Every four years, soccer fans of the world congregate in one area of the world to watch the best soccer players on the planet compete for the highly prized World Cup trophy. This year, the tournament is being cohosted by Japan and Korea, meaning that matches will occur in both countries until the final game. Capitalizing on the impending World Cup fever, EA Sports has released 2002 FIFA World Cup for the Xbox, and because of its emphasis on the World Cup tournament itself, the game lacks many features found in its predecessors. Still, anyone looking for an Xbox soccer game that plays well and looks nice would do well not to pass on 2002 FIFA World Cup.
If you own multiple systems and already have some version of FIFA 2002, then there's not much reason for you to buy 2002 FIFA World Cup, as a number of features have been cut for this version. There are two match types in 2002 FIFA World Cup, friendly and World Cup tournament. That's it. The friendly will allow you to select the two teams, the stadium, and the time of day (if you don't already have them set on random) for your match. Like its real-life counterpart, the World Cup tournament mode is set up so you select a team that will be placed into one of several groups. Within this group, your team will compete in a series of matches to win enough points to advance to the single-elimination stages of the tournament and eventually the championship.
The gameplay in previous FIFA games was often criticized for being too simplistic and arcadelike, and for the most part, it was. You could almost score at will by simply performing a cross-field pass and then taking a shot on the goal with a bicycle kick. But that's not the case in 2002 FIFA World Cup. Crosses require much more skill to execute properly, as the ball will no longer automatically track toward a player near the goal. In fact, crosses are so much more complicated that you'll have to put the spin (either left spin or right spin) on the ball yourself. Recognizing that some fans of previous FIFA games may not particularly care for this system, EA Sports incorporated an assist option that will help the ball travel toward the middle of the field, but you'll still have to put spin on the ball. Even simple tasks such as ground passes and shots on goal require a little more strategy because the strength--which is shown in the meter in the bottom right or left side of the screen--of the pass or shot is determined by how long you hold the corresponding button down. Headers, quick shots, and other comparable maneuvers function in a similar fashion. Obviously, the drastic changes to the cross are important, but the smaller adjustments have really slowed down the pace of the game, making 2002 FIFA World Cup feel more like a simulation. Indeed, while the strategy in previous FIFA games focused mainly on the cross-field pass, 2002 FIFA World Cup relies more on the ground game, like quick give-and-go passes and dribbling skills. Crosses are there if you want to use them, but they're no longer necessary for dominating a match.
And that domination will come early. With the exception of the hardest one, most of the difficulty settings in 2002 FIFA World Cup really aren't that challenging, and it doesn't really feel like there's an increase in the complexity of the AI when you move from one setting to the next. This is unfortunate because you won't be prepared for the onslaught that occurs when you play your first game on the highest difficulty level. After some time, the computer's strategy and flaws become apparent, and you'll eventually be able to exploit them--it just takes a little longer on the highest difficulty setting than it does in the others. Ultimately, this means that you'll get through the championship much faster, and while you can unlock additional features like new teams by winning the championship with different nations, most of the replay value of 2002 FIFA World Cup will come from playing against your friends. This is especially true when you consider some of the lapses in AI. A few times, the goalkeeper would ignore a ball that was passed back to him by a teammate, resulting in a goal. There were also other moments where a computer-controlled teammate would run away from a ball even when there were no other team members in the immediate vicinity. These problems aren't horribly out of control, but they occur enough to be noticeable.
The Xbox version of 2002 FIFA World Cup looks great. There are lively crowds holding national flags in the air. The stadiums are accurately modeled after their real-life counterparts and filled with plenty of detail. The player uniforms are all accurate, and some of the player models look like accurate representations of the actual player. However, on the technical side, the game is a disappointment because the frame rate tends to stutter quite often, particularly when you're kicking a ball across the middle of the field. In addition, players will run right through each other during celebratory moments, and some player models look like they didn't receive as much attention as others.
Commentary is once again provided by John Motsen and Andy Gray. The commentary is solid, with a variety of different lines coming from both commentators. But when you play through the World Cup tournament, you'll notice that Andy Gray tends to repeat many of the same lines, particularly those that refer to a team's history in the tournament. The real attraction of 2002 FIFA World Cup's sound are the stadium noises, such as the country-specific chants and the chatter between players--both of which do an excellent job of replicating what it's like to be at a soccer game.
2002 FIFA World Cup has two different modes of play, a number of video extras about the World Cup tournament in Japan and Korea, a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the game, and some extras that you can unlock by playing through the tournament. But no other Xbox soccer game comes close to matching World Cup's gameplay, sound, or even graphics, which should make it a worthwhile purchase for the Xbox soccer fan.