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|Setting the Scene:
If there was anything more certain than Manchester United winning this years English Premier League, then it must have been that EA Sports would grab the license to cover the impending EURO 2000 summer soccer tournament, due to be held at joint venues in Belgium and the Netherlands. As developers they may not have been fully geared up on Playstation to cover the last European Championships in 1996, but they were sure out of the traps as quick as a whippet at the Watership Downs Stakes to grab all the glory at the '98 World Cup. "And why not?" I hear you ask. After all, EA Sports are the team who brings us our annual doze of FIFA, which always sells like the proverbial hot cake?
Suspicions of 'cashing in' on these 'little end of season extras' were first raised when there was no official post season competition at the end of 98/99 season. So, EA Sports invented a new brand to tamper with, namely the F.A. Premier League STARS. The F.A. Premier League Football Manager 2000 quickly followed this within weeks. While the management game slotted nicely into the strategy category, the STARS soccer game lacked all of the finishing touches usually associated with the FIFA game engine. As a gamer I felt cheated. It seemed as if a substandard stop-gap title had been thrown into the pit with the sole intention of making us all drool over the next FIFA game, because it would knowingly be so much better.
The competition is barely two weeks away (at the time of writing) and already the EA media machine will have sucked dry the pockets of many kiddies as it prepares to move into maximum overdrive. So what were we to make of this title that has already received its fair share of TV advertising. Let's find out…
Sound and Vision:
The front end will be all too familiar to fans of past FIFA games. The stunning intro skillfully switches from live to in-game action as well known soccer stars are transformed before your very eyes into motion captured players. At pitch-side we even have an animated DJ nestled comfortably in the dug-out blasting out funky tunes such as The Hub, Headcharge, Tribe, Hand of God and Formula performed by Paul Oakenfield and Steve Osbourne. So far… so good!
True to form EA Sports have utilized their simplistic FIFA menu system to fit EURO 2000 cramming in all the usual options that we have seen and love… but usually ignore after the first session of play. Yes, you can still customise the profile and ability of each player from the 51 European squads initially available. With each passing year this becomes more and more thorough. Get this… there are 154 possible nose shapes and a similar number of mouths to choose from. Remarkable! I don't believe you get that amount of choice with a plastic surgeon.
After selecting your club Des Lynam introduces the match commentators John Motson and (oh, no) ex Liverpool defender Mark Lawrenson. Actually the match commentary is quite good with predictions, comments and trivia during the game, although you still seem to get the goal long before any reaction. Other features that don't really matter to the gameplay, but add to the overall visual presentation include accurately modeled stadia, real-life sponsors and correctly named players wearing their home or away strips.
Camera angles are vital to gameplay and sadly the first annoyance rears its ugly head. End to End is useless, as is the Game position (too close for passing). This leaves the Tower camera or the Telecam. Neither is perfect, but the options do include the ability to adjust height and distance to suit. Great… until you realize that every single game resets the position back to default. Grrrrr!
Graphically there is much to admire, as the overall presentation is virtually the same as FIFA. The players bare a striking resemblance to their real name counterpart. This is most noticeable as they strut onto the field of play, or when performing an elaborate ritual after a goal has been scored. I still feel that a few frames of animation go missing at regular intervals, but for mentioning this I could justifiably be considered scraping the bottom of the barrel just to find fault.
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