So far football has only succeeded in being absorbing from an overhead view or in management form. It's ironic that despite the fact that the World Cup took place this summer not a single truly great football game came out during those months. There were one or two mild surprises and one bitter disappointment but all the rest were rubbish. Now however, with Christmas approaching, the floodgates are open and the Amiga is showings its footie prowess one more time.
No-one was looking forward to FIFA Soccer more than me because, if truth be told, I'm pretty useless at the old top-down games. It's a horrible admission, but when you keep getting whipped at Sensi by blind, one-armed octegenarians and members of staff from other EMAP magazines you tend to feel like giving up. But then, one bright day in sunny south London, on a Mega Drive... I beat somebody playing FIFA! Problem being, I wouldn't normally touch a Mega Drive with a barge pole. But now EA, in a final burst of passion for the Amiga, have saved me the social embarrassment of console gaming.
FIFA was a bit of a revelation for our console chums. Not used to the sort of football fare we take for granted on the Amiga it was leapt upon and awarded all sorts of accolades. But how does it measure up to 'computer' translation?
If the truth to be told, FIFA is tremendous fun in two-player mode. There's none of this piddling around with pea-
sized characters, watching 'scanners'; it's good, clean, healthy isometric action with a gigantic hoola hoop stuck to the feet of the player you're in control of, just in case you can't figure out which one it is.
The viewing perspective and the quality of the animation are the two key ingredients that make FIFA stand out over other soccer games. You play diagonally (at a 30 degree angle) up or down the pitch and a control panel allows you to toggle between normal joystick up, down, left, right control or the slightly more bizarre but game friendly angled control where the up-right joystick position makes your player run up the field while the down-left position makes him run down etc.
At first playing downfield seems to be a disadvantage: the 30 degree angle would appear to make things more difficult, but once you get used to it there's no problem - it's just like playing down field in any other football sim.
Sprite animation is where it's really at though. This is easily the nearest thing to 'real' football in terms of presentation. The players' running animations are gorgeous and when they do a shoulder charge, head the ball, do a diving tackle, or a keeper saves a goal it just gets better. In the past animations like this have tended to look out of place or have been maddeningly slow, but in FIFA everything happens with pace - especially on an A1200.
On a 500/600 FIFA is good, on a 1200 it's great. It's so fast it outpaces the console original. Control is easy too, and supports one or two button joysticks and the original's three-button joypad. However, for football game purists this is where FIFA falls down. Regardless of how many buttons you have available it just doesn't have as many moves, and isn't as intuitive or skill intensive as Sensi or the first two Kick-Offs.
I mentioned the two-player mode earlier on and this is really where the game comes into its own. It's pure fun to play and you don't have to be a twitching maniac with 20-20 vision to learn it. The moves and their execution may be simple but you still need skill and quick responses to win and what FIFA lacks in computer game joystick bashing credibility it makes up for in look and realism.
If there's one thing EA are keen on it's their options and statistics. They love 'em, but manage to make them extremely palatable for the rest of us too. Options include five weather conditions, which change the state of the pitch, grass or astroturf fields, three foul settings, manual or computer goalies, halves of between two and 45 minutes and 'Action' or 'Simulation' modes, the latter results in your players getting tired as the game drags on.
Once you've decided on the above you get to choose the team and players' skill ratings, the formation, the players' coverage (how much grounds the defenders, mid-fielders and strikers cover) and the style of play - all out attack, all out defence, long ball etc. Finally, during play you can make substitutions, change strategy and all sorts of other groovy things. And once it's all over EA's statistics men tell you how many shots at goal you've had and how many saves etc.
So what are its downsides then? Well, not a lot really. As I've mentioned before the controls are too simple for some, which means that there's not enough scope for arcade skill development (this doesn't really concern me). And while the A1200 version is faster than the Mega Drive, it's a bit slower than the Mega Drive on other machines but by no means unacceptably so.
No, FIFA's worst crime is the length of time it takes to load and its disk swopping shenanigans. Patience is the order of the day here: not only does it take several minutes to initially load the game and get started but every time you finish a match it takes almost as long to get another going. Hard drive owners will be delighted to know that it is installable though, and this saves considerable time.
I really like FIFA, it's a bit American in concept but this is a product of being an EA Sports game (Madden's Yank Footie, NBA etc.) and has to be expected. It is very slickly put togetehr and presented and quite easy to pick up and play without making a fool of yourself. This is not to say that it lacks any depth though. With all its options, speed and realism, FIFA is great fun to play and watch and has real long term staying power. However it will never wean the true football fanatic off Sensi. Also, unless you have a hard drive, it can be hard to live with - it just doesn't have the plug in and play facility of the console version.
If you had to have two football games in your collection; one a top-down view speed and skillfest and the other a cracking good arcade sport sim that's gorgeous to look and not too demanding to play then FIFA would have to be the latter. Go on, treat yourself.