FIFA Through The Ages – A Love/Hate Relationship

You can tell it’s nearly Christmas when the latest video games all have a number in their titles. Unfortunately I’m a sucker for a decent franchise and do buy into the possibility that sequels can sometimes overtake their predecessors. One odd one to this rule though is FIFA.

Over the years I’ve been all over the place with footy games. I started on the Spectrum with Football Manager, watching my 80s Liverpool side trounce Crewe Alexandra et al each week after some tactical dealings in the transfer market and watching the highlights of the match in 8-bit jerk-a-thon.

Next up came MatchDay 2 (I must have missed the first game) and finally I had full control over my team of stuttering melon-headed players. Not a classic, but I had a few decent rounds of the game which was probably more akin to rugby than football.

The mid-90s then saw a football revolution. FIFA 95 and 95, the isometric utopia of soccerball fun arrived and I was as happy as a pig in the proverbial. Wonder goals would go flying in, and I even created an all-black kit-wearing team that consisted entirely of Pat Nevin from one to 11. Don’t ask. But they were world beaters.

At the same time, my computer-owning friends weren’t left out with the genius of the Sensible Soccer games coming to their Amigas and Atari STs. I still have fond, fond memories of sticking a finger up at hayfever by taking my Sega Megadrive joypad to my friend’s house to play hours of Sensi World over the school summer holidays, pausing only for a quick Southern Comfort and Tango raided from his parent’s drinks cupboard (it felt like a summer-y concoction at the time).

But after these glory years, it all went a bit, well, wrong. FIFA 97 on the Sega Saturn (I had upgraded my Megadrive) introduced what can only be described as “ice-rink” physics, with David Ginola and Chris Sutton alike skidding all over the place like demented penguins. The five a side mode was still fun, but the game had lost its spark.

Then a new challenger emerged, World League Soccer. Initially tricksy controls and a tendency to crash very, very frequently (most games did on the Saturn) didn’t put me off this little gem. On going to University, we played quite a bit of WLS until other’s loans arrived and PlayStations were soon being snapped up, leading to the inevitable return of FIFA.

FIFA at University didn’t need to be a world-beater. It didn’t need to be an in-depth, hugely involving simulation. It needed to be quick to pick up and play and addictive enough to play all night with only Asda’s own Scotch and a few friends for company.

And sure enough, FIFA did just that. I think I still have the hand-scribbled league tables of Liverpool doing the business over Sheffield Wedneday, Bolton Wanderers and Man Utd on regular occasions. It didn’t matter that many of the games ended 8-7 after over-use of the through ball that was a dead cert every single time. It still brought about some amazing all-nighters and some shockingly poor essays written with bleary-eyed regret the next day.

When I left Higher Education, I didn’t really know where to turn video game-wise. I’d always stuck with Sega, but Sony, this new pretender to the throne, seemed to be making all the right noises. The Dreamcast was a thing of genius but expensive and liable to be obsolete in record time, so I sided with the newly-minted PlayStation 2 in all its black boxy beauty.

Soon after, the decision had to be made, which football game do I go for on my new console? I’d played ISS Pro on PSOne at University and found it a bit too simulation-y for my liking, so I didn’t really fancy Pro Evolution Soccer, its natural successor. But could FIFA hold a place in my heart after a few years away? I tried to love FIFA again, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be. I decided instead to see what all the fuss was about Pro Evo, and I was instantly hooked. Absolutely, this was the game I had waited ten years for (albeit full of made up player names and stadia, but I could painstakingly hand-alter them). Even after three or four sequels, the game held up strongly against the cheap and tiresome cash in of subsequent FIFAs (I kept on playing the demos just in case), and their ghetto-based “Street” series. I even tried the FIFA games out on PSP, but they were probably even worse.

Suddenly though, EA knew they’d dropped a major clanger and shipped development of FIFA off to Canada of all places, and the magic returned, just at a time when the lack of official licenses was really starting to grate on Pro Evo. I dipped back to the dark side and haven’t looked back since.

The options. The licences. The likenesses. The animations. The shots. The online multiplayer. The genius of little dinked through balls and chipped shots over the on-rushing keeper. Playing with work friends over the Internet is now like playing out those epic confrontations on Sensi World in a friend’s bedroom circa 1995, albeit with less of the Diner soundtrack and more of the responsibility of having to get up at a ridiculously early hour the next day.

But with each iteration comes that inevitability that EA will change something that could be a game-changer all over again. FIFAs 09, 10 and 11 made subtle changes, but despite that initial joy-pad throwing hissy fit, after a couple of games, it’s always been easy to get back into the swing of things.

But FIFA 12 has arrived. It’s scarily got a bit at the start which teaches you how to defend all over again, fighting against three years of experience and instinct of doing it completely differently. It’s less arcadey. It’s….not quite FIFA. It’s going to be a rough ride…

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