Mikey Fitzgerald is a long suffering Evertonian who regularly attends games home and away. He enjoys Football, Retro Video Games, Professional Wrestling and having a nice pint when the occasion allows (of Fan Ales, obvs). So we asked him to go back and play FIFA 98 - Road to World Cup for us so we could remember the good times...
As someone now in his early 30’s, I’ve been lucky enough to see Video Games evolve as an art form over the years, from bleeps, bloops and crude graphics on the ZX Spectrum all the way up to Blu-ray quality audio and crisp graphics of the PlayStation 4. You, dear reader, may chuckle at his comment but there was once a time that the blocky graphics of FIFA 98 – Road to World Cup would have been considered cutting edge. Oi, stop sniggering! This stuff blew my mind when I first saw it!
To modern eyes I’m sure RTWC looks very jagged and unappetising from a graphical perspective, and indeed the player’s faces in particular aren’t very detailed. However, EA did the best they could to try and distinguish everyone, such as giving Everton goalie Neville Southall his famous facial hair and adorning poor Paul Gascoigne with his receding hairline from that era (I have something like that to look forward to in my future if my Dad’s cranium is anything to go by, so I can sympathise).
The end result is that it is possible to tell who everyone is just by looking at them, which wasn’t always de rigueur with video games of this time period, as anyone who has had the misfortune of playing Euro 96 on the SEGA Saturn with its fair skinned Paul Ince can attest to. The animations of the players are a bit off at times as they kind of lumber about like they have a case of Rickets and something very heavy in their pockets. However, this game was released relatively early in the 3-D era, so it can be expected that the animation isn’t exactly spot on.
Ultimately the game looks good for the time in which it was released, with impressive looking stadiums and some very nice weather effects. You have a choice of playing in major stadia from all over the world, everywhere from the USA all the way to Cameroon, with each stadium having its own look and feel. You get a quick video before each match that gives you a 3-D view from inside the stadium itself, which is very cool and atmospheric. The much revered Indoor Stadium also makes a return, with frantic five a side action providing oodles of fun. They really should consider bringing that back for the modern FIFA games actually, it was always a crowd pleaser.
So graphically the game gets a tentative thumbs up, but what about the gameplay? As the FIFA series itself showed in the early 00’s, good graphics and realistic presentation ultimately mean for naught if your game is an absolute dog’s dinner to play. RTWC is hardly the smoothest gameplay experience you’ll have in your life, but it was a definite step up from the FIFA games that had previously come before it.
For instance, passing has been improved a lot over the previous FIFA games, with the passes themselves being more far more accurate than in the past. It’s not the smooth precision passing that you would expect from one of the more modern FIFA or PES games, but it is a definite improvement on FIFA 97.
Shooting has also been improved upon, with you being able to have more control on the direction of your shots, even if the lack of a power bar means you can’t decide how much oomph you put behind them. As with passing, it isn’t perfect by any stretch but it was once again a step in the right direction. Free kicks have also been spruced up; with you now being able to actually put a curl on your shots for that classic David Beckham styled shot over the wall into the postage stamp.
The gameplay has a lot more of an arcade feel to it than the more simulation based approach later games in the series would take, with games often ending in ridiculous cricket scores due to a less than perfect A.I and the general wild pace of the gameplay. There’s no denying that the game provides some wild high octane fun at times, but it’s also one sorely lacking in depth. One big negative as well would be the torturously long loading times, especially in World Cup mode when all the league standings for each group need to be calculated.
Overall RTWC isn’t that bad of a computerised kick about, and EA used the game as a template to create the much better FIFA 99 the following year, so RTWC’s toil was not in vain. If you have some mates who fancy indulging their nostalgia glands then you could do far worse than inviting them round, dusting off the Multitap™ and engaging in some wild Indoor Arena madness. However, without the nostalgia factor I imagine younger readers of this might very well wonder what all the fuss was about back in the 90’s.
Look for more of his writing on the websites Gaming Respawn and Scott's Blog of Doom.