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What have we here... another soccer title from the company who bring us those wonderful FIFA games at Christmas?
Could it be that EA Sports have finally realized the full potential of their game engine when, not one, but two soccer games emerged from their camp last year?
World Cup '98 and FIFA 99 both topped the charts within twelve months, but with no major International competition between seasons this year we wondered how this trend could continue.
Simple... throw a little money at the Football Association to gain license to use the Premier League clubs, kits, stadiums and most importantly... their star players.
So is this a thinly disguised FIFA 99 cash-in?
Perhaps a sneak preview of the forthcoming FIFA 2000?
Maybe it's neither?
The F.A. Premier League STARS offers the ultimate in Premiership soccer action. Its all in there hard hitting local derby games, the skill of the world's top international stars, the passion of the most dedicated and fanatical fans in the world, and it is the only action football game to carry The F.A. Premier League seal of approval.
Sound and Vision:
As far as intros go this certainly bares the FIFA hallmark. Live action video footage of top Premiership players turning it on for the camera, backed by the chart topping sounds of 9PM (Till I Come) by ATB. It's worth watching through a few times just to spot those players who have already moved clubs but I suppose this goes to prove that Premiership soccer remains a fast moving sport both on the field, and off.
After selecting your club the razzamatazz continues as the Sky Sports team introduce and comment on all of the action. Richard Keys sits smugly in the studio while stuck up on a gantry somewhere are Martin Tyler and Andy Gray. The match commentary is not too bad with predictions, comments and trivia during the game. The occasional animated player on the ball is mentioned by real name but sadly repetition soon becomes evident. I also noticed that Martin Tyler regularly jumps the gun insisting on calling the shots long before they have arrived (often leaving him raving about a surging attack on goal when the ball is being passed comfortably around midfield).
Camera angles are vital to gameplay and there are three variations of distance and height to tamper with. I found 'up close' impaired passing vision, while 'far away' often made opposing kits indistinguishable. In fact even on medium setting, which I settled on, many team colors looked almost identical.
Graphically there is much to admire. 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. Also, every Premier teams stadium has been immaculately rendered to provide a realistic venue for each game. Once again there is little movement in the crowd but developers insist on using camera flashes to prove that life exists in the stands. Have they ever been to a football ground? Spectators with cameras? I don't think so!
Sadly F.A. Premier League Stars is not without it's annoyances. Rather than mirror the tasty FIFA 99 visuals the developers appear to have moved back in time as this much more resembles the '97 version. There is a slide bar which ups the speed of the game a little but this only seems to make the frames jump and camera flicker. The overall effect on the eyes is similar to strobe lighting and I am sure many players will experience headaches after only a couple of games on maximum speed.
I noticed that each time the ball goes behind the goal for a corner kick the camera is thrown roughly into position, rather than the adjustment smoothly edited. It was also noticeable that the visuals freeze for up to five seconds whenever either team brings on a substitute. I thought the game had crashed on numerous occasions and almost pressed the reset button.
Other niggles worth mentioning are the loooooong loading times (best bring a packed lunch) and those useless goalkeepers are back with a vengeance (did they ever leave?).
As far as game modes go there are the usual friendlies, seasons, custom leagues and practice facilities... but sadly no cup competitions (that's if you don't include the European ties that appear during Season mode).
All of the standard options are available allowing rules, time limit, injuries etc. to be adjusted. A word of warning... even on lenient strictness the referees will penalize almost every single tackle. Now this may replicate what's going on in modern day football but... come on... this is supposed to be a fun game, not a true simulation.
All of the current Premiership teams are available for selection including newcomers Bradford, Watford and Sunderland. In Friendly mode each player is rated according to current form and therefore affects the overall performance of their team.
The main difference with F.A. Premier League Stars comes to light in the Season mode. Should you choose treble winners Manchester United, or last seasons strugglers Southampton, they both play similar at the start of the season... crap. You see the emphasis on 'STARS' in the title is not because David Beckham or Mark Hughes are STAR characters, it's because your substandard team are awarded STAR POINTS after each game relating to their performance. The player then takes on the role of manager and distributes these evenly among the squad... thus improving their skill factor. Should your striker repeatedly miss the target, simply boost up his star rating in the shooting category. Are your defenders too slow and couldn't head a paper bag? Then move up their speed and heading rating a few notches and reap the rewards. Attributes are divided into control, agility, heading, passing, shooting, power, speed, stamina, strength and tackling.
As the season progresses your team will improve or falter dependant on their performance on the field of play. You may decide to collect and bank most of your stars and then enter the Transfer Market to buy a new player. Here you may find the likes of Zola, Beckham or Owen at an affordable price.
The control system is similar to past FIFA games offering a wide array of kicks, tackles and headers. Unfortunately also carried over from FIFA games is the shabby passing system and slow twisting action every time a ball is received. Please tell me why only the nearest player can be passed to? And even if that player is in space why does he STOP, run towards the ball... STOP, twist around 180°... STOP, throw back his elbows and stick his arse in the air before he can move forward? By the time he sets off on a run every man and their dog is snapping at his heals.
In summary: at the beginning F.A. Premier League Stars is not dissimilar to the slow and irritating FIFA '97. However, stick with it and the improvements are immense as the star ratings gradually sharpen up those players reactions.
This is a single disk game for 1-2 Players. Up to 4 Players may take part if a Multi-tap is connected. It is compatible with the standard (digital) joypad and the dual shock (analog) joypad. Games can be saved via memory card (5 blocks per save).
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