Brunei may have lots of money...
...but their soccer team leaves something to be desired. Or so the folks at EA Sports would have us believe. With more teams than fleas on a stray dog, FIFA '98 is trying to be the most complete soccer game it can be. With full FIFA and World Cup '98 licensing, there are teams in this game that no one knew existed (well, except for the people living there). Apparently EA decided not to get MLS licensing, so for those who wanted to play as DC United, you have to look for somewhere else. So EA Sports shelled out the big bucks for licensing, does that make the game a winner? Not by itself. Not even with that "Woohoo" song by Blur.
FIFA '98 is EA Sports second soccer game for the N64, and the third one overall for the system. While it's good to see so many soccer games come out for the system, direct comparisons are inevitable. On that note, bear with me while I mention International Superstar Soccer over and over again.
The graphics are pretty good. While not as smooth as International Superstar Soccer, they move well and there are almost no dirty polygons. There are seventeen stadiums in total, far more than most soccer games. "But what's the difference?" Not a heck of a lot I'm afraid.
The gameplay is where, unfortunately, FIFA '98 just doesn't stack up. Using all their money to secure the license, it appears that EA may have stiffed some of its developers out of their paychecks. The control is a little wily and hard to use, but I suppose you can get used to it after awhile. Unfortunately, I found myself, for no particular reason that I can articulate, removing FIFA '98 and replacing it with International Superstar Soccer. FIFA '98 is just plain not as fun.
Does it really have all the names of the players? Well, it has all the names of the players that were on those teams when the game finished development. That is the problem with soccer licensing. By the time the World Cup rolls around in Summer '98, most of the teams will have significant changes on their rosters. That's just the way soccer is; sorry EA.
There is a dark side to licensing, however. As seen with Adidas Power Soccer licensing can turn games from fun into a selling platform. If you happen to look to the sidelines while playing Fifa '98, you will encounter ads for Adidas, Fuji Film, MasterCard, and even Snickers! I for one think that if EA makes money off in game advertising, than that should directly affect the cost of the game. This annoys me to no end, but most people will think I'm making a mountain out of a molehill. Well, frankly, it's one damn big molehill.
The day that they come out with a soccer game where the announcer isn't either English or Australian will be the day my co-workers see me dancing on my desk (they're hoping that that day will never come - I break too much furniture as is...). FIFA '98 joins its predecessors with plenty of snotty British commentary.
There were two things about FIFA '98 that made me downright giddy, however. One of the stadiums is an indoor field, complete with walls instead of boundary lines.Very few soccer games have ever included the indoor aspect, and I'm truly glad to see that EA tried to cover all the bases. Another aspect that I enjoyed was the fact that you can foul people who aren't handling the ball. To my knowledge, no other game has penalized me for hacking a player who was nowhere near the ball. While this limits rough play, it does make the game more realistic.
Overall, FIFA '98 is a pretty decent game. For those name hungry, soccer obsessed fans out there, FIFA '98 will make a fine addition to their gaming arsenal. For the rest of us, it's still worth a look. It has some pluses and minuses over its predecessors, but that's the usual fare. EA depended too much on the name alone to sell this game, and should have used the money to make this game the best on the market.