FIFA 98: Road to World Cup

10EA Sports has a solid reputation for the best graphics and presentation in computer sports, but the authenticity of the simulation aspect of their games has been wildly variable. Soccer enthusiasts have long anticipated the day that EA put it all together for their sport: FIFA 96 had great gameplay, but average graphics; FIFA 97 boasted impressive graphics and sound, but many considered its simulation of gameplay to be a step backwards from its predecessor. Add another sequel in and we arrive at FIFA 98, a game that enjoys both good graphics and gameplay.

The change in the program name is an indicator of one of the key changes in FIFA 98. The heart of the program focuses on your attempt to take a national team through the tortuous path of qualifications and tournaments that ultimately lead to the holy grail: The World Cup. 172 international teams, representing six qualifying zones, are available. Want a challenge? Try to take the Solomon Islands to the World Cup. Authentic qualifying rules, different for each zone, are included.

The ingame visuals are quite impressive to behold, as is the gameplay. The pace is accurate, the passing and shooting realistic, the goalies play like real goalies (smart but not incapable of error). FIFA 98 passes the acid test of a sports sim: it rewards realistic actions and punishes unrealistic ones. Trying to have one player play superman, dribbling the length of the field, will only result in his quickly being stripped of the ball. Each player has a large number of skill variables, resulting in true differentiation in their playing styles and abilities. As in real soccer, good tactics, passing, and overall team play are essential to victory. The control of the players is precise, and the AI is smart enough that you can pretty well accomplish any play strategy that you wish. Full strategic flexibility is provided via a thorough assortment of formations and defensive and offensive options.

So is this the crowning high point of computer soccer? Unfortunately, no. The player editor, while quite flexible, has some limitations in its ability to modify players that a few true hardcore users may find frustrating. A bigger problem, and the only thing keeping FIFA 98 from earning five star status, is the AI. Whenever it is behind in the second half, even by only one goal, it resorts to a desperation tactic of firing extremely long range shots that are very simple to stop, resulting in the computer having very little chance of coming from behind in the second half. For some, this flaw may hamper their ability to enjoy the program. That would be a shame, for FIFA 98 is one of the best sports games the series has produced.

System Requirements: 100 Mhz CPU, 16 MB RAM, Windows 95/98

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