EA Sports let fly with another in the FIFA series of football games. Criticised by some for churning out a big dose of the 'same old same old', they've consistently managed to produce quality to satisfy the footballing masses.
This latest offering focuses on the up and coming UEFA sponsored Euro 2000 tournament hosted by the Netherlands and Belgium. Often labelled as a stopgap to the World Cup, the tournament is sometimes underestimated. After all, with teams like Italy, Germany and the Netherlands competing, it's certainly not lacking in quality. That's without mentioning the current French squad, World Cup winners against Brazil in 1998.
With their FIFA series, EA Sports have always managed to maintain a high standard of presentation, but above all gameplay. As the technology becomes more advanced, so the graphics, animation and whole look of the game improves.
Alas, all good things come to an end. Euro 2000 is really quite poor. Want to know why? Don't worry, I'll tell you!
What's on the Menu?
Firing Euro 2000 up for the first time, you are once again treated to some nice video footage at the beginning. Though what a turntable and DJ are doing on a football pitch is anyone's guess! Again the presentation of the menu systems thereafter is top-notch.
From the main menu you have nice set of game options to choose from. To acclimatise yourself with the workings of the game you should first head for the 'Skill Drill' section. Here is where you can practice individual skills, moves and set pieces.
Giving the game a more arcade flavour are the 'Golden Goal' and 'Challenge' modes. The former has you set a target of goals to score from 1 to 10. The first team to reach that target wins. 'Challenge' pits up to 8 human (or computer if you wish) opponents, in a simple 1-leg knockout tournament with any teams you wish to choose.
The big daddy of them all is of course the 'Euro 2000' option, but before you go headlong into that, you may wish to use the 'Friendly' option to arrange a quick practice match.
'Euro 2000' sees the team of your choosing beginning at the qualifying group stage prior to the tournament itself. Progress through this and you enter group qualifiers for the main event, and if you're lucky, the final in Rotterdam. You could of course be sneaky and choose to play as the Netherlands or Belgium, and instantly qualify!
The Whistle Blows
Once you've selected what team you are to represent in the games, you might want to change the difficulty level or speed of the game. This is where you discover irritant numero uno! Though the menu system is very nicely designed and looks great, it is an utter pig to navigate around. You often find yourself wondering how the heck you get back to where you were, and the usual Triangle button back-step isn't applicable!
To further compound this woeful system, try changing options within the game. You will soon find yourself stuck in a menu loop with seemingly no way out. Ah, help is at hand. Open whatever menu you had open again, and click start! Sorted! So intuitive.
Okay, so you're now ready to play. The players line up, applaud the crowd, and we're ready to go. The whistle blows, and irritant number two slaps you in the face. To say the game is jerky is putting it mildly. There are times where it actually freezes for a split second. This is enough for you to get disoriented and lose the ball, or sight of an opposing striker.
It isn't just jerky though. The game also suffers from unforgivable frame-rate drops, particularly when the action is centered around the penalty box. It is bad enough at times to be considered slow motion!
The sad part is that the only workable combination I found was to have the computer team on amateur skill, with the game speed set to fast. Up the skill, and you will find that the computer players often get to the ball first, many times due to the sheer sluggish nature of the game.
Final Whistle Please!
An increase in the computer skill also makes it nigh on impossible to string a decent set of passes together. Computer prediction of where the ball is going is far too unfair. This means that a move you started that had potential can be ruined with what should've been a simple pass.
If this doesn't annoy you, the lethargy of your players will. As with previous FIFA games, repeated tapping of the Triangle key whilst on and off the ball, makes your player sprint. In Euro 2000 this tapping has virtually no effect whatsoever. Jeez, I was even getting out-run by the Faeroe Isles players!
A problem that admittedly has crept across from FIFA 2000, is the goalkeeper's almost total reluctance to punch out or save on corners. It's worth mentioning anyway! I did a test, letting the computer get 10 or so corners. They scored all but 2 of them! There's nothing you can do to stop it either.
There's more though! The offside rule, one of those things that every football fan has screamed in frustration at explaining to a non-football type person. The implementation of the offside rule in Euro 2000 is very flimsy. You can be given offside when you are clearly not ahead of the defence. When you're battling every other tedious part of this game, this is a rather unwelcome added woe.
Hmm, how many irritants is that now?
Sight and Sound
Okay the game plays like a pair of wellies in thick mud, but what does it look like. To be fair, graphically the game really isn't too bad. The game has lost a fair amount of clarity from FIFA2000, resulting in the players losing some definition. Player animation is still good though, with the remonstrating player anims being just as smooth and amusing as ever.
The stadiums are still very impressive, and give a good feeling of depth. With the jerkiness you feel the graphics engine is just crying out to be let loose. You can't help but wonder how good it would've been had this been smoothed out.
The only part of the game that truly excels is the sound quality. As usual you have Des Lynam introducing the games, with John Motson and Mark Lawrence providing the in-game banter. The trio work brilliantly, and provide great amusement. Motson just has one of the most wonderful voices in commentary.
Music is always a big part of the FIFA games, and comes to you this time from Paul Oakenfield and Steve Osborne, plus the official Euro 2000 anthem: Campione 2000.
I'm a big fan of the FIFA series, snapping up every title in the range, knowing that the next game will be that little bit more special. Therefore, it's really hard for me to swallow this bitter pill.
It is tough to believe this game has been thoroughly playtested, but it's clearly passed all the necessary criteria to warrant shelf life. The whole product feels incredibly rushed, with more emphasis on making the menu system look nice than making a game worth playing.
Even in the graphics department, things have taken a slight nose-dive, with player definition not up to the usual standards. The one saving grace is the crowd and commentary, but it's made pretty much redundant when offset against the game's overall failings.
I've followed the FIFA series like a religion, not caring that ultimately we're getting the same game pumped out, but with more bells and whistles. I just hope things improve for the next instalment, otherwise I could well be losing my religion.
What The Scores Mean
- Out Now