FIFA '97

EA Sport's soccer title gets a facelift, but that's about all

Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: High Score Productions
Genre: Sports

FIFA '97 improves greatly over last year's abysmal effort, but it still needs a lot of work to dethrone the Saturn Soccer King, Sega's own Worldwide Soccer '97.

Where last year's FIFA utilized sprite-based characters on a 3D field, FIFA '97 starts from scratch with a fully polygonal environment. Gone are the choppily-animated characters. In their place are smooth moving, motion-captured and texture-mapped athletes. Even with the added detail and more complex engine, FIFA '97 flows faster and slicker than last year's version.

Texture-mapping the characters give the game a more realistic look and feel. It also allows the athletes to seamlessly perform moves, kicks, and slides. The players have a lot more moves and abilities as well: bicycle kicks, tackles, passes, shots -- not to mention victory dances and animations.

FIFA '97 has a bunch of features, like arcade action as well as simulation modes, and it also features over 4,000 real players on over 250 international teams. FIFA also improves on the now-common sports gimmick: color commentary. Three seasoned broadcasters call the action as it happens, even announcing many of the athletes by name.

Indoor soccer makes an appearance in this version, too. The differences: a smaller playing field, fewer players, and shots off the walls. Unfortunately, the camera never seems to find the best angle to view the action, giving a sort-of claustrophobic feeling while playing the game.

The problem is, in terms of graphics and gameplay, this game can't come close to the detail in Worldwide Soccer '97. It's not as fast, not as smooth, and not as playable. The control feels - for lack of a better word - mushy. You never feel like you're in full control of the characters, and sometimes its hard to select the character closest to the ball. It makes the gamer feel disconnected from the action.

There's no clear reason to pick FIFA '97 over Worldwide '97. Worldwide's just a much better soccer game.