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Striker Pro 2000 (PSX) Review

Publisher - Infogrames
Developer - Rage UK


Striker Pro 2000 is a creation of Rage Studios in Birmingham, England. Although new to the PlayStation soccer scene, Rage have created a surprisingly good game that is more than equal to the current benchmarks of excellence in the PlayStation soccer genre; EA Sport's classic World Cup 98 and Konami's masterpiece, ISS Pro 98.

Presentation/Graphics : 69
If this game had of been released about a few years ago I would have said that its graphics were quite good. However, in comparison to Fifa 2000's sharp visuals and excellent stadiums, and ISS Pro 98's brilliant animations, Striker Pro 2000's graphics are a little disappointing.

The player models are decent but, like the Fifa series, you can't really notice any size difference between the players. Thus, little 5'7” Michael Owen looks the same height and size as 6'8” Jan Koller. It really boggles the mind that while other major videogame sports franchises have incorporated discernable differential player sizes, the majority of soccer games (ISS 98 excluded) have not. Imagine how ridiculous an NBA game would be if Shaq was the same size as Mugsey Bogues and you can understand the frustration of most soccer gamers.

Striker Pro 2000 features a variety of different animations, from diving headers to slide tackles. These are well done with smooth transitions from one move to another. The heading and volley animations are superb and look very realistic. The goalies also feature a great variety of different animations and are much more realistic than Fifa 2000's (no ridiculous hopping to one side with an outstretched arm), though still not as good as ISS Pro 98's. Rage have also incorporated facial expressions but they can only be seen when players are booked or score a goal.

Striker Pro 2000 also features a variety of different stadium models based on real life locations. The models aren't nearly as crisp or clear as those in Fifa 2000 and they don't have their real names. Fortunately, the stadia are all easily identifiable and most soccer fans will be able to quickly recognize the stadium as the players walk onto the pitch. Featured are Villa Park in Birmingham, the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, the Bernabeu in Madrid, the Stade de Gerland in Lyon (took me a while to figure out that one), and the Central Republican Stadium in Kiev. The game also features 3 pre-set camera angles; side-line, end-view and overhead. The default side-line camera gives an excellent view of the pitch and is at the right height and angle to play both the short and long ball passing games.

Striker Pro 2000 doesn't feature an official license but all the national and club team jerseys have the same color schemes as their real life counterparts. However, the game is a bit dated in that some of the club teams' away kits are not all correct. For example, in the game Liverpool's away kit is the white/black one used in the 98/99 season, not the green/black kit worn this past season.

The replay controls are very unique – with controls very similar to a video including a jog/shuttle control that allows you to control the exact speed of the replays. Accompanying the replays is an animated “vapor trail” that follows the trajectory of the ball, similar to the one seen in Actua Soccer. There are also pop-ups showing the speed of the shot and the distance it was taken from the goal.

Unfortunately, there are two main problems with Striker Pro 2000's graphics: the resolution and occasional slowdown. To put it bluntly, Striker Pro 2000 is one of the grainiest PlayStation games I have ever seen. The textures aren't smooth or clear at all and when put next to Fifa 2000 and ISS 98 the game looks very poor. Even the color palette used is a little drab. Slowdown, while not a problem throughout the majority of play, sticks out like a sore thumb on corners and set pieces. Due to the game's default camera view there are times in the game when more than 15 players on either side can be on screen because of a corner or set piece. It's at these points that the frame-rate can suffer – the effect isn't horrific, but it can throw your timing off if you're not used to it. Slowdown also plagues the various weather effects, especially rainy conditions. In the graphics category Rage have disappointed with Striker Pro 2000. This isn't to say that these faults are so detrimental that they render the game unplayable, it's just that at the current developmental stage of the PlayStation, gamers have come to expect so much more graphically.

Presentation/Audio : 87
Fortunately, Rage have done a much better job with Striker Pro 2000's audio. Handling the commentary are the exuberant Jonathon Pearce and former Manchester United manager Ron Atkinson. Rage's casting of Pearce as the main commentator is a masterstroke; he has to be the most animated and exciting sports game commentator of all time! Pearce's screams of “WHAT A GOOOOAAAAALLL!”, “OOOOHHHH HE'S HIT THE BAR!!!” and the like, really pump you up like never before. Ron Atkinson also chips in with the customary color commentator jibes; analyzing the play slightly during the game, but going more in depth after each game talking about the shots and possession statistics. Unfortunately, since Rage doesn't have an official FIFA license, none of the real player names are featured and thus Pearce's commentary is hindered by his inability to mention the names of the players. Regardless, Pearce's enthusiasm is the star here and despite his limited vocabulary I prefer Striker Pro's commentary team over those in other games. While I loved John Motson and Andy Gray in Fifa '98 and '99, Pearce and Big Ron beat them hands down – and don't even begin to compare them to the useless Tony Gubba in ISS Pro 98, and the annoying Julie Foudy and Phil Schoen in Fifa 2000.

