Soccer has never been very popular in the United States, if only because its 45-minute halves of continuous action are unlike the frequent start-stop dynamic of pro football, baseball, and basketball. Throw in the typically low score of a soccer match, and it isn't difficult to understand the general lack of interest in the game. That being the case, computer and video soccer games have traditionally been designed for foreign markets and later released in the US in hopes of making some additional sales. But EA Sports changed all that with FIFA for the Sega Genesis console, which proved to be successful both in Europe and the United States, and started one of EA Sports' most important brands. And judging by FIFA 2000, this high-quality soccer franchise is still going strong.
FIFA 2000 adds the 12 teams of the MLS to the existing roster of countless other leagues from around the world. Now you too can fulfill the soccer matchup urologist's dream of pitting the Kansas City Wiz against the Dallas Burn. The game's strange opening sequence of old-time players meeting the new cyber soccer athlete can be forgiven thanks to a great soundtrack that includes UK musician Robbie Williams' hit It's Only Us.
Get past the intro and you'll find there are four basic modes in FIFA 2000: exhibition, tournament, season, and training. It also contains three levels of play: amateur, pro, and world class. There is a big difference in the computer's skill level between the three settings, most noticeably in the speed of the opposing players. Great weaving runs will win matches for you in the amateur level but will become obsolete at the pro level in which short, crisp passing becomes the order of the day. The training area is a good place to try to adjust to the different speed of the players at the higher levels. In addition, you can practice various set pieces, such as penalty kicks, throw-ins, and free kicks.
Exhibition mode lets you match one team against another, and with teams available from such soccer-loving countries as England, Scotland, Germany, and Italy, plus classic teams from the past and a large number of international squads, the exhibition mode is almost a game in and of itself. However, the tournament mode offers more variety. Single-elimination tournaments are rare in US sports, and yet they generate huge excitement throughout the rest of the world. FIFA 2000's tournament mode lets you make a custom single-elimination tournament of the teams you want. I particularly enjoyed matching up the lesser English Premiership teams with teams from Scotland and Major League Soccer. But different combinations of teams from any of the available leagues can be put together. In addition, there is a custom league option that allows complete mixing and matching. For example, I took the teams from Scotland and Sweden and put them in a 22-team league, but I was disappointed that the game ended after one season.
The regular season mode lets you take a single team through the entire season of competition. For instance, if you're playing a great team from England, then you play not only league games, but also domestic and European cup competitions. Of further note, FIFA 2000 includes various classic teams, such as the 1968 Manchester United European Cup winners and the brilliant early-'70s Ajax squad. EA made a curious aesthetic decision to use a brown-colored tint when two of the old-time teams play, as if to re-create the look of a grainy old film reel. But this effect merely interferes with the gameplay - specifically the appearance of the pass direction arrow, which is in all other cases unobtrusively color-coded - and it should have been an option rather than the default.
Once you get into the game, it's high-octane sports action at its finest. The motion-captured animation is superb overall and completely captures the essence of movement in soccer. Great crowd animations and stadium chants also add to the atmosphere. The varied heights of the players, their realistic facial expressions, and even their hairstyles all make you believe you're actually watching your favorite team.
FIFA 2000 not only looks good, but it also plays well. For instance, the controls are very responsive. You can perform a variety of kicks, tackles, and headers with various button presses and combinations. As you move with the ball, the pass direction arrow clearly points toward offscreen players and indicates the chances of the ball getting through to them. However, EA Sports could have improved FIFA 2000's player-management and simulation aspects. While it is possible to move players between teams, there are no filters to prevent lopsided moves. Each team has a certain amount of money, so you can't buy all the players you want, although it is still possible to pick up an entire team of good players. It would be nice to see an active intelligent trade market and managers making deals based on need. FIFA 2000 lets you play up to three seasons in a league, but without this active trading there is really no point, since the same teams remain powerful. This may be why the customizable league stops after one season - but it would be nice to have active trading and leagues that could continue year after year.
EA Sports brought on MLS commentator Julie "Rowdy" Foudy of the United States Woman's World Cup team to provide the color commentary along with ESPN's Phil Schoen. While FIFA fans have become familiar with the commentary style of respected English commentator John Motson, Foudy is pleasant enough, although it is disorienting to hear her talk about tackles on a football field (meaning American football) within the context of a soccer game.
While there is some room for improvement, FIFA 2000 delivers on almost every front and is a fast-paced, enjoyable, and challenging soccer game with numerous options and lots of depth. Though you may find yourself wishing FIFA 2000 offered even more, it is ultimately a must for any soccer fan.