WINNING ELEVEN 6 INTERNATIONAL for PS2, $80. Rating: NNNN
FIFA 2004 SOCCER for PS2, XBox and GameCube, $80. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNN
aside from, say, luge or cricket, soccer has got to be one of the hardest sports to duplicate in a video game. Baseball? You swing a bat. Football? You run a few set plays. Basketball? Mastering defence is hard, but not that hard.
Soccer, however, has a flow and pattern that's almost impossible to capture in a video game. Sure, players' looks can be caught, and trademark plays, passes and kicks can be copied, but the life of the game tends to fall flat. So excellent is the old VirtuaStriker arcade game that I gleefully blow free time risking life and limb in a smoky, seedy local coffee shop surrounded by crack-dealing thugs just to play the thing.
For years, the FIFA Soccer series has led the field simply by making its games look as much like the real thing as possible. FIFA Soccer 2004 is no different.
Players are shockingly realistic, down to the tattoos, hideous Beckham-style braids and swerving free kicks. Three hundred fifty teams are represented, from leagues around the world.
All the big-name stars are here, and the play is relatively fluid. A new franchise option allows you to take control of a minnow team, sign players at will and then lead it through the various leagues to the top flight. For those who get up early Saturday mornings and want to replicate Leeds versus Portsmouth, this is the game for you.
Among soccer freaks, though, the word is that the FIFA brand is slipping. There aren't enough developments to warrant buying it year after year, and those who live and breathe footie have switched their allegiance to the Winning Eleven series.
Massive in football-mad Europe, Winning Eleven scores because it captures the ebb and flow of a real soccer game. The game play is fluid and quick, and the players seem to move effortlessly, with none of the wooden, computer-generated feel that plagues most soccer sims.
Most important, where FIFA seems made by computer geeks, Winning Eleven feels like it was made by someone who loves football.
On the downside, the players and leagues are almost entirely made up. There are just 54 teams, compared to FIFA's 350, and few of the big guns are there. As a result, the game is less TV-like than FIFA.
But cosmetics can be forgiven. For realism, there is no choice.
They don't call it the beautiful game for nothing.