Welcome to the debut of Play Under Review here at GameCritics. It’s a feature devoted entirely towards giving some critical attention to the world of sports games. Sports games are one of the most popular genres of games around, yet have never gotten their full share of attention. There are many reasons for this, the most prominent one being that sports games are mostly focused on providing a straight simulation of a sport, which means that there’s not that much to say in terms of social impact or abstract game design.
By publishing Play Under Review on a monthly basis, we’ll be able to give some more time and attention to sports titles that might otherwise have gone unreviewed and unnoticed.
World Tour Soccer 2002
Developer: Team Soho
In a genre where the scene is dominated by the forgettable gameplay of the FIFA and Virtua Striker series, it’s always nice to see a new face make an entry into the field. World Tour Soccer 2002, known in England as This Is Football, makes a welcome debut over here thanks to Sony.
The first thing noticeable about World Tour Soccer is that the graphics aren’t nearly at the level of FIFA, the industry leader. The player models themselves should be very familiar to anybody who played the System Shock games for the PC. The heads seem to be an extension of the neck, rather than two separate objects, and the shoulders and arms are oddly both too far out and too far down in comparison to the torso.
Despite the fact that the control scheme is arguably simpler than the new FIFA scheme, World Tour Soccer shows that it has a better grasp of how the game is played. Players string together passes in a realistic fashion and goals are hard to come by. Another sign that Team Soho knows what they’re doing is the addition of a ‘dive’ button. Like it or not, cheating is part of the game, and now a game gives the option to the player to try and draw a penalty by flopping. Do it badly, however, and the player will receive a card.
The gameplay drawbacks of World Tour Soccer are fairly minor. The main offender is that the difficulty might be too great for anybody other than soccer game veterans. Even at Easy mode, the computer is incredibly adept at putting the ball past your hapless keeper.
By far the best aspect of World Tour Soccer is its simulation of the promotion-relegation system, which is unfortunately confined to only the English Premier League and First Division. This true-to-life system is so entertaining that the further inclusion of the other divisions down to Conference level would have been soccer gaming nirvana, but even as it is, the game is great fun.
ESPN MLS ExtraTime 2002
Developer: Konami Hawaii
With Konami deigning to release Pro Evolution Soccer or Winning Eleven in the US, ESPN MLS ExtraTime 2002 is the only way for US gamers to pick up a Konami soccer game for the PlayStation 2 without relying on imports. This game plays pretty much exactly like ESPN MLS GameNight for the PlayStation with updated graphics and rosters. And that’s a good thing.
People used to the gameplay of FIFA and other major soccer games might be taken aback by the Konami system at first. What most people complain about is the fact that players don’t seem to move to the ball when it is passed to them. This is because rather than having the player automatically head toward the ball, the game switches control immediately to the receiving player, giving you the freedom to decide when and where that player will receive the pass. Although initially annoying, this system soon proves its worth by allowing the player more freedom of control. One aspect that some people might find annoying is that ESPN MLS Extratime 2002 still does not use analog movement, meaning that you’ll be stuck going in 1 of 8 directions.
One of the biggest drawbacks of GameNight was that there was only room on a save file to modify 22 players, not allowing you to do massive changes to the rosters included with the game. With the game appearing on the Xbox, the ability to use the built-in hard drive appeared to fix this problem. Indeed, you now can create/modify well over 100 custom players. Unfortunately, ESPN MLS ExtraTime 2002 drops the ball in a big way by not allowing you to modify the MLS rosters unless you play through a MLS season and use garnered points to create new players. Not allowing users to modify the rosters of the league licensed for this specific game is an utterly incomprehensible and unforgivable decision, essentially negating the advantages of having the game on the Xbox at all. Given, you are allowed to modify the rosters of every other team in the game, which is handy considering none of them have real players on them, but the fact that you cannot modify the MLS ones is just a slap in the face. As much as I love the gameplay, I have to drop the score for this game because of this lamentable design decision.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the Xbox version of the game.
Although the release of Madden 2003 is looming ever-closer, Madden 2002 is still worth a look as its price is sure to spiral down towards bargain-bin prices, and it will remain an excellent football game.
The king of EA games, Madden 2002 offers up an insane plethora of various modes, including a Training Mode which is actually incredibly handy, both for new players wanting to grasp the basics or veterans wanting to hear what Madden has to say about certain formations or plays. The Two-Minute Drill is an excellent arcade-style scoring fest that can be big fun trying to best your friends in multi-player.
In comparison with other major football titles, Madden is notable for probably looking the best, boasting excellent player models and animations. Oddly enough, the controls are what seem to be holding this game back. It’s very hard to handle switching players on defense without having your commands for the first player bleeding over to the second; this makes switching from a rushing lineman to a cornerback in coverage especially frustrating, as your secondary will constantly be diving to the ground in the wrong direction, leaving receivers wide open for the long TD pass. Running the ball is also frustrating, as the collision detection with your linemen is nowhere near the level of NFL 2K2, and controlling the runner can often feel a little too much like you’re piloting a boat rather than an incredibly well-conditioned athlete.
But the strategic aspect of the game is second to none. With a slew of playbooks and varying styles and formations, you can go to town making your tactical dreams come true on the gridiron. As a result of this, Madden 2002 tends to move a little slower than other football titles, but the added time is well worth the extra complexity in terms of how strategy interacts with gameplay.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the Xbox version of the game.