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Sunday, July 31, 2005

FIFA Soccer Game Series

The FIFA Series is a popular series of football (soccer) video games, released yearly by EA under the EA Sports label since late 1993. The series is one of the most profitable and well known video game franchises. While there was no major competition when EA released both the first titles in their Madden NFL and NHL series, football video games such as Sensible Soccer, Kick Off or Matchday Soccer were being developed since the late eighties and were already well-known names when EA announced a football game as their next addition to the EA Sports label.

1 History
2 Games in the series
2.1 FIFA International Soccer (aka FIFA '94)
2.2 FIFA Soccer '95
2.3 FIFA Soccer '96
2.4 FIFA '97
2.5 FIFA '98: Road To World Cup
2.6 FIFA '99
2.7 FIFA 2000
2.8 FIFA 2001
2.9 FIFA 2002
2.10 FIFA 2003
2.11 FIFA Football 2004
2.12 FIFA Football 2005
3 Other titles
4 Extrenal links

The key points of EA's massive advertisement were the isometric view of the ground (when all other games used either top down, side scrolling or birds' eye views), detailed graphics and animations and of course, the FIFA endorsement (although it did not feature real player names). It was shipped for Christmas 1993, named FIFA International Soccer, and was released for most active platforms of the time.

While FIFA 95 did not add much other than the ability to play with club teams, FIFA 96 pushed the boundaries. For the first time with real player names, the PC, 32X and Sega Saturn versions used EA's Virtual Stadium engine, with 2D sprite players moving on a 3D stadium. FIFA 97 had crude polygonal models for players and added indoor football, but the pinacle was reached with FIFA 98:Road to the World Cup. Improved graphics, a complete world cup with qualifying rounds (including all national teams registered in FIFA) and refined gameplay. Months later, World Cup 98, EAs first officially licensed tournament game, improved Direct3D support, gave each team a unique kit and broke the sequence of poor video games based on tournaments started by US Gold's World Cup Carnival in 1986 and continued until Gremlin's Euro 96.

The following years' releases were met with criticism: buyers complained about poor gameplay, bugs that were never fixed, bad support and little improvement over the previous title. That led to a decrease in the games' popularity, but fans were still willing to give EA a tabula rasa each year. As both emulation and the console market expanded, FIFA was being challenged directly from other titles such as Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer (known as Winning Eleven in Japan and the U.S.). By FIFA 2003 EA made a determined effort to improve the game, and a year later, included a new mode (Football Fusion) that allowed the ability to play games from TCM 2004 using FIFA's engine, and when Konami announced that PES3 would also have a Personal Computer release, EA doubled the efforts the revive the series.

As it is now, FIFA is less popular than Pro Evolution Soccer on most of the consoles. However it still has a lead on PC market due to lower hardware requirements (opposed to the what most believe to be bloated requirements on Konami's title) and appeal of Football Fusion feature.

Games in the series

FIFA International Soccer (aka FIFA '94)
Tagline: "FIFA International Soccer has it all... experience sheer brilliance."
Cover: David Platt shielding the ball in England vs. Poland; Pat Bonner punching the ball away from Ruud Gullit in Netherlands vs. Republic of Ireland.
Released for: Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, Master System, Mega CD, Game Gear, SNES, DOS, Amiga, 3DO. Game Boy
Released weeks before Christmas 1993, this greatly hyped football title broke with traditional 16-bit era games by presenting a isometric view rather than the usual top-down view (KickOff), side view (European Club Soccer) or bird's-eye view (Sensible Soccer). It only included national teams. The Mega CD version included some features from the next title, and is a highly polished version of the original version.

FIFA Soccer '95
Tagline: "The best console football can get."
Cover: Eric Thorstvedt (Tottenham Hotspur) flying for the ball, Alexei Lalas heading the ball in a Norway vs. USA match.
Released for: Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, FamiCom (Pirated only),DOS. Game Gear
Using the same engine only with minor retouches, the game featured more teams (now with 8 club leagues), faster gameplay and more animations.

