Soccer riots and drunken fans, crowding a stadium near you!
Now that EA Sports has established their dominance with FIFA simulations, the real lurking question is: Can they deliver something fresh every year? Why should FIFA fans turn their heads from their monitors solely for this year's title? It's not an easy task making a good-looking game look even better year after year. The visuals in World Cup '98 are still considered top of the class by many, so I guess it's the nuances that decide if the graphics are a notch higher than they were the year before.
FIFA 2000 shows some nice touches of improvement over its predecessors. Player models are definitely more complex and sharper looking. Weather conditions are more realistic (especially the drops of rain on the pitch), making the general look of the match more appealing. The crowd graphics have undergone some qualitative changes, adding a lot more animated characters. They still aren't quite believable, but it's closer to real life. Also, the stadium background is redone, and it adds the atmosphere of a packed house once the match starts.
One of the most noticeable improvements are the beautifully used replay cameras. If you watch a lot of soccer on TV, you'll notice the same kind of behind-the-goal cameras used after a player scores a goal. It's definitely a nice bit of attention to detail from the developers, and it shows a good insight into real-life game play.
Although the marketing hype about the game suggested otherwise, the players' faces could still use a lot of work. On the other hand, who actually needs that? When playing a match, one tends to focus on the gameplay and facial constructions really become unnecessary. If you want to have any sort of view of the whole game, there is just no way you will be able to see any detail. The only time the game could benefit from more complex facial expressions is during the replays, so why bother? You can overlook the lack of expressions by watching the many amusing ways players celebrate after scoring.
The basic setup is pretty straightforward. Players can choose from 17 different leagues (Italian, English, French, Spanish, Dutch, German, etc.) or, if none of these are your favorites, you can always choose one of the teams from "The Rest of the World" section. One major addition to the roster is the inclusion of all of the MLS teams and players. Other modes of play remain the same as previous editions. Players can choose to participate in exhibitions, tournaments (cup, league play and customized), seasons, or good, old-fashioned training sessions to practice their skills.
As far as the sound goes, cheers of the crowd do not seem any different from the norm, and the same goes for the commentators' coverage. Musical scores continue the fine tradition of new age, techno beats, with a mix of rock and pop tunes.
There are a few key game play tactics I would like to touch upon. Being able to make a through pass in a crowd is a great idea. Arrows will point in the direction that your player is passing, conveniently colored red (hard pass), yellow (medium) and green (soft pass). This new feature makes it easier to aim your passes, but the game itself still requires just the right amount of timing and skill.
Other new tactics, shielding for example, work for and against the game, though. Shielding the opponent with your arm makes it easier to advance once you dribble pass the player, but it also allows for some awkward situations which many real-life refs wouldn't hesitate to call a counter foul. Of course, if you look at FIFA 2000 as an arcade game that would be just fine, but it's supposed to be a sports simulation, right?
Goalie AI shows definite signs of improvement. They don't make silly mistakes, and depending on the position of the attacker they will choose whether they're going to catch the ball or punt it outside the area. What didn't impress me so much was the other team's AI. The game will too often turn into a midfield header contest that will stretch all the way through to the penalty area. It's true that similar situations happen in real life, but not that often. You would think that after so many years of development EA Sports would get it down to science. It seems though, there is always some room left for improvement.
So, is FIFA 2000 worth your money? It sure is. Hardcore fans of the series will go out and get it the first day, no matter what I say. However, this one will appeal to far more than the hardcore soccer fan. It's definitely a good, solid game for casual sports fans and regular gamers as well. So sneak a flask of whiskey into your pocket, practice your right hook, and head on down to the EA stadium.