Striker Pro 2000 features various crowd chants, as well as little aural touches that are missing in other soccer games. For example, when leading at home with the game in injury time the home fans begin to whistle and jeer (as often occurs in real life) to try and coerce the ref into blowing the final whistle. It's also good to hear a rousing roar from the crowd following the awarding of a penalty, and when you put the ball in the back of the net the accompanying roar from the crowd, in tandem with Pearce's enthusiastic screams, will have you pumping your fist in excitement.

Unlike the games of the Fifa series, Rage hasn't gone out and signed the latest musical artists to feature in their game. Instead, you get generic dance/techno beats which is fine by me, as most gamers spend their time actually playing games not listening to music on the options screens.

Interface/Options : 94
To put it simply, Rage have filled Striker Pro 2000 with a truckload of options! You start the game with the following gameplay modes available: “Friendly,” “Competition” and “Training & Certification.” “Friendly” mode allows you to play an exhibition match, while “Competition” includes 4 separate contests: the Super Trophy, a League mode, a Knockout mode and a Classic Match mode. At the beginning of the game you can only select from a paltry 45 club teams from around Europe. “Training & Certification” comprises two modes of play; first a simple training mode that has set allows you to fine-tune your shooting, passing, set-piece and penalty taking skills. The second mode of play is the certification mode that comprises 51 different skill-based drills divided into 6 categories: Shooting, Passing, Defending, Penalties, Set Pieces (of which there are 10 drills each), and Freeplay, which is just one drill. The drills within each category help you hone your skills and the more drills successfully completed the more features and teams you can unlock. For example, score 3 or more out of 10 on the first five drills and you unlock some European international teams and some extra game modes, 5 or more and you unlock even more teams. Finally, get 8 or more in all six categories and you unlock a total of 73 international teams (from Europe and other continents) as well as four other game modes; the National Team Qualifiers, the National Team Finals, the Territories Cup and the International Cup!

The Super Trophy is basically a European Super League featuring all 45 European club teams such as Bayern Munich, Juventus, and Real Madrid - of course, the teams don't have their “real names” (you'll have to figure them out), but fortunately it's not very difficult. The National Team Qualifiers are the qualifying process for the 2000 European Championships – even the national team groupings are the same as they were in real life, and if you qualify for Euro 2000 (er…I mean the “National Teams Finals”) you get to play through that mode too. The Territories Cup is a cup competition based on major world territories, while the International Cup is basically the World Cup.

The most unique mode of play is definitely the “Classic Match” mode. As the title suggests, this allows you to play classic Club and International matches, but you don't just play these games from the opening whistle – instead you are given specific scenarios and your task is to either repeat or rewrite history. For example, one of the first scenarios is to recreate the last minute drama of the 1998/99 Champions League final between Manchester United and Bayern Munich. You enter the game with 10 minutes left and one goal down and have to win the game for United. There are 10 different scenarios; however, my favorite is the 1972 FA Cup Final between Wolverhampton and Tottenham. This scenario is so special because the screen turns to a creamy brown/black/white color giving the impression of watching old post-War black and white soccer footage. The match even includes lines and dots and a little bit of camera shaking to make it look incredibly authentic.

Unfortunately, one of the problems with Striker Pro 2000 has to do with the fact the game features no official license. The game is adorned with a UEFA logo; however, for some reason, none of the European Club teams or European National teams have “real” players. To compensate Rage have kept the squad numbers identical to their real life counterparts but have changed the names slightly; much in the same way as in ISS Pro 98. For example, Liverpool's real life speedy young striker #10 Michael Owen is a #10 by the name of Kowin in the game. However, for some reason Rage haven't got all the player skin colors correct, for example Manchester United's Trinidadian striker Dwight Yorke (or “Jorker” in the game) is white! Striker Pro 2000 doesn't have licenses for the team names either, instead Glasgow Celtic are “Glasgow Greens”, Arsenal are “Highbury”(as Highbury is their home stadium), AC Milan are “Rossi di Milano” etc. The rosters are up to date to about the beginning of the 1999/00 season.