FIFA Soccer '96
Tagline: "Next Generation Soccer."
Cover: Ronald De Boer chasing Jason McAteer in Republic of Ireland vs. Netherlands.
Released for: Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, Sega 32X, SNES, DOS, Sega Saturn, PSX, Game Boy.
1996 was the year that saw the dawn of the first 32-bit systems, giving developers the power required to work with more complex 3D designs. Although there were several 3D football games released before (mainly on the SNES), those were usually sluggish and confusing. FIFA '96 for the 32-bit systems still relied on 2D sprites for players in a 3D stadium (the engine was called Virtua Stadium), but was much more fluid than any other preceding game (except the Actua games by Gremlin Software). The 2D versions had improved player sprites, and for many the game reached its 2D peak with this game. The CD versions had commentary from John Motson for the first time.

FIFA '97
Tagline: "Emotion Captured"
Cover: David Ginola (for most versions)
Released for: Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, SNES, DOS/Windows, Sega Saturn, PSX, Game Boy
The biggest change was the inclusion of 6-a-side indoor soccer mode and polygonal players, with motion capture assured by David Ginola. This game features a then unprecedented number of playable leagues from England, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany and even features the Malaysian league for the first time with complete team rosters.

FIFA '98: Road To World Cup
Alternate Titles: Rumbo a la Copa Mundial (Spanish), En Route Pour La Coupe du Monde (French), Die WM-Qualifikation (German)
Tagline: "Your only goal - qualify"
Cover: There were several covers for this game. Among them, David Beckham, Andreas Möller, Raúl and Ginola were featured.
Released for: SNES and Sega Mega Drive (PAL only), Windows, Sega Saturn, PSX, Nintendo 64.
Considered by many the best game of the series, it had a refined graphics engine, team and player customization options, 16 stadiums, better AI and the popular "Road To World Cup" mode, with all FIFA-registered national teams. The most ambitious of the entire series, it even features many accurate team rosters with even national reserves for national callup when playing in the round robin qualification modes.

British band Blur composed the well known "Song 2" for the game. American band Crystal Method also did 4 songs for the game, More, Now Is The Time, Keep Hope Alive and Busy Child.

FIFA '99
Tagline: "All The Clubs, Leagues and Cups"
Covers: Dennis Bergkamp (Main), Rui Costa (Portugal)
Released for: Windows, PSX, Nintendo 64
This title was probably the last good one in terms of quality in the series. The indoor mode was not revived, the gameplay, although with increased fluidity, was generally frustrating, but the increasing number of websites dedicated to the game and a larger number of leagues (which came to a problem when the Portuguese League rights' owners tried to pull the game out of the shelves locally) ensured good sale. Graphically, it was a major improvement over FIFA '98, with the inclusion of basic facial animations. Fatboy Slim's "Rockafella Skunk" was the music used in the intro.

FIFA 2000
Alternate titles: FIFA 2000 - Major League Soccer (US).
Covers: Sol Campbell (Main), Simão Sabrosa (Portugal), Eddie Pope (US), Mehmet Scholl (Germany)
Released for: Windows, PSX, Nintendo 64 in beta release only.
Although graphically slightly superior than older versions, the gameplay was an unrealistic portrayal of the sport. The gameplay was fast, simple and had a clear arcade feeling which failed to keep hardcore fans happy, especially with rival games such as ISS: Pro Evolution gaining in reputation. The leagues also featured many unlicensed teams, which substituted their real names for that of their home cities. Not surprisingly, this title was one of the most poorly received of the entire series. For the first time, U.S. Major League Soccer clubs were included.

Robbie Williams provided the theme song with "It's Only Us", after doing the same for Actua Soccer 3 (released a year earlier) with "Let Me Entertain You."

