Ask Electronic Arts or Konami about their bestselling sports title worldwide and chances are they'll bring up their respective soccer titles: the FIFA and Winning Eleven series (Pro Evolution Soccer for the latter if you live in North America). Both games represent the best aspects of video game soccer to a point where both franchises have their own divided fan base.
Naturally, a free-to-play version of this kind of game would blow any sports fan's mind. Such a notion exists, as FIFA Online 2 has been around since 2006 and tailor-made for casual Asian PC users with a particular affinity for the sport.
Overview: Released in Korea on 2006, FIFA Online 2 answers the question on what would happen if World of Warcraft and FIFA 06 had a baby together and made it available for free. The game plays like your standard soccer title and uses the FIFA 07 game engine; originally the game came out using the FIFA 06 engine.
The game is published by EA and developed by Neowiz Games and EA Singapore. Primary distributors and license holders of the game are IAHGames, GameOn, Pmang (a game channel owned by Neowiz Games), and Chinese game operators The9.
FIFA Online 2 should not be confused with the 2010 title FIFA Online, which came out on January 30. That title officially shut down on March 25, 2011. We have yet to confirm as to why FIFA Online 2 was initially titled as such since it first launched in 2006.
How Does It Play: If you have played a soccer video game before on the PC, odds are you can get into the groove of FIFA Online 2. Players start by creating a team consisting of renowned soccer players, and then they bring their dream team online to play against other online players. From there, gamers can either play through League Play mode against the AI to build up their team levels or just initiate player-versus-player against other online football fans.
Controlling your selected players is easy enough: The arrow keys move your player. The Q, W, E, A, S, D, Z, and X keys are used for basic soccer commands ranging from passing to doing all sorts of lobs and kicks, depending on whether your player is in possession of the ball or not.
As you play more games in League Play mode, you level up your team so that it gets better stats and abilities that improve its goalkeeping and ball-passing/kicking skills. Players get to gear up their entire team using uniform cards that boost their stats. Uniform cards can be stacked up to give the entire team better stat bonuses.
Furthermore, they can also use card enhancements to max out stat bonuses, but this comes at the price of potentially destroying the card should the enhancement fail. This process is similar to what one would do to upgrade armor in a typical fantasy-setting massively multiplayer online game.
The game has been out for a few years, so don't be too discouraged if you just started the game fresh and fight against a lot of level 40 and 50 teams in online games. Even with that discrepancy, gamers can instead play the 2010 FIFA World Cup Game mode, where they can play a traditional game that's free of grinding requirements and micromanaging options.
How Free Is It? Like most MMOGs using the "freemium" method, microtransactions are available for players. To extend their leveling-up time, players can buy items that increase league points to gain the most experience points while fighting in matches either against the AI or online players. Users can also buy and trade in uniform cards from the auction house.
The developers also put in an in-game capsule machine that allows players to put in a separate currency called capsule machine coins (bought with real money) to win legendary players like Eric Cantona and Gheorghe Hagi. While a potential game breaker, the randomness of the capsule machine ensures that players with the deepest pockets and highest patience level will have fun collecting them all, much like one would do in Nintendo's pocket monster-collecting role-playing game.
Other than that, the rest of the game can be enjoyed without paying a single cent.
How Big Is It in Asia? It's really no secret that soccer is popular worldwide, especially because the fan base in Southeast Asian territories is gargantuan by nature. According to chief distributors, IAHGames, the game is still doing well in Southeast Asia with over 15 million registered users playing the game in Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Macau, Taiwan, and Brunei. Along with the fact that EA's FIFA series is an established sports video game title, it's easy to see why soccer fans get drawn into the game.
Even with the high-end technology and graphics offered by recent fares like FIFA 10, 11, and 12, people still are drawn by FIFA Online 2 because of each distributor's effort in promoting the title every chance it gets. The game has been used in local tournaments laid out by the official site's calendar (case in point, the One Asia Cup 2011 held in the recent Malaysia International Game Show this month) and has also been represented in worldwide hardcore fares like the iESF and World Cyber Games.
The publisher's promotion and marketing options are limitless due to the natural popularity of the sport itself. IAHGames recently stated that it is in the third year working with the Brisbane Premiere League and Chelsea Football Club for co-marketing campaigns. It has been sending FIFA Online 2 players to watch live matches and attend closed-door training sessions with the stars from the aforementioned clubs. The publisher is currently working on a deal with two other football clubs and is set for 2012.
Another part of the game's success in the market is due to its low system requirements; anyone can get a laptop using a Pentium 3 1.3GHZ CPU with 512MB RAM for an affordable price in this day and age. The game's controls are tailored for keyboard users; personally, we have no issues with tackling and dribbling the ball while maneuvering our selected player in the field. Gamers not used to the already-simplified setup can opt to plug in a joypad as the game recognizes most brands ranging from Microsoft's Xbox controller to the commonly used Logitech gamepads.
Players can customize their dream teams with their customized stats to show off to other high-level players. In addition with updated leaderboards, over 78,000 fans on the title's official Facebook page, and each publisher's effort in cramming in local teams representing a particular region, one can say that this is an online evolution of fantasy football leagues with far more interaction.
What's Up Ahead? Players can expect a few nifty features coming down the pipeline, with the most significant being mouse controls. Other additions include time-based rewards, an improved club and achievement system, and the usual roster updates and new uniform kits. IAHGames has yet to announce the date of the next update.
Should You Play It? While not as thoroughly detailed, beautiful, and feature packed as the likes of EA and Konami's mothership entries, the game's simplicity and careful balance of simulation and action help keep it on the limelight.
This is particularly a boon for young soccer fans who cannot afford consoles or a high-end PC for the latest soccer titles that might as well be roster updates sold at full price. Gamers who like a little online RPG flavor in a soccer title can do well to check out this game without breaking the bank.