Unfortunately, there's one huge problem that prevents Striker Pro 2000 from receiving an even higher grade in this category: for some weird reason the team rosters in the pre-game screens are completely different from those that are in-game. (Yes, you read correctly!) Every team has a generic team roster for the pre-game management screen, but when you enter the game you get the pseudo-realistic rosters. It's incredibly odd that Rage could program, or even overlook such a gaffe. Consequently, this makes pre-game squad shuffling and substitutions impossible as neither the pre-game names, nor squad numbers, correspond to those that are present when you enter the game! This is the only sour note in a game that otherwise has a wealth of quality options.

Gameplay : 96
First things first, this game has the most steep learning curve I have ever seen in a sports game. Forget figuring things out in about an hour, it'll take most gamers a day of solid play to get the basics down, and at least a week to begin to learn the intricacies of this fabulous game engine. The operative word with Striker Pro 2000 is control, and the complexity of the game engine is due to the fact that you're allowed more control over players' actions than in any previous soccer game.

The control layout is similar to that of ISS Pro 98 – X is pass, Circle is through pass, Triangle is lob, Square is shoot, R1 is speed burst, L1 is select player, R2 is the “Special” button. However, that's where most of the similarities between ISS's control scheme and Striker Pro 2000's end. The three most complex and fundamental skills players will have to learn are shooting, passing and tackling.

Shooting, as mentioned before, is accomplished by using the Square button. The longer you hold down the shoot button the more powerful, but the less accurate, the shot becomes. However, the height and direction of the shot are determined by a combination of other controls. To shoot to the left or right of the goal you use the direction buttons. The height of the shot is controlled by using “aftertouch” and the lob (Triangle) button. As in ISS Pro 98, Striker Pro 2000 features controllable curl or “aftertouch,” but it's far more effective in Striker Pro 2000. If you want to shoot the ball to the left of the goal, but have it also curl just inside the left hand post (as right footed players would attempt to do using the outside of their right foot), you'd hold down the shoot button for the desired power, aim left, let go of the shoot button, and as soon as the player kicks the ball aim right to add some curl to the right. However, this curl also applies to adding to the height of shots – if you move away from the goal after shooting the ball will rise, if you move toward the goal the ball will stay close to the ground. But that's not all, if you press the lob button after shooting you can add even more height to the ball – the amount of height is proportional to the length of time you hold down the lob button. Furthermore, the longer the ball is in the air the more it can be affected by aftertouch! So if you want to place a sweet curler into the far corner, you'd hold the shoot button for a split second, aim the shot, depress shoot, add the appropriate aftertouch while at the same time holding down the lob button for half a second. This is easily the most realistic shooting system in videogame soccer – there isn't a conceivable realistic shot that you can't accomplish. By comparison ISS Pro 98's shooting is too inflexible, and Fifa's infantile shooting system doesn't even warrant a comparison. Of course, the drawback is that it'll take you ages to really get the hang of it, but the “Training and Certification” modes really help, and after a while the control becomes instinctive. These techniques of shooting also relate to dead ball situations such as penalties – which now require far more skill as you have to accurately gauge the right mix of power and precision by holding down the shoot button and using aftertouch.

Of course, this just relates to shooting when the ball is on the ground, Rage have also incorporated a polished method of shooting when the ball is in the air. Rather than in Fifa where you use double or single taps to control what type of shot to perform, the type of shot depends on the positioning of the player with respect to the ball. Because of the default camera angle you have time to move your player around as a cross or high pass comes in. If you move to the cross and shoot when the ball is at head height, the player will perform a header. If you move behind the cross and shoot when the ball is head height you execute a spectacular bicycle kick, and if you wait for the ball to come at waist height the player will fire a volley toward the goal. This is, yet again, an excellent system that really shines in two-player mode when you have the defender and attacker jostling for position.

Passing is another area of Striker Pro 2000 that shines above any other soccer game. Both regular passing and through (breakaway) passes don't include the aftertouch controls of shooting, but have their own little quirks. For both types of passing the longer you hold down the button, the higher (but the slower) the pass. This is an excellent system that allows you unprecedented freedom of control. If you want to float a light pass just over a defender to a waiting striker you just hold down the pass button appropriately. Control over the height and speed of the pass is also instrumental for through passes, once you have the practice you can perfectly loft a ball between two defenders for a player to run onto. But wait! The control of passing doesn't end there – if you just loft a pass to a teammate he won't just control it, he'll run onto it. However, if you want the player to control the ball you have to hold down the L2 button as the ball comes down. This is an excellent for faking out defenders on crosses and upsetting the rhythm of opposing markers.

Rage have also raised the bar on tackling as well – there are FOUR different types of tackles! The X button is a regular blocking tackle (similar to that in Fifa), Circle is a blocking tackle that incorporates an elbow barge, Square is a slide tackle, and Triangle is a desperation slide tackle. Most players will use the Circle tackle at first, but as you raise the difficulty level it's apparent that you'll need all four types to really be effective.