FIFA 2001
Covers: Paul Scholes (UK), Thierry Henry (UK), Lothar Matthäus (Germany), Edgar Davids (Netherlands), Ricardo Sá Pinto (Portugal), Ben Olsen (US)
Released for: Windows, PSX, PS2. An N64 beta version does exist of this game via THQ, also relased on Game Boy Color
This title had a new graphics engine, which allowed each team to have its own kit, and for some players, their own face. Slighly tweakable physics made the game a modding favorite for its fan community, which grew immensely at the time of this game. Despite the improved engine and the inclusion of 17 leagues, it still did not please many fans. With the release of more powerful hardware and emulators capable of running PlayStation games, by 2001 FIFA started to lose market to Konami's ISS: Pro Evolution series, a series only native to the PSX format.

FIFA 2002
Covers: Thierry Henry (UK), Gerald Asamoah (Germany), Sibusiso Zuma (South Africa).
Released for: Windows, PSX, PS2, GameCube. GBA
With Konami's franchise taking the lead, EA decided to introduce power bars for shots and passes, actually improving the game. However, it was noticed by many players how the game seemed to predetermine results on higher levels. Doing away with ordinary colour pennants as club emblems, the license included official club emblems for the first time. The power bar could also be customised to suit the gamer's preference. A card reward system licensed from Panini was also introduced whereby after winning a particular competition, a star player card would be unlocked. The question often arose as to what merits a gamer achieves from this system of awards as it would not improve the playability in any way.

FIFA 2003
Covers: Roberto Carlos, Ryan Giggs, Edgar Davids (Main); Landon Donovan (US / Canada).
Released for: Windows, PSX, PS2, GameCube, Xbox, Game Boy Advance.
With the series clearly trailing in both market and fan / critic appreciation, EA completely revamped the outdated DirectX 7 graphics used in FIFA 2001 and FIFA 2002 and introduced new T&L graphics, faturing more detailed stadia, players and kits. An Elite league composed of the best european teams was also inluded (this feature was first present in FIFA 99), but the gameplay was more rigid and frustrating than most other games on the market.

FIFA Football 2004
Cover: Alessandro Del Piero, Thierry Henry, and Ronaldinho
Released for: Windows, PS2, GameCube, Xbox, Game Boy Advance
While not adding much to the engine (except some fluidity), the biggest inclusion were secondary divisions, which allowed the player to take lower ranked teams into the top leagues and european matches. Gameplay had a new feature dubbed Off the ball, which required the player to control two players at the same time to execute some plays; although the feature looks good in theory (using the analogue pads to control the second player), the execution is too cumbersome to be used properly, and could not be used at all if no directional pads were available (which gives a slight indication on how console-oriented the gameplay was). The online mode was boosted as the main feature, and it alone helped the game climb to the top of the charts. Another key feature was the Football Fusion, which allowed owners of both FIFA 2004 and TCM 2004 to actually play games from the management sim'.

FIFA Football 2005
Cover: Patrick Vieira, Fernando Morientes, and Andriy Shevchenko
Released for: Windows, PS2, GameCube, Xbox, Game Boy Advance, PSP
Improving the career mode, the game was extensively advertised and released much sooner than the usual late October date to avoid proximity with the release of Pro Evolution Soccer 4 and the EA Big release, FIFA Street. While most critics still considered it to have inferior gameplay to Konami's series, it was acknowledged to have improved significantly since the 2003 edition and had a less steep learning curve (favouring the on-line mode and casual/novice gamers). The game featured a return of create-a-player mode, as well as an improved Career mode.

Other titles
Outside the yearly series, but also from EA Sports:

Zico Soccer and Tactical Soccer, two Super Famicom titles released only in Japan where the player does not control the players directly, but gives orders to them.
FIFA 64 (first FIFA game released on the Nintendo 64 in late 1997 and similar to FIFA 97)
World Cup 98 and 2002 FIFA World Cup
Euro 2000 and Euro 2004
Stars series (2000 and 2001)
Champions League 2004-2005
FIFA Street released in 2005, part of EA's 'Street' series of console video games.
Management games

FIFA Soccer Manager (1997)
Total Club Manager (also known as Fussball Manager) series
Premier League Manager '99, 2000

2:01 AM


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