World Cup excitement in your Xbox

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

"Goooaaaaallllllll!"

Yes, that beloved cry is ringing across Korea and Japan this month as World Cup soccer grips the hearts and minds of the entire world -- except the U.S. of A.

Soccer has never been regarded highly domestically. If most Americans are going to blow a few hours on a sporting event, they like to see a little scoring. Since an average soccer game seems often to end in a scoreless tie, you can see why soccer is not our favorite form of competition.

However, if you're one of those folks who pictures little guys in short pants when you hear the word football, "2002 FIFA World Cup" from EA Sports is for you. It comes in three flavors -- Xbox, PlayStation 2 and GameCube. We'll deal today with the Xbox version, but there's not a whole lot of difference among the three.

As EA is quick to point out, the game is the only officially licensed World Cup title. That means it includes all the teams competing, as well as the venues where the games are being played.

I hadn't played a soccer title for some years, so World Cup was a revelation to me. Beautifully rendered stadiums, excellent player models and a smooth look to the action makes the game so lifelike you'll think you're watching a match on television.

Late last year, EA turned loose "FIFA 2002," a very deep title that included everything up to the qualification matches for World Cup play, but left out the World Cup itself. "FIFA World Cup" makes up for that failing, but leaves out everything else.

There are only two modes of play.

Friendly lets you choose two teams for a single match, while Tournament takes you into the World Cup itself. Your call if what's basically chapter 2 in an earlier game is worth the price of admission.

There are some new moves and additions, but nothing to make you gasp with delight.

Graphics get a solid A. This is a great game to look at, with gorgeous color and lots of nice details, including smoothly operating players and easy passing and shooting.

Sound gets a B. There's a solid announcing job from John Motson and Andy Gray, who are well-known to soccer fans. There's good chatter from the players and an orchestral score that will make you think more of some romantic costume movie than sports.

Control gets a B+. Players go where they're told and keeping the ball moving is quick and easy. My only problem came in scoring; it's hard to line up your shot because you don't see the goal until the last few seconds before your shot.

"2002 FIFA World Cup" gets a B+ as a game. I'm one of those who doesn't get the rest of the world's love affair with soccer, but if you enjoy it, this is the game for you.

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