Soccer game reviewed
System Requirements - Pentium 166 or equivalent 16Mb RAM 50Mb Hard Drive space 4x CD-Rom drive
It's In The Game
EA Sports are a bizarre company, with their philosophy of "If it's in the game, it's in the game .. but only if we can fit it in this year." They have got into the disorderly habit of releasing new games annually to cater for just about every sport under the sun.
On top of this annual output, they also release games that deal with specific tournaments. For instance, in 1998 they released "FIFA 98" as expected, but then followed it up with "Road To World Cup 98", which was a smidgeon better but nothing to get excited about, and then "World Cup 98", which was commonly regarded as their best football game to date. If you were a loyal EA Sports fan, you would now have spent over £100 on that little lot. Have these idiots never heard of patches and expansion packs?
In 1998, that might have been acceptable behaviour, because they were genuinely improving the games with every new release. "FIFA 99" was even better when it was released in late 1998 (I won't even go into it) and today "FIFA 2000" is regarded as the best football game on the market, so you would have expected that their latest release, which coincides with this summer's European tournament, would push back the boundaries even further.
You would be wrong though, and you would be spending another £35 to find that out.
Playing The Long Ball
Euro 2000 is a great game - I can't say I don't play it avidly - but it's a horizontal release. In other words, it's not even progressive; it's just FIFA 2000 with some bits tacked on the end and a couple of alterations.
I suppose the most sensible option at this point is to go over what's new. It's a perfect representation of this summer's tournament; with each of the teams taking part accurately depicted, and each of the grounds in Holland where the games will be taking place included.
But despite this accuracy, the stadiums are unimpressive. Firstly, they're not grand enough. This is an international tournament, almost of World Cup proportions, but this could just as easily be Rushden Diamonds vs Wimbledon rather than England vs Germany...
The crowd lining the stadiums takes a backward step too. In FIFA 2000 the crowd weren't all that realistic; they jumped up and down in an almost comic manner, but they did the job and I thought they were passable. The only way to describe the crowd in Euro 2000 is to liken them to the fuzzy effect you get watching television on Channel 5. They are neither realistic nor unrealistic, just .. broken.
The game features Friendly, Euro 2000, Challenge, Golden Goal and Training modes. The Friendly option is a great way to have a quick and simple kickabout to get used to the game before moving on to the more involving full Euro 2000 mode, with qualifiers and all. The Golden Goal mode is similar, with a sort of "survival of the fittest" element. On hard skill settings you have to make adrenalin-pumping decisions, either throwing all your weight into an attack to try and bully the ball over the line, or by playing it safe and maintaining a solid wall of defenders. You can't have both.
My favourite mode in FIFA titles (and this is a FIFA title in all but name) is the Training mode, as you can turn off fouls and such. If you want some fun, punt the ball up the field to the opposing keeper, rush in and knock him down, then deposit the ball in the net in comic fashion. I never tire of this, sad though it may sound!
What I get very tired of though is the almost heretical devotion to 3dfx that EA Sports exhibit. In this age of graphics-card-diversity, the fact that the game performs like an absolute dog on anything not equipped by a 3dfx card is unacceptable.
It was "Ultima : Ascension", another EA title, that gave me cause to bring this up previously; I will not re-install my Voodoo 2 into this machine just to play your bloody software, EA. I own a machine that I regard as being in tip-top condition - a Pentium III 800E with a GeForce DDR graphics card, backed up by 256Mb RAM. That should be far more than just sufficient, especially when your packaging points out support for my graphics chipset. In fact, your website extols its virtues!
The audio saves Euro 2000 from invoking the upper echelons of my wrath though. I'm a self confessed Des Lynam and John Motson fanboy when it comes to football coverage, and even though the ramblings of my favourite footie presenter and commentator are interspersed by the feverish voice of Mark Lawrenceson and the grey-haired glitter of Gary Lineker, I'm impressed by the diversity and variety of their banter, even if I do get rather annoyed by the sampling Des has been subjected to. "We're here today for the game between .. GERMANY and .. ENGLAND" he says in the computer's staccato jumbling of his samples.
Bah, you can't win them all.
Good Old-Fashioned Gameplay
If you've already played FIFA 2000 you can probably skip this next section, as you will already be familiar with how Euro 2000 plays. For the benefit of those of you haven't, however...
The individual player movement and animation is a drastic improvement over previous examples in the genre, and EA's inimitable style of game remains. You basically side-foot and swerve every movement of the ball off the ground, and on the floor things remain straight. Rather like David Beckham's approach, except applied to everyone on the pitch rather than just the man himself. Using a friendly combination of keys, you can sprint, pass, play a through ball, pass in the air, shield or shoot.
Unlike previous FIFA titles your shots are basically instant, and you have no control over the velocity - a big mistake in my book. One of the reasons the relatively under-rated "FA Premier League STARS" remained on my hard-drive was the control you had over the power of your shot.
Gameplay is fluent, but often frustrating as your players become fatigued quickly (this is optional, but set to "on" by default), and it's very easy to lose the ball to an opponent, but devilishly hard to regain it. If you like to feel in control of your game, you will be aggravated by Euro 2000 for a few days while you grasp the basics and proceed to the higher skill settings, but it's only on the highest "World Class" setting that things become more involving, and at that point the computer cheats more often than not.
Anyway, new to Euro 2000 is the ability for overhead kicks to be hit into the ground (new to me anyway), and by the looks of things strong directional air passes using the default "pass" button are now possible. Controlling midfield aerial battles is no less distressing, but winning the ball on the floor remains relatively simple if you harrang the opponent in question enough.
So what's the big problem? A few new bits here and there, a bit of gloss with an improved 3D menu system for the summer tournament, and a lot of fun to be had by all!
Absolutely .. but in essence you're paying another £35 for the same game that you bought before Christmas, except with new players and stadia, and the same inherent problems. The graphics API situation remains unsolved, the crowds look worse, and the gameplay remains a tad uninvolving. It's just not right for EA Sports to shovel another title on to the gaming table without actually making any progress. I feel used and abused when I play this game, which is not very often now.
As you can probably tell, I'm no stranger to football games, and aside from Quake 3, the games I regularly play are Euro 2000 and FA Premier League STARS on the PC, and Sega Worldwide Soccer 2000 and Virtua Striker 2 on the Dreamcast. I've developed a passion for the sport in a cyber sense, and I've got the connoisseur's taste for it now, but unless someone puts a cap on this reprocessed EA Sports tat I'm going to have to pick up sticks and move to another format again.
Either that or I'll buy a second-hand Amiga and play Sensi again. Not such a bad idea that...