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Striker Pro 2000 (DC) Review

Publisher - Infogrames
Developer - Rage UK


If you have been holding your breath for EA to release games for the Dreamcast, you will probably turn blue before it actually happens. There are plenty of us who would be giddy over seeing a rendition of the FIFA series on our beloved hardware. While it may never come to pass, you can finally come up for some air with the arrival of Striker Pro 2000 for the Dreamcast, the first good soccer game on the latest Sega console.

Caught somewhere between arcade action and full simulation, this Dreamcast footy title rivals any FIFA title out there. Striker Pro 2000 carries a license from the governing body of soccer in Europe (UEFA), so many of your favorite European and international teams are there. Although player names are fictitious, Rage and Infogrames make up for it with some excellent gameplay.

Presentation/Graphics : 80
The graphics in Striker Pro 2000 can best be described as good. For soccer games, Virtua Striker 2 looked absolutely gorgeous. The players in that game were highly detailed, complete with bobbing ponytails and facial expressions. Of course that game utilized a camera that was close to the action, giving it the beautiful look. However, the closeups were also the downfall of the game; you simply could not get a view of the field to make passes.

By contrast, the view in Striker Pro 2000 can be adjusted. The default camera distance is 10 meters, which makes the players small and gives you a good look at a good chunk of the field. The camera distance comes at a price. The player models lack the detail found in Virtua Striker 2, and they resemble what a PlayStation title could do on its best day in replay mode. In no way am I belittling the player graphics. You are playing from a distance, so there is simply no way to pack the detail from a distance. What you get looks good.

The animations that accompany the players are fluid. Passing and kicking motions look realistic, and the goalie work is some of the best I have seen. Goalies react to the ball and extend their bodies to make the stop. The one place where animations break down are on kicked balls where players receive passes in the air. For example, if you have a corner kick and have a teammate strike the ball, the ball sometimes appears as if it comes off of an invisible part of the body.

The stadiums have a realistic look as well. Detailed advertising signs enclose the pitch, and the pitch itself has a natural grass appearance. Near the goals, spotty brown patches show where the grass has worn away. Weather features in the game, and you have your choice of rain, snow, or nothing. The weather is not overdone during play, and you quickly lose sight of it. In the crowd, a chorus of fans cheer you on, and rows of fans bob up and down during the game in a simulated wave.

The only negative with the game's graphics has to be the camera from corner kicks. When either team is setting up for a corner kick, the camera looks from above and behind the kicker towards the goal. This allows you to set up your offense or defense. As soon as the ball is struck, the camera follows the ball, and you lose sight of the players in the box. Now you just wait and pray that the ball comes near your player. This annoyance does affect the play of the game. On offense, the ball will often land in the box untouched. On defense, the AI opponent gets to the ball and cracks a shot. I have had the AI opponent take repeated corners because I can't see where the ball is landing and the ball deflects off the goalie on his shot.

Presentation/Audio : 70
If there is one thing I miss about FIFA, it's the great intro music. That series always seems to have inspiring tunes. Perhaps none better was the 1998 version, with Blur's "Song 2." Sadly, no other soccer games get my juices flowing before the match like that. The intro and game menu music in Striker Pro 2000 is a simple instrumental dance track.

The game sounds are minimal. Kicked balls have a subtle thud that is barely audible over the commentator. The best ball-related sound comes when the ball hits the crossbar, which has a definite clank. The crowd is impartial; oohs and aahs are heard when either team makes a play. After every goal a loud cry is let out from the stands.

The one-man booth calls the action. There is no color commentary, so the comments describe only the action on the field. The commentary is similar to what you would expect from the public address announcer at a basketball game. Quite honestly, the sound is forgettable in Striker Pro 2000. I found myself plugged into my headphones listening to some of my own music while evaluating the game. The soccer sounds do nothing to improve or jeopardize your performance, and the banal commentary quickly grew tiresome.

