If Fox Sports Soccer '99 had solid gameplay, stellar graphics, or ultrarealistic AI, I'd be tempted to say that it could compete with EA Sports' World Cup 98 (or FIFA: Road to World Cup 98) on some level. Unfortunately for Fox Sports and developer Gremlin Interactive, this game has none of these features.
Fox Sports Soccer '99 offers a decent array of gameplay options, with friendly, season (national or international), cup tournament, and practice modes. Unfortunately, the game does not carry the endorsement of FIFA, so none of the 128 teams (64 national, 64 league) carries real names on its roster. Soccer '99 does provide a healthy set of multiplayer options, including a dedicated-server mode that allows up to eight players to connect over the Internet to a match running on your machine. You can also play without a dedicated server over TCP/IP, IPX, serial, and modem connections. The game also offers an interesting scenario mode that challenges you to overcome a specific game situation, such as Scotland trailing Spain by one goal with 20 minutes left to play. A novel idea, but not one that is likely to get you hooked on this game.
If the world had not yet seen the luscious visuals of EA Sports' World Cup 98, the 3D graphics in Soccer '99 might be pretty impressive. As it stands, however, this game's graphics engine can compete only with Sega's Worldwide Soccer (and the winner in that contest is by no means certain). To be sure, the game is pretty accurate with regard to national uniforms. Teams with unique jerseys, like Argentina, Romania, South Africa, and Croatia, are very well represented. The player models are also decent, but not nearly as impressive or well animated as the ones used by World Cup 98. Goalie animations are particularly disappointing, as the keeper just crumples slowly to the ground on almost every save. Soccer '99 does have some nice terrain and weather effects, including skid marks on the field after a slide tackle and some good snow effects - which come complete with disappearing footprints behind each player. Soccer '99 seems to throw the snow effect in your face a bit too often, however, as I often played several snowbound tournament games in a row.
Even with its numerous problems, Soccer '99 has one flaw that stands above the rest: gameplay. For starters, the game moves so quickly in 3Dfx mode that it almost looks comical. In Direct3D mode, the game slows down quite a bit and looks jerky on all but the most conservative of resolutions (the game will run in Direct3D mode at up to 1280x1024). The AI is decent but nothing to shout about. In fact, once you get the hang of the game's controls, you should regularly beat the snot out of your opponents on the easiest level. Moving up to the next level of difficulty brings about a very odd phenomenon, however. Playing at the "semi-pro" level, I noticed that my players no longer aimed for the goal on every shot. Instead, they kicked the ball really hard in whatever direction they were facing. This means that you have to point your player's body at the exact spot you want to hit with your shot. While some might say this is more realistic, it makes it nearly impossible to run one way and shoot back in the opposite direction (which is common enough). Also, it is now a fairly established norm in games of this sort for the computer to assume you want to hit the goal with your shot - where you aim the joystick, then, typically determines the part of the goal you want to hit.
Although it did take me a little while to master the game's controls, this had more to do with my extreme familiarity with World Cup 98 than any complexity on the part of Fox Sports Soccer '99. In fact, the game only offers four gamepad control options: pass, shoot, speed burst, and long kick/slide tackle (which alternates depending on whether or not you have the ball). There are other controls, such as one-touch strikes, through passes, and chip shots, but the only reference to these in the manual states that you have to use the keyboard to implement them.
Free kicks, corners, and other set plays are anything but intuitive, as there doesn't seem to be any way to really dictate what your players will do in these situations. You can aim your kick at a particular player or spot, but then it all seems to come down to a mad smashing of buttons as you hope for someone on your team to get a head or foot on the ball.
My biggest complaint about the gameplay is the fact that the computer determines which player you control during the course of a game. Control appears to switch to the player closest to the ball, but the switch is often made just as you're moving one player into position for a tackle. These sudden switches often result in the new player moving in the direction you were trying to make the original guy run. This can result in a lot of breakaways against you as your defenders part like the Red Sea while you try to figure out which guy you're controlling.
The play-by-play is just plain bad. Not only are the comments repetitive and inane, but the announcer often mumbles his words, making it very difficult to understand what the hell he's talking about. The computer-versus-computer results of cup tournaments seem to be completely randomized, as teams like Israel, South Africa, Northern Ireland, and even the United States frequently survive into the third and fourth round (often bumping off the likes of Germany, Argentina, and England). Finally, the team management options are decent, but not nearly as configurable as those in World Cup 98.
Simply put: If you want a truly enjoyable, visually impressive soccer game, buy World Cup 98 and stay away from Fox Sports Soccer '99.