It’s Day 2 of FIFA08 week on peschronicles – a week that’s guaranteed to anger, aggravate and alienate a sizeable number of the PES-playin’ public. Never let it be said that I like to play things safe on this blog.
Before we hit the main action tomorrow, today’s post is a look back (with some anger, naturally) at my bumpy history with the FIFA franchise.
At the end of the 1980s I swapped my ZX Spectrum and a stack of games for an acoustic guitar. Then I grew my hair long. It was all done to impress a girl. She remained unimpressed, but that’s another story.
I never learned to play the guitar, and eventually I got my hair cut. But I never went back to gaming. 10 years passed. I lived a little. I read a lot.
In 1998, I was unemployed. One week I randomly blew all of my dole money on a pre-owned MegaDrive and a stack of games. Two of those games were FIFA96 and FIFA97.
FIFA96 was the first to go into the Mega Drive’s capacious slot. It was my first experience of a computer football game since Match Day 2 on the Spectrum all those years ago.
I was impressed with FIFA96. After just a few games I was bending the ball into the net from all angles and distances. Aftertouch. What a game concept.
An hour or two later I felt strangely restless. Almost bored. So I stuck FIFA97 in the slot.
It was the same game, but it was different. The graphics were a little sharper. There were a few new features. Gameplay was subtly altered. I couldn’t say how, I just knew it was different.
(Hands up everyone who loved FIFA97’s indoor football 5-a-side and wonders why no one has ever replicated it since? Okay, hands down, people.)
I drifted away from the FIFA games and started in on the rest of my new MegaDrive games. Cannon Fodder was superb. I became addicted to PGA European Tour II. (To this day I rate it the best golf game I have ever played.)
FIFA96 and FIFA97 simply gathered dust. I still played them occasionally. But not for very long. The gameplay was repetitive. There was only a formal resemblance to the real-world game of football. Where was the enjoyment in repeatedly beating the computer 8-0? [Curse you Seabass!]
A year or so later, I’d found a job. I could afford one of those sleek PlayStation things that had been around for a few years. To hell with paying off my Poll Tax arrears.
I picked up five games with my PlayStation. Tomb Raider (of course). Wipeout 3: Special Edition. Civilization II (a neglected console classic, IMO). International Superstar Soccer Pro. The fifth game was FIFA99.
I played FIFA first. I had two matches, and then I tried ISS.
The rest is history.
Whenever I tried to play FIFA99 after playing ISS, I switched off in disgust before the first half was over. What were these players supposed to be? What was this shooting all about? Why all the music and frills and so forth, when the gameplay was so utterly poor in comparison to its shabbier, more cheerful cousin – ISS?
I never played FIFA99 again. It was ISS all the way. ISS98 came along in due course (£10 from the local GameStation – bargain). It took over my life.
Time passed, and in mid-2002 a PlayStation2 appeared on the shelf in my bedroom. (It wasn’t magic. I bought it.)
PES. PES2. PES3. PES4. PES5. PES6. You know the drill. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t.
All this time, FIFA was seen by every right-thinking PES-player as a brainless, arcadey, kid-oriented shoot-’em-up that may have been themed along the lines of football, but had little or no resemblance to the actual game. PES had it in the bag, every year. There was no competition.
I did try out FIFA2003 at one point. I played a demo and thought it seemed, well, okay. Having an alternative football game to play to fill odd periods of PES-fatigue would be a very good thing. I went out and bought the full game.
I took FIFA2003 back to the shop the very next day. This was at a time when you could return games and get your money back without a murmur from the shop staff. Happy days.
I remember going into work and telling a colleague that that was it as far as me and FIFA were concerned. I would never, ever be fooled into buying a FIFA game ever again. He was a PES fanatic too. (There’s lots of us about. We’re everywhere.) He simply nodded slowly. It was not even worth discussing. PES good. FIFA bad.
More time passed. FIFAs came and went. Then along came FIFA06. A couple of posters on PESfan commented that they had played the PS2 demo and it was uncannily like PES. You could even alter the controls to your liking. Square to shoot. Circle to cross. Just as God intended. No more shooting when you meant to cross, or crossing when you meant to shoot. Hmmm, I thought.
I got hold of the demo, played it, liked what I found, and went out to get the game.
Overall, it was another disappointment. Not as crushing a disappointment as FIFA2003 had been, but it was still lacking. The players moved like spiders, springing this way and that in an utterly gamey fashion. The ball flew through the air as if it was on the end of a rubber band.
Still, it was a massive improvement on previous efforts. I played it for a few weeks and then traded it in.
FIFA07 came out in 2006, and was surprisingly well-received by the PES-leaning press and public. I tended to agree.
The players handled better. Cricket scorelines were (mostly) a thing of the past. It was harder to make space for shooting at higher difficulty levels. Clive Tyldseley’s dry asides and outbursts of schoolboy enthusiasm made him arguably the best-ever commentator in a football computer game. (Replacing him with the relatively sedate Martin Tyler for next-gen FIFA08 was a mistake, in my opinion.)
For the first time ever, I find myself still playing a FIFA game now, today, in the calendar year after which it was named. The PS2 version of FIFA07 is gathering dust along with the rest of my old PS2 games….
…but I am still playing the PSP version with great enjoyment. My first controversial assertion of FIFA08 week is that the greatest handheld football game produced thus far is not either PES5 or PES6 on the PSP. It’s FIFA07. I mean it.
Let me make one thing very clear. When it comes to the big consoles, even the best FIFA so far is not as good as PES6, or PES5, or PES4… or any old-gen PES game, full stop. FIFA08, as much as I like it, is not better than my personal favourite Pro Evo game, PES5.
Is FIFA08 better than PES2008, though? Now there’s something worthy of debate.
In the middle of the year 2007, thousands of PES gamers decided it was time to upgrade their consoles in order to get their hands on the imminent next-gen version of PES. The game was PES2008, and we all know what happened next. A good game, but deeply flawed in so many ways. A profound shock to all our systems. (I’m still in denial. I still can’t quite accept that a PES game was released and it wasn’t brilliant.)
Just before next-gen PES2008, though, there was next-gen FIFA08. And this little beauty — yes, I’m talking about FIFA08 — could well have the power to change everything. Neither FIFA nor PES can ever be the same again after next-gen FIFA08. All will become clear.