EA brings its soccer franchise to the PS2 in FIFA 2001 MLS. This is basically a reworked version of FIFA Soccer World Championship that was released in Japan a few months back. It was a solid title, but it was not without flaws. This was the first game that I have played the Japanese version first and then seen how it was changed for its domestic release, so read on to see what I found.
The first thing I noticed when putting the game was that it was all in English! Not a very astute observation you might say, but what if I didn't notice that? You wouldn't have much faith in my review skills would you? The second thing I noticed was that there was no introductory highlight video, just some in-game scenes that looked a bit grainy and blurry. I would have preferred some real highlights, or a variation of the cool rendered intro in Japan, but it's not the end of the world. Once entering the main menu, I was given the choice of starting a quick game, changing some options, or game modes. Game Modes is where you can choose to play an exhibition, tournament, season, training, or even a custom league. The backgrounds of the menus look cool, but they load really poorly, and the herky-jerky rotating globe looks like it's on a 486 computer, it looks pretty pitiful.
I found that when setting up a game there was quite a bit of freedom given to me, whether I was setting up a friendly, or a whole season. I was able to customize everything I would want to, and even transfer players, though this process is quite a bit different from making a trade in Madden, I still enjoyed doing it. I raised the difficulty, raised the referee strictness (I'm no cheater) chose my weather, and headed off to the pitch for my match. The whole process was very simple, and I also liked being able to save my settings so they would be my default settings upon booting up the game next time.
Since I have demonstrated my keen powers of observation to you earlier in this review, I will point out a few things I noticed about the gameplay. The ball plays much more realistically, as headers don't launch off your head like a cannon, and just like in real life, sometimes it just doesn't roll the way you intended. Defense is also smarter and less cumbersome, as the game now rewards you for being patient, containing the ball handler, and cutting off passing lanes. This makes the game feel much smoother, and truly gives it the feel of playing in a real match.
The through pass has also been reworked a bit, as it is much more accurate and useful than what was found in the Japanese version. I did find it difficult to pass the ball to the player I wanted to sometimes, so maybe some sort of icon-passing is in order for future release. The jukes have been tweaked a bit, some made better, some made not quite as good. My 360 spin is not as money as it was before, which is actually a good thing because it was pretty cheep spinning past defender after defender.
The camera is really the only major gripe I have, and only one small part of this affects gameplay. If you are awarded a free kick on the sidelines near the team's bench, the camera moves behind the glass and you can't see what you are doing. This only happened twice, but it shouldn't happen at all, which is why I mention it. The camera during the replays is also pretty bad. Most of the time it switches to a camera view no less than a mile away from the action, and then switches to a behind goal view as soon as the shot is taken. I would have liked to see some more variety in the replays, or if nothing else some better camera angles.
Every year FIFA features a song in its intro; usually they are ahead of their time, and six months later you'll hear the song being played at sporting events. Past artist include: Fat Boy Slim, Blur, Chumbawamba, Robbie Williams, and in this game's Japanese counterpart; Jamiroquai. This year Moby graces the title screen with "Body Rockin", and like the introduction itself it's a bit of a letdown. The music during the game is also a disappointment, because all you hear is "Body Rockin" over and over again. Not to beat a dead horse, but the music in the FIFA World Championship was far superior, and more varied than what you will find here.
The crowd noises are good, but they seem to be lacking variety. There are the usual chants, but when the crowd cheers or boos, it all sounds the same. There's just not much variety in the sound effects, and you'll pick up on this when you slide tackle and opposing player in his home stadium, you can time exactly when the boos will start and exactly when they will end. With the increased storage allowed by the DVD format (Which this game does not use), there is no reason to ever hear repetitive sound effects again. One thing positive I will say about the effects, is that they, unlike Madden sound like they were done by an actual crowd, not just whatever programmers and testers they could get together to cheer.
The announcing is competent, but on a whole, very bland. If you are passing around working the ball upfield the announcer just says the players last name as they touch it, with absolutely no excitement in his voice whatsoever. Once in a while they will surprise you with a clever observation, but they will spend most of their time repeating themselves. In this day and age when titles like NFL2K1, and NBA2K1 have stellar commentary, it really sticks out like a sore thumb when a game's commentary is this average.
The graphics found in FIFA 2001 are a mixed bag, especially after seeing what EA accomplished in NHL2001. The players look good, but are not overly impressive. EA has done a nice job in making the players look less "Japanese". In FIFA: WC all the players looked slightly Japanese regardless of where they came from. This problem has been fixed and players look more like they would in real life. The players move nicely, and the animations flow very well from one to another. However, you can get in to trouble if you start mashing buttons because due to the lengths of some of the animation, you'll find yourself doing things well after you intended to do them.
The stadiums are nicely done, and EA has added a few new ones for this go around. The crowd has also been reworked, and they look much better. They still wave their countries flags, which was one of my favorite features in the import version. The weather effects have also been enhanced, and it really looks like a downpour when it rains. The field will get soggy, and you can see the ball splash every now and then, it's pretty sweet looking. One aspect of the stadium that does not stand up is the field. The grass is grainy, has no depth to it, it's just pitiful looking. It really stands out when viewed with players and a nice sunset on screen at the same time. I guess EA had to have something to improve for next year's version, so now you know what to look forward to: FIFA 2002 MLS with enhanced field texturing, "It's in the game".
Overall this is a very solid title, and right now it's the only choice for a soccer game on the system. Despite the fact that it has a few flaws, it does stand up to the level that EA has reached for its PS2 releases. If you are into Soccer, Futbol, Football, whatever you call it where you live, you have no excuse for not picking up this game and embarrassing your friends with your amazing skills.
|"Despite the fact that it has a few flaws, it does stand up to the level that EA has reached for its PS2 releases."