Interface/Options : 95
Striker Pro 2000 claims to have 130 unique teams spread across club and international squads. To be sure, there are plenty of international teams. Unfortunately, the number of club teams is limited. Some familiar squads are there, but if you are a fan of the European leagues, you will be disappointed. While a squad named Manchester (hmmm, no United?) is there, where is Arsenal? When playing a friendly match, you have the choice of playing with club or international teams. The way you select the teams is not overly intuitive.

One complaint I have with Striker Pro 2000 is the menu system. To progress through the menus, you either have to move the cursor down to the bottom or press the X button. It may sound easy enough, but sometimes it seems like you miss something along the way. If you don't select certain options in the main menu, you miss your opportunity. This is particularly important for league or tournament play. If you decide you want to bump up the AI level, your only chance is at the very beginning of the season. The game difficulty is mixed in game options such as sound and graphics. When starting a new competition, you are given a list of eight more game options. I would have preferred the difficulty settings to be placed in this menu.

On one occasion I failed to save my tournament because of the lack of clarity in the menu system. Fortunately I was only a couple of games in and quickly restarted the competition, making a mental note to carefully save the progress. But the biggest faux pas is how the game controls are selected. When it comes time to select sides, I used the digital pad. When I got out on the pitch, I was cursing as the only way to control the players was with the digital pad.

Thinking I was having another Virtua Striker 2 experience, I combed through the documentation and found nothing, or at least the statement "You can choose to control your players with either the D-Buttons or the Analog Thumb Pad ... Press the A Button or Start Button to toggle between these choices ..." Try it and you'll find it does nothing. Luckily I came across someone on a newsgroup who said you had to select the controller with the analog pad if you want to control the players with the analog pad. I don't understand why you can't use either control scheme in the games since it allows you to do so in the practice mode.

Speaking of the practice mode, Striker Pro 2000 has several game modes. The practice mode, and in particular the certification mode, allows you to open up more competition modes. Consisting of six events, the certification mode requires you to attain certain levels scored out of ten possible points. One particularly challenging certification mode is the freeplay, where you must score as many goals as possible in two minutes against a full squad. The competition modes cover league play and an abundance of different international tournaments. In addition, there is a classic match mode where you are placed in a historical soccer situation.

Controlling players is handled with one of four control schemes. The default scheme is perfect for the play, and in all the schemes, the play is kept simple. In fact, the simplicity of the controls is one of the strong points to Striker Pro 2000. On offense, there is a button for shooting and three types of passes are assigned a different button. Sprinting is easy to do with the well-located right trigger button; the left trigger button gives your player extra ball control. On defense, the buttons are divided into two for upright tackles, one for slide tackles, and one for switching players. Sprinting uses the same trigger as on offense, and the left trigger pressures the nearest opponent. Those are the basic controls, and for the seasoned players, there are some extra moves with button combinations. But even then the control scheme is kept to a minimum, giving you the arcade feel. One of my complaints with the FIFA series is there are simply too many button presses to play effectively.

Gameplay : 85
I mentioned that this game lies somewhere between the worlds of simulations and arcade fun. The controls make you think you are playing an arcade game; the simplicity of the button control is one of the joys. But then the pace pulls it away from an arcade experience and into a more realistic rendition of soccer. Some may argue that FIFA is the most realistic soccer simulation around, but FIFA 2000 was lacking in that respect. Scoring was too easy, and it was fairly easy to have unrealistic scores. Striker Pro 2000 ends with more realistic scores. While the goalies are sometimes on the dumb side (more on this later), the defenses close in quickly to prohibit goalfests. The quick response of the defense then pulls it back towards an arcade game, leaving you with a perfect blend of soccer.

The passing is not always pinpoint accurate, which makes the gameplay more realistic. Through passes to a completely open man may have too much force behind them and roll out of bounds or into the goalie's hands. If an opponent is marking your player, through passes are difficult to complete. Passing and shooting events can be chained together as the ball is in transit. If you lob pass to another player, by pressing the shoot button the computer will determine what form of shot is most appropriate. That may be a header, a strike with the foot, or even a bicycle kick. If your player is out of position, he makes his move and completely misses the ball. That may frustrate some, but I see that as a huge plus towards a realistic brand of footy. Even if your player is in position, holding the shoot button down too long or pressing the stick in the wrong direction cause the ball to sail wide or high (way high) of the net.

