Much like NBA Live did for basketball, EA’s FIFA changed the way we played soccer games back in 1993. It was a radical departure from the arcade-style experiences that preceded it. While some of those roots still haunt the series, the latest editions have made some impressive strides towards realism. The PSP port keeps everything, whether it’s for better or worse.
The only other current soccer PSP title is World Tour from 989 Sports. It’s not a deep competition between the two by any means. The only consolation is that 989 crafted a game that’s far easier to get into. Navigating the menus in FIFA takes forever, and if you want to do anything other than to play a quick friendly match, you’re going to spend some time listening to EA Trax. That’s partly because of how much it offers, and the other half of the blame goes to the developers who seem to have forgotten to optimize it for the new hardware.
The sheer number of teams, countries, and leagues offered is unmatched. The modes of play are numerous, if nothing special. You can customize the game liberally, especially where rosters are concerned. You can tackle full season play of course or set up a multi-player game as long as you have someone alongside you. There’s no online play.
If only to be consistent, even the gameplay in FIFA is rough in the loading department. While the initial load to actually get things going is fine, any time the ball heads out of bounds or a cinematic is needed, the game stops completely while the disc drive works overtime to load up the necessary code. It’s jarring, annoying, and it can kill the experience.
It does have a lot to bring up, from the cut-down-but-still-superb play-by-play, excellently rendered player models (especially the faces), and intelligent crowd AI, it just seems so unnecessary if it’s going to slow the game down like this. The textures and fields are more colorful and realistic than World Tour; they’re just flat and blurry. From a distance using one of the many camera angles, there’s not much to complain about. Up close during cinematics, you’ll start noticing the little things.
Aside from the few moments you might feel a little out of control, the game does a fine job of making the player feel like he’s dribbling a ball downfield. The physics just feel right. The biggest compromise has been made in the area of control. To perform any sort of special move to blow by defenders, you need to hit the d-pad (this was done with the second analog stick on the home consoles). This is nearly impossible to do in the midst of a tight game with a defender close, and you’ll find yourself looking for other ways to get around the smart AI.
On the hardest levels, you’ll need to use actual strategy and set up plays to win. If not, the opposing team will snatch every pass from you. It’s also very accessible to new players and the US audience that simply hasn’t accepted the sport like other countries on easier levels. Die-hard fans and actual players will likely find issues that keep it from perfect realism; everyone else will be impressed by just how accurate it all seems to them.
While this was obviously rushed in certain areas, FIFA is the best soccer game for fans currently available if you’re planning a trip. Some of the minor annoyances aren’t enough to ruin the experience and scoring a goal is difficult and rare enough to make it feel special. If you can wait, that’s probably the wisest move. FIFA will of course be back next year, and the lauded Winning Eleven series is due to make a portable debut too.