FIFA Soccer '96
Review by cleberinthesky
"The first game of the franchise for the 32-bit generation"
FIFA Soccer 96 is the 3rd game in FIFA series, but the first to be released for the then new generation of consoles. Truth be told, the first FIFA Soccer was released for the 3DO, but the game was merely a conversion of the Genesis version with upgraded 3D graphics. This version is the first to be made having the 32-bit generation in mind, although it was also released for 16-bit consoles using the same engine as the first two games.
And with a new engine comes new features, the most important being the inclusion, for the first time, of licensed players. Now you can score a goal with Romario or tackle your opponent with Baresi. It is a great addition in a time where most other soccer games presented only fictional characters (Allejo, anyone?).
Another new feature is the inclusion of full commentaries. John Motson lends his voice to the series, and it is a very nice addition.
However, at the time, competition in soccer gaming market was tightening. Konami had released, at the same year, its flagship series International Superstar Soccer (ISS) for the SNES, which was a huge success, both in sales and critics.
The game engine uses a new technology called Virtual Stadium. The stadium and the pitch are modeled in real-time 3D, and looked pretty good at the time. Also, for the first time, there are 7 new camera angles to choose from, though most of them are useless.
Like previous titles, goals are celebrated with an animation in the monitor. This time, however, the animations are cartoon-like, and, though they are not really great, they help to maintain the good mood of the game.
Players are still drawn in 2D, and this is disgusting, to say the least. I remember I was disappointed at the time, because I expected the game to be fully 3D; however, seeing players that were slightly better than the 16-bit models was very frustrating. But not being rendered in 3D is not a big problem in its own, as there are many games that mix 2D and 3D graphics in amazing ways. However, players are poorly animated, lack details (at least they have numbers on their jerseys) and are not appealing in any way you look at them. It looks like an unfinished job from EA's programmers, who had little time to develop the game and instead of rendering 3D models preferred to recycle old sprites for the new consoles.
The crowd, which was one of the great aspects of previous games, is now a very boring texture. EA could have at least added some 2D individual characters.
The transition from cartridges to CDs was beneficial to many series, and FIFA isn't an exception. The music in menus is of great quality, although songs are not particularly great compositions; and, for the first time, full commentaries are provided by John Motson. His comments are remarkably funny, sometimes, such as when the ball goes just over the bar.
However, SFX are not as good. The crowd sounds boring, and noises from the ball and players' movements are poor. In general, the game does a decent job in this area.
This is a controversial aspect of this game. I remember that most videogame magazines at the time said that this game was good, but the gameplay was its weak point, and I agree in terms.
The gameplay is ok, in comparison to previous titles. Pretty much everything a fan of the series expects can be found. Controls are somewhat comparable to FIFA 95. They play differently, but feel the same. There are still some positions in the pitch that, when you shoot from, result in goals; however, they are now a lot more difficult to identify. You can run towards the goal and score with relative ease, once you learn how to. The offside rule is not yet properly implemented. Like many soccer games of yore, it is easier to score goals when kicking from outside the penalty area, something that is not always true in real-life soccer.
The game offers a dedicated running button, which makes a lot of sense, as in previous titles it was the same button that shot the ball (at least the Genesis version). However, in a controversial gameplay decision, players need to keep tapping the running button, instead of just pressing and holding it. It feels weird, and it takes some time to get used to, and, in fact, you never do.
Overall the game is a lot slower than previous titles, not only because of the CD loading time, but also because of the abundance of new features. For example, animations after goals, offside and fouls are nice, but they slow the pace of the game.
The game now features licensed players names, though there are still some misspellings. This is great now, and was amazing at the time. But not everything is flowers: though players' names are real, their characteristics are not. There are no differences between players that are totally different in real life. Not only players are now licensed, but there are more of them. The game now contains 11 leagues (American, Brazilian, Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Malaysian, Scottish, Spanish and Swedish), as well as one league with EA Stars teams, and national teams. This results in a lot more players than previous titles.
The game offers the same content as before: you can play an Exhibition Match, tournaments, leagues or playoffs; change clock time, rules and climate conditions. These are the same things you could do in the first game. You can also play a set league or a tournament, with teams from the country of your choice. It is a nice simulation of a real life season, with schedules and everything, but focused on a sole competition. However, it lost the possibility of custom leagues or cups. Fortunately, the game can save everything in a memory card.
One big problem with early FIFA games is that every match feels the same. And this time it is no exception. Once you learn how to win games you simple won't lose anymore. And then all the fun is gone.
Finally, though real players' names are used teams are not fully licensed, and some of them use generic names as well (such as American club teams). Though not a really big deal (I mean, in 1995), it was somewhat disappointing.
The game offers the same replayability as before, which is neither great nor horrible. The exclusion of custom competitions can be excused by the addition of real players. However, playing with a friend is better than in previous version. Maybe it can last longer in multiplayer games. However, as said before, all matches feel largely the same, and get old fast.
FINAL RECOMMENDATION 6/10
Although it is a first real effort for 32-bit consoles, the results could have been better. At the time this game was no match for Konami's ISS, even though the latter had been released for an inferior console, and, as a matter of fact, even for the then recently released Goal Storm (the very first Winning Eleven, the other Konami's soccer series that had become, since then, its main sports franchise). For today's standards, the game is totally unnecessary, unless you are a game collector. But if you feel a bit nostalgic, then this game can provide some fun, especially if you invite some friends.
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 11/13/12, Updated 04/12/13
Game Release: FIFA Soccer 96 (US, November 1995)
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