On offense, there are a couple of things that are missing. One is more evasive tactics. The ability to move around the defense is solely your talent to move down the field. A simple side step move would have been appreciated. Next, I still haven't gotten free kicks down. Even after dozens of games I still have difficulty predicting where the ball will land and how to position players. Finally, the speed of the ball is too slow on penalty kicks. Balls look like slow pitch softball and yet fool the goalies.

On defense, taking the ball away from the opponent entails tackling or overtaking. If you hit the sprint trigger you can overtake the opponent and steal the ball. Tackling from behind only works with slide tackles, where your chances of getting carded increase. Slide tackling from ahead is also difficult. If you don't poke the ball away, your player slides along the grass and slowly gets up. This makes the slide tackle a last resort to stop your opponent. I guess that is why I never see the CPU slide tackling. Upright tackling is also difficult to pull off. It is virtually impossible to tackle upright from behind. You player pokes his foot out which slows his progress. You then have to play a game of catch-up and poke the ball from ahead.

The biggest complaint on defense is that the game automatically switches your players. It does an admirable job, but sometimes you are focused on a particular player and the CPU switches him off the play. The switching is not as bad as Virtua Striker 2 where your players would all of sudden decide to run the other way. Ultimately you can use B button to switch players and hopefully land on your preferred player.

The game difficulty is set by the amount of pressure by the CPU. There are four settings, and the difference between the easiest and toughest is drastic. The easiest setting is reminiscent of many of the FIFA games. Running down the middle of the field is no problem and moving in the box at will is commonplace. If you hate low scores, switch to this and let the offense begin. The default setting is a notch above and serves up a balanced game. Moving downfield through the middle of the field is more difficult, and wing play becomes important. Once in the box, the defense converges on your player rapidly. Playing with maximum pressure requires constant passing. One static moment and the ball heads the other way.

Once in the box, you will notice a deficiency with the AI. Computer controlled goalies are suckers and will leave their spot if you show them the ball. They chase you through the box leaving a wide open goal. If you can find an open man you have an excellent chance of scoring. Despite the ignorant goalies, empty net scoring is rare. The high pressure defense usually intercepts the ball. Thus, the game requires a blend of cunning play and strategy to win.

The amount of pressure your team applies is directly related to the formation. Striker Pro has over a half dozen strategies, ranging from overly aggressive on offense to a completely passive and protecting defensive formation. When protecting a lead with a bunker defense, your players turn the tables by quickly converging on the opponent in your end.

Other things you will notice playing Striker Pro 2000 are the lack of injuries and offsides being as common as an honest politician. But despite some of the missing features, goofy goalie AI, and auto switching of players, Striker Pro 2000 is one of the best soccer games around for any platform.

Replay Value: 85
The certification mode requires you to make certain grades to unlock parts of the game. After an hour or so of perfecting your skills to the point of gaining the top certification, the several game modes are challenging. The league play has a balance of easy and tough teams. The international modes with brackets quickly ramp up in difficulty. At first you may discount the ease of the contest, but as you progress, you'll find that the tougher teams press you to the limit.

The bottom line is that the game is fun. Face it, fun games will get the play. The game has features similar to the great ISS 98 on the Nintendo 64 and some shades of the FIFA series in terms of pace. With a perfect blend of action, soccer fans will enjoy Striker Pro 2000.

Overall : 81
The only other soccer game on the Dreamcast at this point is Virtua Striker 2, which frankly sucks more than a vacuum. The only alternative right now is Striker Pro 2000. Admittedly watching paint dry would have been more fun than Virtua Striker 2, but Striker Pro 2000 has plenty of fun packed in to make you forget the lack of EA's presence on the Dreamcast and make up for the pain caused by Virtua Striker 2.

The lack of real player names and injuries may turn the simulation fans away, but don't judge the game solely on those points. The defensive AI keeps the scoring low such that goals are rare and more appreciated. The simple control scheme means even the greenest of players can jump in and take part in the fun.

By: James Smith 6/15/00

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