Ultimately, World Cup 98 is soccer at its best.
What is the deal with World Cup 98? Why did EA put out two versions this year? How different are they? There's a lot of confusion surrounding EA's "update" to the stunning FIFA: Road to World Cup 98. Of course there is. How could they improve on the speed, the depth, the look of FIFA 98, and after just a few short months? Let's put the two head-to-head.
This is one beautiful soccer game. With dozens of smooth, seamless animations of countless individual player moves and ultraclean rendering of motion-captured real-life players, World Cup 98 can't be beat. The saves are so lifelike, the diving headers so spectacular, the physics of a rough sliding-tackle so perfect - the threat of a red card will not be enough to discourage you from sweeping the ball carrier's legs out from under him just to watch him fall. Still, FIFA 98 had all this going for it too. What's new to World Cup 98, graphically? Mostly extras. They've given a face-lift to menu screens, now featuring lots of pretty transparencies. They've expanded celebrations to include new striker grandstanding and goalie pouting. These add a lot of personality, but don't really affect gameplay. Of course, there is the cute new French cock mascot. The score? World Cup 98: 1, FIFA 98: 1.
Like FIFA 98, World Cup 98 is chock-full of moves. There's plenty for the novice to learn, including flick-passes, long volleys, and diving headers on goal. For the adept, there's an easy to use passback system, to make the most of those ample corners and get the opposition's defense sweating a little. Football illuminati will find a fistful of special moves that are a cinch to pull off, and after an hour or so, you'll be bicycle kicking like Pele and performing a bizarre array of MC Hammer-inspired footwork to mesmerize and confuse the opposition. The beauty of both FIFA 98 and World Cup 98 is that, despite the volume of control possibilities, you can still play a pretty competitive game without any of the fancy stuff. Just run, pass, and shoot. And pick up the rest on your own time. World Cup 98: 2, FIFA 98: 2.
World Cup 98 has a wealth of new in-game management and strategic control options. Before the game, you can set up three different custom formations (labeled IGM 1, 2, and 3) that can be switched during play at the touch of a button. In addition, the new version offers a set of plays that you can run with a simple combination of buttons. These include an offsides trap, to (guess what?) draw the enemy offsides, a through ball run, to set up breakaway passes, and more. These simple plays provide an easy and powerful means to control non-ballcarriers, allowing more advanced players to pick apart the opposition, adding a new level of strategy into the already near-perfect gameplay. It's funny how things like a play book are taken for granted with a football title, yet we're so refreshingly surprised when a rudimentary one shows up in a soccer game. Nonetheless, it's a fantastic addition to the game. At the half, World Cup 98 is up, 3-2.
While there are dozens of new real-time management options out on the pitch, there's really nothing new behind the scenes. Granted, FIFA 98's plethora of management features remains. You can still go berserk and set your team's strategy to its offensive maximum, and set each player's individual attacking bias and aggression level to full, and then watch the rabid zealots swarm around the ball like angry bees (and lose the game with one good enemy through-pass). You can still create a bizarre race of puffy-haired redhead clones, and you can make your front line supersonic at the expense of all ball-carrying skill by tweaking their stats. Versatile, but nothing new. World Cup 98: 3, FIFA 98: 2.
Like its predecessor, World Cup 98 has a terrific AI, which means more than just the confidence that when you pass the ball blindly downfield, there'll be someone there to pick it up. The CPU defense is tough on hotdoggers. You won't get past the amateur difficulty setting by just holding down the sprint button and sending your center striker downfield on a solo mission. Thankfully, a smart AI encourages you to find creative ways to move the ball around the field and exploit enemy weaknesses. You'll also find that the AI takes team ratings very seriously, and switching teams feels like playing a different game entirely. After missing pass after pass with Jamaica, it's refreshing to run circles around the opposition with Italy. That said, the AI feels essentially the same this time around. The score is still World Cup 98: 3, FIFA 98: 2.
Awesome commentary and a set of unlockable classic teams from the past round out the new version. While extra vocabulary of comment and the eight new teams are great, the true sports sim enthusiast will find replay value diminished from FIFA 98, due to the downsizing of teams. The original had 189 teams, compared with this one's 48, scoring one more for the original, to tie it up 3-3.
Ultimately, World Cup 98 is soccer at its best. Gorgeous graphics, amazing control, breathtaking gameplay, and strategic depth. Which version wins in the end? Well, as is often the case in soccer, the deciding factor is time of possession. If you already own FIFA 98, unless you're a true fanatic, you may want to wait for FIFA 99. But if you're trying to decide between the two, World Cup 98's new level of strategic gameplay more than makes up for what it lacks in teams.