Recent strides in soccer video gaming rescued the world's favorite game from its previous status as one of the world's least favorite video games. Now we have all sorts of individual control options, like crazy banana kicks and wacky scissor-stepping footwork. Tactical options, through pass plays, and offsides traps have opened up a level of strategy to the aspiring video striker previously witnessed only in football games. And, slowly but surely, soccer games' AI has come up to speed. Play is faster and more challenging than ever before. But none of this can be said about Alexi Lalas International Soccer, a game threatening to send soccer back to the dark ages.
Graphically, ALI Soccer is competent, though not particularly stunning. A handful of camera angles are available, although most are too tight for safe passing. Though free of polygon dropout and substantial flickering, the players in ALI Soccer look unfinished. Not that EA's FIFA games for the PlayStation render the most solid flesh-and-blood athletes - on the N64 and the PC their "wholeness" is alarming. Rather, the animation in the FIFA titles is so lifelike, and there are so many glorious special moves - from simple flick passes to savage sliding tackles to unbelievable diving saves - by comparison ALI Soccer seems lackluster and out of date. Control on offense is passable (no pun intended). Again, don't expect dozens of trick moves or much tactical variety. A couple of basic plays are available on the fly - the offsides draw works pretty well - but the game is without the strategic possibilities of, say, World Cup 98. Defense is more awkward. Sliding tackles are pretty useless. The most effective defensive tactic seems to be to repeatedly tap the triangle button, which according to the manual does nothing, yet somehow manages to get the ball back. Goalie control is worse. Once your goalie has possession of the ball, you can't kick it back into play - despite what the manual says. Your only option is to throw it to one of two (count 'em: two) receivers. Needless to say, this is a precarious set of options at best, and more often than not possession is turned right over to an enemy forward for an easy shot on goal.
Worst of all is the game's weak AI, especially its control of non-ball carriers. Most of the time it's as though you were completely alone out there. Send your halfback sprinting back to defend against an enemy fast break and nine times out of ten, you arrive on the scene to find your fullbacks standing stock still as your opponent's forwards charge toward the goal. Suddenly, as though recovering from some mass hypnosis, they spring to life simultaneously. They should have used texture-mapped rotting flesh instead of jerseys because the CPU-controlled players behave more like the undead than the real-life players of 70 professional teams. Some of the usual options are present in ALI Soccer. The game offers tournament play and friendly matches, but no weird shootout games or practice modes. It has day and night play, but no weather. Players can be placed in varying formations, but there are no customizable stats. The game's voice-overs are totally repetitive, often loading the same sample multiple consecutive times and sounding more like a broken record than live color.
Alexi Lalas International Soccer is a painful soccer game. It offers neither the stunning animations, nor the tactical depth, nor the ease of control of any recent soccer title. Beyond that, the AI is downright infuriating. Even the die-hard soccer fan will want to skip this one.