Soccer fans were glued to their seats in 1998 -- and with good reason. The world championships saw a distressing decline in the number of exciting matches (were 32 teams really too many?), while we also welcomed a newcomer to the world champions club. EA Sports , however, made sure we were all enjoying ourselves in front of the computer instead of watching Italy on the telly, by releasing two FIFA games instead of the usual one. The fact that this meant one had to pay the full price just to get an upgrade for an existing game, I am sure, only made EA happier. I personally believe this ploy would not have been accepted so easily had the games not been very, very good indeed.
The game occupies 130mb of your drive, if you choose your options well, and requires a minimum of 20mb. As far as game options go, we have all the usual goodies -- lots (and I mean LOTS -- over 200) of teams, both domestic and international squads, season and cup play, a team and player editor, multiplayer modes galore, and no way to configure the controls (What's wrong with you, EA Sports? Why can't we reconfigure the pad buttons? Pretty please, for next time?). Training matches now have defensive objectives, 3D card support is good, and the opening is sub- FIFA98 -standard, which is no surprise since that one was simply out of this world. Perhaps the most interesting improvement in the features section are the IGM (In-Game Management) and IGT (In-Game Tactics) options. The former allows you to switch between preset formations on the fly, while the latter lets you execute nifty maneuvers such as offside trap, again on the fly. That latter bit adds some more depth to an already amazingly rich game, and once you get used to it, it can come in handy.
The most interesting conclusion I've made about FIFA 99 is this: the game is now better in multiplayer mode but slightly worse in single-player mode. In multiplayer, everything works perfectly, with the human touch adding that extra bit to game balance. The teams are affected by the player's decisions, and the engine is good enough that it never feels intrusive. Whoever plays the best wins. Single player, however, is different. Amateur mode is useless, as always. Professional is now a good middle ground, since it is challenging but not too much so, and I personally prefer this level to the other two. The problem is with world-class level play. It is here where FIFA 99 becomes more a game of pinball than anything else. It is practically impossible to hold a ball for more than a second, or two at best, and once you are in the computer's half, even this is too much. The short pass button is constantly employed, and after a while this gets a little boring. The reason for all this is that the engine is now good enough to nullify the human factor by having the advantage of split-second decisions. Add to that the over-effectiveness of tackles, needed for improved game balance, and you will get into a "get rid of the ball" frenzy pretty quickly. I'm not sure if anything could be done about this, but the overall result is that playing world-class sends the game back into the arcade realm, and becomes less enjoyable after a while. In any case, professional level is now a very good choice, since it is now harder and yet, in many senses, restrained. This should be the choice of FIFA 98 veterans. One last note is that the computer almost never uses the long ball or lob, preferring the short pass instead.
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