The L2 button, while used for controlling high passes, can also be used in conjunction with shoot for a fake shot, with lob for a deft chip and with the through pass button for a low drive.

Striker Pro 2000 screams playability and realism – this is most definitely a soccer simulation. The pace is realistic – no sprinting 60 yards at top speed and making 90 degree turns on the way. In fact, the longer you hold down the speed burst button the more the player begins to fatigue and lose control. Furthermore, just like ISS Pro 98, when you're holding down the speed burst tight turns with the ball are almost impossible, just as in real life. There are so many other small touches and features that make Striker Pro 2000 such an enjoyable simulation. For example, when you're beating the computer by a huge margin (say 5-0) and the computer finally scores, rather than running to the touchline excited and doing a backflip (as in Fifa), the computer controlled players slowly jog back to their side of the pitch with their heads down. Conversely, if you're leading a close game (say 3-1) and the computer pulls back a goal, rather than celebrate, they grab the ball from the net and run it to the center circle, eager to restart the game and keep their momentum. Little touches like that make a world of difference in the realism and immersiveness of the game.

The only two problems with Striker Pro 2000 in the gameplay department are awkward opposition AI and the aforementioned learning curve. On your side of the ball the computer controlled teammates move into space well, make smart runs and for the most part act in an intelligent manner. However, defensively the opposition computer AI isn't so great. They defend the middle of the field very well, but many teams are susceptible to attacks down the wings. Sometimes wingers are given too much space and when you pass to them the computer double-teams you, often resulting in a player or two open at the edge of the 18-yard box. It's not a huge problem, and on the highest difficulty setting it's a lot harder to exploit, however this is one area of Striker Pro 2000's gameplay that lags behind ISS Pro 98.

As I mentioned before, this game has a killer learning curve. I think many people will be turned off after the first hour of play and use the CD as a coaster, and to be totally honest if I hadn't have been forced to play the game for reviewing purposes I probably would have done the same. In fact, my initial reaction to the game was one of disgust, at the graphics and also at the awkward gameplay. At first, almost everything about the game seems overly complicated; so many different types of tackles and passes, a weird shooting system – it's all overwhelming to start off with. This isn't helped by a totally useless manual that doesn't state even half of the controls, and I had to go to the Striker Pro 2000 website to learn more. However, as you delve deeper into the game you'll begin to appreciate that the complex controls are necessary for the freedom of control you have over the play. The moment you effectively pull off the button juggling combination to send a shot curling around a defender and just inside the far post you'll be totally hooked. There are some other little problems: players don't get injured, and sometimes the referee can be too harsh in handing out red cards, but for the most part these don't really affect gameplay in a major way.

In short, while I won't say the Striker Pro 2000's gameplay is better than that of ISS Pro 98 (dodgy player AI brings Striker Pro 2000 down), I will say it's every bit as good and just as addictive.

Replay Value: 90
With so many modes of play, a supposed 130 different teams (of which I've unlocked 126 so far), and a very strong gameplay engine, Striker Pro 2000 will keep most soccer gamers very busy. The “Classic Match” and pseudo-Euro 2000 modes are exclusives, and the “Training & Certification” mode could be a game in itself. As mentioned before the steep learning curve means that most gamers will need a week of solid play to begin to unravel the intricacies of the game engine, and with 3 levels of difficulty you'll be playing for a while. Nevertheless, I still feel that Rage could have included many more club teams, and thus included several domestic leagues to compliment the existing European Super League. EA Sports' Fifa 98: Road To The World Cup had twice as many national teams as Striker Pro 2000 as well as several domestic leagues with anywhere from 12 to 22 teams each and that game is almost 3 years old!

Overall : 93
Striker Pro 2000 was definitely a pleasant surprise. I expected an average soccer game that wouldn't be able to challenge ISS Pro 98 and World Cup 98 as the premier PlayStation soccer titles. Instead, I got a game that beats World Cup 98 hands down, and is every bit as good as ISS Pro 98. Those looking for an arcade soccer game in the vein of Fifa 2000 will hate Striker Pro 2000 – this game is most definitely a soccer simulation. With the most realistic shooting and passing system of any soccer title, Striker Pro 2000 is a joy to play, and for less than $30 it's worth every penny. The only problem I foresee is the steep learning curve; you'll really have to put in some serious practice to get the most out of the game, but those with the skill and patience to do so will be richly rewarded.

By: Lavan Chandran 6/24/00

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