FIFA World Cup 2002 Preview

EA Sports is ready to roll out the next installment of its FIFA franchise in time for the World Cup at the end of May. Read our hands-on report to find out what to expect.

The player models are nicely detailed, as were the game's predecessor's.

It's barely been five months since FIFA 2002 was released for the PlayStation 2, yet EA Sports is almost ready to ship the next installment of the franchise. It's somewhat understandable considering the World Cup will be taking place in Japan and Korea at the end of May. But with a game like FIFA World Cup 2002, it's also a good idea to pay close attention to its modes and options to make sure it's more than just a cash-in. We recently received a fully playable build of the game, and while it's a bit early to pass judgment, initial indications are that the game is limited where gameplay modes are concerned but still has the franchise's signature gameplay.

Last year's game was quite generous in terms of gameplay modes, but this year's edition is a bit lacking in this regard. If you enjoy playing seasons with club teams or custom tournaments in FIFA 2002, World Cup 2002 may end up being a disappointment. There's a friendly mode for head-to-head play and a World Cup mode. And that's it. Granted, a game based on the World Cup should center on the event, but there are just 41 international teams to choose from in FIFA World Cup 2002, compared with over 400 international and club teams in last year's game. If you like to bang it out in the English league with a club team like Manchester United, you're simply out of luck. The lack of a customizable tournament mode also cuts into the game's multiplayer value rather significantly. But if you're looking for full-bore World Cup action with all the real players and teams, World Cup 2002 has you covered. You simply pick a team, go through a few qualification matches, and then enter a single-elimination tournament in search of the coveted World Cup. There are four different difficulty settings in the game, and in its present state, only the hardest difficulty setting will present a true challenge to veterans of the series. For those who enjoy more twitch elements in their gameplay, there are four different speed settings to experiment with. While you unfortunately do not have the ability to call your team's formation and strategy on the fly, pressing start and accessing a menu system can do it.

While a number of teams and options have been eliminated from last year's game, the gameplay has gone relatively untouched. Passing is an important part of any soccer game, and the refinements present in the passing system for FIFA 2002 have returned for World Cup 2002. Passing is determined by how long you hold the X button and how well the pass is aimed with the left analog stick. Thanks to this system, it's possible to pass beyond one of your players to reach another farther down the pitch. Lobs are handled with the square button, and it's easy to center the ball and set up one of your players for a header on goal as long as he can jump higher than the defenders. Give-and-goes are easy to perform. All you have to do is tap the right analog stick in the direction of an open teammate, and he will immediately return the ball to you. If a player has an open lane toward the net, dots will begin to appear on the pitch in front of him. If you lead him with a nice pass he'll automatically sprint to the ball and take possession.

You'll notice a few new details to the stadiums as well.

There are two different slide tackles included in the game, and each is appropriate for a particular situation. Performed with the circle button, the light slide tackle is good for quickly dispossessing the opposition of the ball without knocking them down. Depending on the situation, your player will either tap the ball free or slide along the ground and take it. Performing a hard slide tackle with the square button presents a significant risk of drawing a yellow or red card, but if it's performed successfully you'll have several steps on the opposition that will be hard for them to make up. Whether on offense or defense, turbo is always mapped to the triangle button. Holding it down will cause your player to sprint, while tapping it rapidly will increase your player's top speed but will cause him to tire more quickly. Shooting is accomplished with the circle button, and like with passing, the longer you hold the button the harder the shot will be. Special dribbles are mapped to the R1 button, and it appears as if their effectiveness has been slightly increased when compared with last year's iteration.

The actual gameplay has remained relatively identical, which isn't all that surprising.

Last year's FIFA is a fine-looking soccer game, and little has been done to the visual presentation in World Cup 2002 to change that. Goals are still followed by elaborate team celebrations complete with a variety of both body and facial animations. Player models look fairly accurate with their appropriate faces, hairstyles, and body shapes. However, hair is still one of the most awkward-looking parts of each player model. Players with mullets look particularly awkward with the long flap of hair in the back looking as if it were stapled onto the player's head. The team entrances have been elaborated on and include streamers that fly out of the crowd, huge explosions of confetti, and stadiums adorned in team-specific hues. During gameplay there are plenty of small details that make the game look like a telecast. Player head tracking is particularly impressive. Players will look at the ball as it's coming down from the sky or will look at players streaking down the flanks looking for a pass. The game is loaded with dynamic animation that really brings it to life. Players will push each other off to gain a bit of room to dribble and will act distraught when a shot barely misses. Like in last year's game, a white streak is used to denote players who are really hitting their stride. The biggest problem with FIFA World Cup 2002's graphics is the frame rate. Currently it dips well below tolerable levels, but last year's game ran predominantly smooth, so this should be fixed up before the game ships. Overall, World Cup 2002 looks nearly identical to last year's game. Of course, this is a good thing because last year's game looked quite good.

And he lines up the shot...

A FIFA game wouldn't be worthy of the name without John Motson at the play-by-play helm and Andy Gray providing the color commentary. Luckily, the pair has returned for another go. While the commentary itself is quite good, the statements do tend to repeat fairly often. So far in the game's development there could be more insight into the game at hand or previous outings. Hopefully this is on the list of late additions to the game's audio. As in previous installments in the franchise, the ambient sound effects are excellent. Team-specific chants are prevalent, and the crowd reacts accordingly to the action on the field.

With fewer gameplay modes and teams, FIFA World Cup 2002 might be a hard sell to those who already know about the feature-rich FIFA 2002, which is already available. But if you want to play a game that includes the actual World Cup license and will allow you to take part in it, FIFA World Cup 2002 is your only option. Despite some missing components, the gameplay is as solid as ever, and the graphics are already quite impressive. If the frame rate is cleaned up and the audio is tweaked a bit, Electronic Arts will make the sale a bit easier. FIFA World Cup 2002 is currently scheduled for release at the end of April. Look for our full review of the game right around then.

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