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Company: EA Sports
Estimated Street Price: £35/$40
Review By: Byron Hinson
Fifa 98 and World Cup 98 (Didn't sell as well as you thought, did it EA?) went on to become my most played games of the past year. The two player mode is easily the best I have seen in a football game since the days of Sensible Soccer on the Amiga.
Now, just 6 months after Fifa: World Cup 98 was released we get Fifa 99. So what is supposedly new in this version of Fifa? A number of new features have been added and of course the graphics have been improved yet again.
Installation and In-Game Options
Put the CD in the drive and the autoplay feature kicks in. Installation is a doddle, just choose what kind of set-up you want (Typical or Custom) and then a few seconds later it's installed. Once the game has been installed, you will need to run the 3D setup to make sure the correct 3D hardware is being used, Fifa 99 had already chosen my Voodoo 2 card. That is it for the installation.
Once the game loads you are gifted with the usual Fifa style intro, this time Fatboy Slim does the honors for the main music title on the game, The Rockefella Skank.
The main menu screen has changed in look from World Cup 98. Most of the bright colors have been passed over this time round and replaced by more pastel grays and whites. There are a couple of new options on the main menu, one includes the option to play a "Golden Goal" game, this is usually a game in which the first player to score a goal wins, but in Fifa 99 you can choose the amount of goals a team needs to score to win. The menus also seem to make it far quicker to get straight into a game, unlike many previous Fifa titles.
I set-up a friendly two-player match between England and Brazil. I also set the stadium to default and the weather to rainy. The loading times are very short compared to most games these days and almost right away you are greeted by Des Lynam announcing the two teams who are about to play. The first thing you notice are the new weather effects (That should have been added a year ago). Everything looks great yet again but there are a number of small problems with the new look and speed that I will discuss later.
The gameplay has made, what seemed at first to be a worrying change over Fifa 98, the speed has been increased by quite a bit. I managed to win my first game against my friend by 2-1 despite having a large amount of shots and possession, so Fifa 99 seems to have stopped the outrageously large scorelines you could get in the previous games (23-3 anyone?)
Fifa games (At least since Fifa 97) have become well known for excellent graphics and Fifa 99 is no exception. Just an added note, to get the best out of Fifa 99 you must really play with a Voodoo 2 card, I switched over to my 8mb AGP card to run in Direct3D and the differences between the two was blatantly clear.
While the game does not look much different from the previous two at first, apart from the weather, it soon becomes obvious that there has been a large amount of enhancements added. Players now have animated mouths, if a player commits a foul or is fouled for example, he will start to shout at the referee or an opposing player. Player heights can now be noticed (Although not much) and players also now follow the flight of the ball while it is in the air. I know a lot of these small additions may not sound all that amazing to most people, but to players of Fifa games they really add to the atmosphere.
Next we have the excellent weather effects. These have available in the console versions of Fifa for over a year now, but now PC players finally get their chance to see them. The effects range from Snow and Rain to Sleet (Identical to rain<g>). One problem is that it can seem to be visually difficult to see, but once you have played a few times it gets far, far easier. When you first play with the weather effects you may start to wonder what it adds to the game apart from making it harder to play, well all I can say is keep playing and you'll notice the different styles of play you can use on each pitch. For example on a clear or sunny day it tends to be good for passing the ball, on a rainy day it is easier to just hoof the ball up the pitch because it slows down much quicker.
Celebrations have been enhanced yet again, as mentioned earlier, the addition of moving mouths has been added. There are a number of new celebrations, but regrettably I saw them all from what I can tell within two days of playing. The good thing here is that you can cut short the animation with a click of a button (ESC). You also now get in-game animations, say you take a long range shot and it just misses the target, your player will turn around and get angry with himself for missing. These shot animations are a welcome addition to Fifa 99 and they thankfully do not get in the way of the game.
Now onto the bad parts - The stadiums, no matter where you play, seem to be identical. Don't get me wrong, there could be slight differences but nothing anyone would notice. In previous Fifa games you could notice a difference in both the size of the pitch you were playing on and with the design of the stadiums, but in Fifa 99 you don't seem to be able to. There are also no animated crowds in the stand when playing, while World Cup 98 had one row jumping up and down.
Finally Fifa 99 only allows 640x480 which is a major disappointment in these times of high resolution 3D games, I even know one Football game (I'll mention no names, Actua) that has given the option of higher resolutions for over a year and a half, which leaves me wondering whey EA didn't allow you the chance.
The sound is almost identical to World Cup 98, apart from the fact you now get Mark Lawrensen or Chris Waddle commentating alongside John Motson during games, but its a shame that both of them are as bad as each other.
The music is far better than in World Cup 98, although I'm already sick of the Rockefella Skank by Fatboy Slim after hearing it so much on the radio and TV.
Control and AI
The controls are the same as World Cup 98, but a few additional moves have been added. For instance, you can now nutmeg a player by doing a combination of buttons and there is more variety in heading the ball. The controls are not difficult to master and if you have player World Cup 98 then you are ready to go play almost from the off.
The AI is much improved in Fifa 99, especially for the goalkeepers. In Fifa 98 and World Cup 98 even the most simplest of shots could end up in the back of the net thanks to a slip up from the goalie but in Fifa 99 he tends to save them all, although he still likes to flap the ball into the net every once in a while. Now for more complaints about the goalie....I go to watch football matches a lot here in the UK and I have never seen a goalkeeper bounce the ball so much during a game if his side are winning, yes fair enough a couple of times would be fine, but every time he picks it up? If this were a real game, computer controlled keepers would be booked numerous times. Lastly - The computer controlled keepers seem to like throwing the ball out to their defenders, again once or twice is fine, but 8-10 times during a game and then having your player being able to run in a steal the ball to score an easy goal? I think not EA - Please fix.
When playing against the computer the AI really comes into effect in both good and bad ways. The bad first - The computer, it seems can score nearly every time from a corner, I find myself scared to death whenever the opposing team has a corner kick and because the new camera angle flies off to follow the ball, its hard to see what the hell is going on in the penalty box. Tackling is far too easy for both computer and human players. Most wingers in football have a good amount of pace, in Fifa 99 they seem to all be quite slow, this tends to stop a player who enjoys a wing-play style game from putting in crosses. Now the good - Free kicks are improved and the player heights tend to come out well here.
In two player games the referee is fine, but when playing against the computer I have only so far seen him blow his whistle against them once. You may say this must be because they have not fouled, well that's all well and good, but you do the same tackles as them and you are likely to have a red card waved in your face.
Again I have to say the overall gameplay is both good and bad, mostly good so don't worry Fifa fans. The game now seems to be moving away from realistic football into the realms of an arcade game, this is all fine as long as EA keep the speed settings available to the players, but Fifa 99 is so fast it can end up playing like a pinball game because of the speed and the size of the pitches being too small yet again. Volley the ball from your penalty box and 1 out of 3 times you will see the ball fly off and out for a goal kick at the other end of the pitch, not humanly possible in any football match I've seen (But you support Cambridge Utd Byron!)
Ok - the final bad point I will mention is the new camera angle, EA have done away with the previous TV style angle and added a new one that follows the ball. This is great in some parts of the pitch, but bloody awful in others and unfortunately EA have not given us the option to choose the old style camera.
The more you play Fifa 99, the better it becomes and with its extremely difficult AI you will get more from your money. The new 'Interruptible Animations' means your players respond much faster and at last you can change what move you were about to do...also one major plus is that when the ball trickles towards the touchline, you can now actually get it back without running it off the pitch.
You can now find out how much energy your players have by just looking at the glow underneath the player you are controlling, the more it fades, the more tired the player is becoming. You can also notice the fatigue far easier in the team management section too.
As I said - The more you play Fifa 99 the better it gets and please understand that I am a massive fan of the Fifa games so you must expect the attention to detail of my complaints, Is it a great advance over Fifa 98? yes - Is it a great advance of World Cup 98? No but with the new graphics and full club teams to choose from it is a far better deal. There is still also no Internet play included and that defiantly won't be added via a patch.
I am worried though that EA Sports will take a while to patch the games AI problems, why you may ask, well EA now own the rights to the European Championships in the year 2000 - and the qualification for that tournament is well underway....so in a few months time we could all see Fifa: Road To Euro 200 on the shelves.
But for Fifa fans - It's a must.
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