EA takes on the world.
As part of a dynamic duo with Batman, Robin was the best. His ridiculous costume, over-the-top exclamations (Holy miniature giant mutant space hamsters, Batman!) and general weakness served the perfect counterpoint to Batman's brooding power. You could take Batman seriously in his Bat suit because Robin looked twice as freakish in his. A perfect team.
Then Robin tried to transcend his sidekick status. The result was Nightwing, who was just as impossible to take seriously and not nearly as funny.
Enter FIFA World Cup 2002. As part of the greater FIFA 2002, World Cup mode was a lot of fun. Instead of dealing with an entire soccer season, you could sit down for a shorter series against the best of the best. However, allotting an entire game to just the World Cup is like giving a comic book just to Robin - the Boy Wonder and the World Cup aren't robust/buff enough to stand alone. As a result, FIFA World Cup 2002's good mechanics are somewhat foiled by too little game.
World Cup's modes are the easiest modes to review ever, because there are only two. You can play Friendlies (exhibition games) and the World Cup tournament. You can also set up a tournament that mimics the World Cup if you'd like to take on some friends. The title of the game is extremely fitting, as the World Cup tournament is essentially the entire game.
While the game lacks the usual amount of customization, you can substitute players, tweak your team's formation, and alter the strategies of your players to a satisfying degree. However, next to FIFA's hundreds of teams and possibilities, World Cup's 40-odd teams are like small potatoes on a very big plate of expectations.
As a result, World Cup lives and dies by its gameplay. Unfortunately, the big new features, which should be the saving graces, also give the game a simple, repetitive quality.
The first change is the easier one touch/air play system. If a ball is coming to your player, you hit the button that corresponds to what you want your player to do, and if he's good enough, he does it. His actions also hinge upon the pressure with which you hit the button and how long you hold it. Definitely a change for the better.
The next change is the inclusion of Star Players. Every player in World Cup has eight attributes, with values ranging from 1 (weak) to 7 (killer!). Any player with a 7 in his attributes is considered a Star Player, and any time he does something that corresponds to his talent the action is accompanied by a blurring effect. For example, if your player is a star kicker, his shots will sound like a landing 747 while the ball will leave a red trail.
The downside to Star Players is that they don't take much skill to use. If you have a star shooter, he'll score every time he kicks the ball as long as he's inside the penalty box. You can turn up the difficulty to compensate for this, but you can also forget scoring with any other player.
Another new feature is the ability to juggle the ball. It's a cool ability that allows the player to field an air ball with the body part of their choice, but it isn't as intuitive as it needs to be. I can juggle a soccer ball pretty damn well, and I don't even play soccer that much. Juggling is second nature for pros, which is why the weird press-this-button-in-this-amount-of-time scheme seems unfit.
The PS2 incarnation isn't as sharp as its Xbox counterpart. While the motion capturing is still very good, the graphics are grainier and the jaggies are a little more jagged. At least the framerate issues don't seem quite so out of place.
World Cup sounds awesome with a dramatic, symphonic score and decent commentary by Andy Gray and John Motson. The commentary can be heard in 8 languages other than English, including Greek (Go Manolis Mavrommatis!). The sound effects are top notch - the players yell to each other for passes, and the crowd roar is literally a roar.
While possessing some nice play mechanics, FIFA World Cup 2002 for the PS2 isn't going to redefine soccer gaming any time soon. Rent it if you want, but the lack of depth makes it a tough buy.