Have your own World Cup

by Alan Zisman (c) 1998. First published in Vancouver Computes, August 1998.

FIFA 98?The Road to the World Cup
World Cup 98
Both by Electronic Arts-Canada
about $60
Requires a Pentium-100, 16 megs RAM, 100 megs of drive space, running Windows 95 with DirectX 5.0.

The non-stop soccer blitz of the just-completed World Cup series should have reminded us all that the world?s most popular sport isn?t Canadian-style hockey or US-style football, but instead is that sport that most of the world calls football?soccer.

Of course, computer screens aren?t immune to the soccer mania. And while the real World Cup was underway, our never-resting 14-year old test panel was busy recreating key matches, using two soccer simulation games, FIFA 98?The Road to the World Cup and World Cup 98.

Unlike previous game comparisons, both of these games were produced by a single company?Electronic Arts, from their Burnaby, BC-based Canadian headquarters. FIFA 98 came out last Fall, while World Cup replaced it just prior to the start of actual World Cup play. (We tried to get a copy of Microsoft Soccer for this comparison, but Microsoft is no longer supporting that product.)

Not surprisingly, there are a lot of similarities between EA?s two games. Both offer attractive, 3D game play, with a wide range of national teams. Both feature the same, English-accented announcer. The titles just about sum up the key differences between the two games.

FIFA 98 focuses on the road to the Cup?rather than start with national teams, you can compete for the right to represent your nation. As a result, there are more teams (189 at the beginning of the series!), and more steps on the road to the World Cup. World Cup 98, by contrast, starts you right off with national teams at the Cup itself?a mere 48. The two games feature different stadiums?the boys particularly liked the wooden-floored indoor stadium that?s one of FIFA 98?s 16 venues.

Both games offer similar game-play, and a striking level of realism. From the appearance of the grass, to the dejected look as the losing team walks away, either of these games are life-like. The announcing, replays after scoring and a choice of camera-angles add to the sense of watching World Cup play on television?but being able to control the play yourself.

World Cup 98 includes some extras in this department?pouting goalies, for instance. But both games are smooth and attractive.

Both games are easy to get started with, and can be played pretty competitively with just the basic moves. But both offer lots of possibilities for learning as well. You want fancy moves? You?ve got Pele-style bicycle kicks and more?as much more as you take the time to learn to control.

As well, both games offer a wealth of management features. Set your team?s strategy to maximum offense, and watch them go crazy on the field. Tweak players? individual statistics. World Cup one-ups FIFA, adding the ability to set up custom formations pre-game, which can be called into play at the touch of a button.

Artificial intelligence lets your computer control your opponent. And it?s smart enough so that it feels like a different game depending on who you?re up against. The defense can be pretty tough. World Cup?s virtual goalkeepers are more versatile, and less easily faked out than FIFA?s. As well, that game seems to feature more realistic refereeing.

While FIFA features far more teams, World Cup offers the option to  replay great teams from past Cups. The 1966 games are in black and white, and all historic games feature haircuts and shorts from the past. Good fun!

In short, either game is spectacular! FIFA offers more teams and a longer series, while World Cup gives slight improvements in look and play, while focusing entirely on the Cup series itself. You don?t need both, but either gives you the chance to rewrite soccer history, and with your skill, take your team to the top.

Microsoft joins race for baseball pennant

Microsoft Baseball 3D
Microsoft Corporation
requires: Pentium 133, 16 megs RAM, 45 megs drive space, Direct3D-capable video card

Microsoft?s Baseball 3D (created by Whizbang Software) came our way too late for inclusion in the July issue?s comparison of Electronic Arts? Triple Play 99 and Accolade?s Hardball 6.

While the two games earlier reviewed support 3D video accelerators, they run fine without them. Microsoft?s product requires a 3D accelerator. It does support of wide range of 3D hardware. The result is a new level of realism. Each player has a unique face, and even a unique batting stance and their own batting rituals.

Because Microsoft didn?t start by porting a Playstation game to the PC, the interface offers computer-style drag and drop to control batting lineups, pitching rotations, and more. The realism carries through to the games? physics?balls bounce differently on natural grass than Astroturf, for example. Announcing, however, lacks a colour commentator, which gives Triple Play 98 much of its flavor. The game also lacks the coaching options of its competitors, and has only minimal team management, choosing to focus on arcade-like action.

The game offers exhibition and 162-game season play. Multi-player gaming over the Internet is not supported, though Microsoft is promising a patch to add this feature. While appearance is exceptional, gameplay needs some tweaking?it can be set to be very easy, or very hard, but needs some in-between options.

Overall?a rookie game with great potential, but in a tough league. Microsoft has shown a bad tendency to drop games after the first version, rather than sticking around to develop them over the long haul. We hope they will continue to build on the promise of Baseball 3D.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan