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World Cup '98

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Reviewed by Raymond Almeda For the third time in a year, Electronic Arts has released a soccer title for Nintendo 64. Unlike American football, baseball, and basketball, soccer is a sport that enjoys rabid worldwide popularity. EA knows that it is crucial for international sales that it deliver a killer N64 simulation of the world's most popular sport. And with World Cup 98, it has finally succeeded. World Cup 98 is essentially an improved version of FIFA: Road to World Cup (not to be confused with the grossly disappointing FIFA 64). With the real- life World Cup competition in full swing, EA has wisely chosen to refine and re-publish the already excellent Road to World Cup. World Cup 98 takes the same essential elements of its predecessor and modifies them to reflect the specifics of the competition in France. The game thus contains the official World Cup license, the necessary team licenses, and authentic French stadiums. In an unfortunate oversight, there is no opportunity to riot. Perhaps EA will include English hooligans in the sequel. World Cup 98 maintains the striking medium-resolutiongraphics of its predecessor. In terms of clarity, the game falls short of high-res games like All-Star Baseball '99, but is far superior to low-resolution blurball titles like FIFA 64 and In The Zone 98. While the medium-resolution visuals are crisp, they come at some gameplay cost. While World Cup 98 plays smoother and faster than earlier EA soccer entries, the game nevertheless displays a sometimes choppy frame rate. It never seriously affects gameplay, but it does hinder the visual flow of the action. EA has added a number of excellent player animations in World Cup 98. As with all EA Sports titles, the emphasis in here is upon realism. These players jog, run, jump, and fall with outstanding motion-captured movement. There are some great cinematic scenes that punctuate the ongoing action. EA is arguably the best in the business at motion captured animation, and World Cup 98 does not disappoint. The default camera angle is functional, though somewhat removed from the action. Simulations of large-field sports like soccer face an unavoidable challenge: although gamers need to see enough of the field for broad strategic decisions, we also want to feel close to the action. Konami accomplished this feat in International Superstar Soccer; I'm not sure EA is as effective in World Cup 98. Some of the wonderful medium-resolution player detail is simply lost if it seems like I'm watching the action from the Goodyear Blimp. But the camera problem in World Cup 98 is not severe; it is possible to adjust the camera angles to suit one's tastes. EA has added some cool new player celebration animations that are very realistic, if not totally exciting. Despite its notable audio flaws, International Superstar Soccer excelled at capturing the sheer euphoric elation of scoring a goal. Every goal in soccer should feel like an incredible event. We want to hear the announcer screaming "Goooooooaaaaaal!" at the top of his lungs, and see the players performing memorable celebrations. ISS delivered that sensation, but World Cup 98 does not. But World Cup 98 does boast some of the best crowd noise and play-by-play commentary in the business. The murmur and cheers of the crowd are peppered with authentic soccer chants. And the play-by-play is on target and effective. The commentary rarely lags behind the on-screen action, and in fact brings a compelling televised feel to the game. Speaking of the television experience, it's worth pointing out that World Cup 98 is loaded with advertising. Each stadium is adorned with branded banners for businesses like McDonald's and Casio. I look forward to the day when games include enough advertising so that the game itself is heavily discounted...or perhaps even free! Alas, any money collected for the World Cup 98 ads has not been passed along to the consumer. The multiplayer experience of World Cup 98 is a real winner. Up to four players can play at a time, via either head-to-head team play or as four against the CPU. All varieties of multiplayer in World Cup 98 are excellent, and a real selling point of the title. World Cup 98 is an excellent N64 soccer title. But is it better than the legendary International Superstar Soccer 64? That's hard to say. While World Cup 98 clearly takes the multiplayer crown, there's something to be said for the raw excitement and fast gameplay of solo ISS 64. Either way, gamers can't go wrong. EA is to be commended for the substantial improvements it has made to its premier soccer title over the past year. With this sort of game, the N64 may emerge as a "sports machine," after all.

Overall 8.75 out of 10

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