar Soccer 64 two years ago, N64 owners have pointed to it and said "But we have the best soccer game," and they've been right. While ISS64 lacked a FIFA license and the snazzy presentation of EA's FIFA series, it excelled where it counts - in gameplay and control. Now, with the release of ISS Pro 98, Playstation owners have an opportunity to see firsthand what they've been missing. But will they? ISS 98 sneaked onto store shelves after the fervor of this summer's World Cup had all but dissipated, and not long before another, more publicized, Konami title hit the market: a little game called Metal Gear Solid. Due to the unfortunate timing, it's quite likely that ISS 98 will be overlooked. And that would be a shame because it's one of the best sports games to be released for the Playstation this year.

Presentation/Graphics : 90
ISS 98 is a very inauspicious game in terms of presentation. There is no flashy FMV intro. Instead, after a brief loading time, you're presented with the title screen then it's on to the main menu. The same level of simplicity extends to the pitch. Beyond a brief (and good-looking) introductory sequence that shows the members of both sides marching onto the field together, the first thing that's likely to strike you about ISS 98's graphics is how crisp they look. From the stadiums (there are five of them) and pitches to the players, everything looks clean and simple. The only nod to excess is the flags of the participating countries that wave throughout the stadium. They look somewhat odd set against the static crowd, but it's a neat touch just the same.

Even once the action starts, the graphical finesse that's been built into the game isn't immediately apparent. Player movement when running, dribbling, and maneuvering with the ball isn't nearly as striking as it is in the EA games. But don't be fooled, ISS 98 has plenty of first-class animations up its sleeve and they're continually revealed as you play the game. This is especially true of the goalie movements. There are lots of them and they correspond perfectly to the action. The ball physics are equally superb, with balls arcing wide of the net or caroming off the posts realistically based on the force and angle of the shot.

Most of the graphical horsepower has been dedicated to the on-field action where it belongs, but this comes at the expense of some small sacrifices elsewhere. The goal net, for example, lacks detail and looks unrealistic as a result. Also, rain is depicted so simplistically that it makes you wonder why the effect was even included.

The action can be viewed from one of several camera angles, and the graphics run fast and smooth. There is some small amount of slowdown, but the only place I noticed it was on the odd blocked shot in front of the goal. Goals are followed by an auto replay during which the user can assume control at any point. The replay controls are very intuitive and allow you to view the play from virtually any perspective.

Presentation/Audio : 77
Here we have ISS 98's Achilles heel. Not that the sound is bad mind you, just unremarkable. Play by play is provided by commentator Tony Gubba. His commentary is sparse, and that's good because it lacks variety. Despite being fairly repetitive, what he does say is quite good and I haven't turned him off yet.

The crowd is noisy, constantly banging drums, but not very dynamic in terms of reacting to what's going on down on the pitch. Sound effects are quite good overall. The sound of the ball being kicked sounds a little odd, like the ball is filled with rice or something. However when you pound a shot off the post you're rewarded with a resounding thonk.

The music played over the menus and instant replays of goals is decent, if uninspiring. Naturally all sounds can be balanced and adjusted to your liking either from the options menu or the in-game pause menu.

Interface/Options : 95
ISS 98 features one of the fastest and most intuitive interfaces of any sports game I've seen. Its logical structure makes it easy to find and select options. Once you've selected your mode of play, teams, and options, loading the match itself is fast, very fast.

Users are provided the option to reconfigure controller functions. I chose to go with the default, but many FIFA players may prefer to work with a more familiar control layout. Either way, it's a welcome feature and it's encouraging to see more and more sports games including it.

The in-game formation screen appears a little daunting at first, but you'll soon discover just how simple it is (I was able to figure everything out with little difficulty and without referencing the manual.). From here you can make substitutions, set formations and strategy, view the physical condition of your players, and more. One feature that I liked in ISS64 that's missing here is the ability to 'mark' (shadow) an opposing player with one of your own.

I only have a couple of minor complaints about the interface. The first is that there are several statistical screens that are presented after a league match and there doesn't seem to be a way to bypass them (not that I've figured out anyway). There are times when I'd just as soon save my game or get on with the next match right way. The other niggle I have is that navigating the menus using the analog stick often results in losing control of the cursor as it continuously scrolls options on its own. Okay, so I'm too lazy to move my hand over to the direction pad, I admit it.

Gameplay : 93
Gameplay is where ISS 98 really shines. Despite lacking the depth of the FIFA games in terms of modes of play, there is still lots to keep you occupied and entertained. Modes of play are somewhat limited. In addition to training and exhibition modes, ISS 98 offers the option to participate in league play or enter one of various cup tournaments. There is no World Cup tournament per se, but there is an "International Cup" featuring all 32 national teams, complete with round-robin style opening rounds (but not conference qualifying play). League play consists of 16 teams and a 15 or 30 game season. Participating teams can either be CPU selected or chosen by the user, and it's nice to have the option of putting together your own league.

ISS 98's control is superb, but takes some getting used to if you've been weaned on the FIFA games. The major differences are that L1 is used to change player control as opposed to the X button, and R1 is used to dash instead of the T. Dashing comes quickly, but changing players on defense takes a little longer to become accustomed to. Fortunately, player control can be set to auto. The CPU does a good job of switching players for you, and it's a big help. ISS 98's analog control is very precise and makes passing and shooting completely intuitive.

ISS 98 doesn't have the wide range of moves available that the FIFA games do, but there are still enough here to keep most soccer fans happy. Furthermore, plays are more easily executed, with many controls serving multiple functions depending on how and when they are used. I was quickly able to figure out how to do headers, something I can't say about most soccer games I've played. For example, on one occasion I looped a crossing pass to an attacking teammate on the opposite side of the net. The pass was on target, but hit the ground and bounced. My teammate dove, and headed the ball off of the bounce. GOAL!!!

Another terrific gameplay feature is the Game Speed option which allows you to tailor the pace of the action to your liking. While not the first sports game to offer this option, major kudos to Konami for including it.

Difficulty : 96
Another of ISS 98's strong suits, the game features no less than five difficulty settings. Combined with 32 teams of varying strength, there's enough challenge here to keep any gamer going for a long time. Even at the easiest setting, the game puts up a good challenge; until you figure out how to head and volley crossing passes for goals that is, then it's time to move up. The multiple difficulty levels provide a very smooth learning curve, which makes ISS 98 a game that just about anyone can pick up and play.

The AI of both the CPU and your own computer-controlled players is terrific. Your teammates always seem to be positioned exactly where you'd expect them to both on offense and defense. Even though you can't see them all on screen at the same time, you don't have to rely on the on-screen radar to know that the man you want to pass will be in position.

Overall : 90
ISS 98 is one of those rare sports games that succeeds in being a great simulation while remaining easy to learn and great fun to play. While lacking the license, presentation, and depth of options of EA's FIFA series, ISS 98 makes up for it with all around great gameplay. If you're a fan of video soccer, ISS 98 should not be missed.

By: Pete Anderson 11/3/98

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