The latest sports games aren’t always the best.
There’s an obsession with incremental changes and bullet points in the sports game scene that challenges fans’ ability to take a step back and see each game as its own title in its own right. It’s something that I address in my own sports reviews on this page, and it is something that I bring to its logical conclusion here in this Quixotic attempt to pick one game out of hundreds and call it the “best”.
Sports games naturally do not appear as completely fresh products every new se ason. Industry economics has found them reusing the same engine and models for years, meaning the difference between them can often be limited to updated uniforms, a few new features, and some ball physics adjustments. And those changes are usually just as influenced by fan feedback as they are by the development teams who are working on them.
So it’s hard to say Madden 17th As something Completely separated, as its creation is heavily dependent on the sale and receipt of Madden 16, and it will again play a big part in that Madden 18th is designed. How do you pick one of these games and say, ok THIS one is the best when a lot of what made it great was inspired by, or straight from, another video game entirely?
Then you have to consider the way sports games have changed their whole perspective over the past 20 years. In the 90s series like FIFA and NBA Live were totally happy, quick, reachable, almost Game Room. Fast forward to this day and advances in technology have turned blockbuster sports games into simulations, each doing their best to reproduce the on-field experience as closely as possible (or, if that’s not possible, the broadcast experience instead). That makes direct comparisons between games in long-standing series extremely difficult!
To make matters worse, every sport is different, with their own fans, their own playing style and their own culture. What Makes Baseball Game # 1 Better Than Hockey Game # 1? Is soccer better than basketball?
I think I’ve found a way to compare all of the sports games, however, and as strange as it may sound at first, it’s the one thing they all have in common. The one thing they are more fixated on than anything, and which defines sports video games in many ways as their own space in video games. And that is content.
Every sports game is stingy. It is possibly the most defining trait of the business and is often the first thing non-fans scoff at. The genre’s business model is entirely based on balancing the need to keep players happy with the game they just bought, but unhappy enough that 12 months later they flip over and purchase an incredibly similar product.
So after we dwell on a short list of some really great sports games –Madden 2002, NBA 2K11, Pro Evolution 6, NBA Jam, NFL 2K5—I decided the tie with a game that was not only a very good sports game in itself, but decided to just say “Fuck it” and give the fans everything they could want or need for years. Come You, all in one box.
This game is FIFA: Road to World Cup 98, aIt’s bizarre, but a popular sports game I think we’ll ever see.
At the time of its release in 1997, it was one hell of a football game. It had very eye-catching igamesnewsal graphics, audio commentary, all the things that we’ve long been hallmarks of FIFA Series. But it’s where the game went way beyond what we can expect from a sports game, then or now, which sets it apart as really great.
INDOOR FOOTBALL – In addition to regular 11v11 football, FIFA 98 Also included a completely separate 5v5 indoor mode with its own rules and conditions, like the fact that the ball never went out. It was just as much fun as the actual one FIFA. May be More Fun. And although it was actually introduced in FIFA 97, the fact that it is in 98 when there was so much else in the box, one of the things that helped cement this game’s legacy is.
A REAL WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
ADAPTATION: In addition to the more than 170 national teams, almost 200 club teams were also involved. And you could customize the lot. Home, away, even a player’s looks. I remember tinkering with it for weeks to make sure that each major team’s jersey was its actual design and that the players’ haircuts were accurately recreated. This wasn’t just useful in 1997; People played FIFA 98 for years to come, because when 1998 rolled around then 1999 you could easily update the kit designs again.
Here’s the most incredible thing about it all: FIFA 98 was so big that it made yet another EA video game completely pointless. In addition to FIFA 98 (released in 1997) EA Sports had a game in development designed to take advantage of the World Cup itself, due to be released in early 1998. Simply called World Championship 1998, it had official branding throughout, from tournament mascots to branded jerseys (a first for the series). But with only 40 teams, what was the point of buying it when you could just go? FIFA 98
To not-FIFA Fans posted on how crazy that was, it’s like shipping NBA 2K18 on four Blu-rays or the next MLB Game that decides to include all of the Japanese and Korean professional leagues for just one year, just so the heck.
That just can’t happen at sports games because it gives fans everything they need Not Buy your game next year. But here we have a nice year EA Sports giving away the keys to the kingdom. Amid the blurring of publications from year to year, FIFA 98’s Generosity is as great as any other sports game’s inclusions ever.
But it’s not just the excess content that helped FIFA 98 bear. Quantity would be nothing without quality, and the game features several other favorites from the series, from the humble free kick dart (which is still superior to anything EA introduces these days) to the ability to slide a goalkeeper and be sent off the field instantly, which, despite its punishment, makes it one of the most cathartic features in all video games.
Then there’s the game’s soundtrack, starting with its intro, perhaps the most iconic in sports game history:
Don’t let Blur’s Cameo overshadow the game’s real musical hook, however, as much of the menu music was provided by The Crystal Method:
Sports games with popular music are nothing new today, but in 1997 it was a coup for FIFA (for reference, Check out FIFA 97’s tragic attempts at hip-hop and rock). In fact, one could trace the show’s current place in the pop culture landscape back to FIFA 98 and its soundtrack, which dared to suggest that, hey, maybe these could be sports video games cool.
In a world where sports games are and have always been considered disposable, FIFA 98 stands apart. With so many teams involved in such a broad competition and adaptation, people were able to jump in and play not just in 1997 but for the next several years as well.
Even today if the FIFA Known for its licensing as well as its football, series has over 20 years of experience that fans are still talking about FIFA 98 in awesome tones. Amazing what decent music, tiny teams, and the ability to have a goalkeeper try to do to a fan base …
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This story was originally published in 2017.