Electronic Arts and EA Sports have brought new levels of soccer realism to the N64 with FIFA 98. With smooth animations, clean rendering, dozens of play and control options, brilliant commentary, and a tough AI, this year's FIFA will keep soccer fans returning to their N64s, season after season.
This is one great-looking soccer game. The player rendering and animations are extremely smooth. The dozens of special moves, from flick-passes to slide-tackle-evading hops, are all extremely realistic. The slide tackles, trips, and falls look so good, it's hard to resist the kind of rough play that will earn all your players red cards before the half.
The sheer number of available moves is a little daunting at first, but for the most part control is easy to pick up and is certainly extremely versatile. Any given button performs at least three functions while on offense alone, depending on the duration and number of taps. Another set of functions is performed when on defense or when the ball is loose. From header lobs, header shots, and high volleys, to hip checks, hyperaggressive lunges, and slide tackles, the range of movement and playing style is enormous.
Unlike other versions of FIFA 98, the N64's has a pretty tough AI, not only as a competitor, but also in its control of nonballcarriers on the player's side. As defenders, your CPU-controlled teammates aren't very aggressive though, which is a little frustrating. You may find yourself always pushing the A-button to switch which player you're controlling so that you always control the one nearest the enemy ballcarrier, since you can't always trust your teammates to be effective. In addition, you can't always expect them to be there for you when you blindly pass the ball offscreen, which of course you're always doing in any soccer game. Perhaps this makes the game more realistic, but it certainly interferes with the game's sense of momentum.
As with previous editions of FIFA, this one's loaded with options. In the control department, you can either switch on control of pass receivers and shots on goal or let the CPU handle them. Turn on the skill mode to include special moves like 360s and short jumps to evade tackles. Fieldwide radar and onscreen player names are also available. In the team management department, the list of options seems endless. You can substitute players or create custom ones with 13 adjustable attributes. Play in individual "friendly" matches, or play entire seasons on the road to the World Cup. In multiplayer mode, players can play on opposing teams or on the same team against the CPU.
FIFA 98's commentary is dynamic and insightful, providing useful analysis of your games. The announcers will even disagree with offsides calls, penalty kicks, or red cards given by the referee. Most importantly, the color never gets repetitive. Nothing makes me reach for my mute button faster than hearing the same three canned comments repeated ad nauseam when playing a sports or driving game. Such is never the case with this one.
EA's latest version of FIFA looks fantastic on the N64, taking advantage of the machine's powerful antialiasing hardware to create some of the most solid polygonal athletes in sports gaming. The sheer number of options and wide array of moves and control possibilities make this the soccer game to beat in '98.