Sadly, due to FIFA being a highly corrupt and horrible organisation, footy fanatics like me will not be able to enjoy an international men’s tournament this summer (although the women’s game will fill the gap with the European Championships at least). However, 20 years ago we football fans did get ourselves a colossal football feast as 30 international sides journeyed to Japan and Korea for the FIFA World Cup 2002. FIFA, of course, marketed the tournament like nuts, like they always do, and that meant a tie-in video game courtesy of Electronic Arts. Released in the spring of 2002 for PC and the three sixth gen home consoles, FIFA World Cup 2002 sold like gangbusters, with one of the players being your humble scribe.
I actually first played FIFA World Cup 2002 on the PlayStation 2 when I rented it from a video store (ask your parents, younger readers), which was probably the best way to play it as there’s not really a lot of game when you get into it. For the purpose of this recap, I picked up a copy of the game for the original Xbox, although it’s been a LONG time since I played the PS2 version, so I can’t really comment on the core differences between the two versions when it comes to gameplay and visuals. FIFA World Cup 2002 features the 32 teams that qualified for the tournament along with 9 unfortunate ones that didn’t, including the Netherlands and Scotland.
All of the player names are officially licensed, and the base game is pretty much just FIFA 2002 with a World Cup mode included and everything else taken out apart from Friendly/Exhibition matches. The best part of FIFA World Cup 2002 is the presentation, with the graphics and animations being decent for 2002 and the official World Cup stadia being lovingly recreated. Some of the players look pretty good (mostly your star players, such as David Beckham and Roy Keane), although a lot of them look really basic and generic. Still, the players are animated reasonably well, and the victory/goal celebrations are suitably epic thanks to a special OST courtesy of Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. Indeed, the operatic music is wonderful and really helps give the presentation a special feel, especially as the FIFA series mostly used dance and rock tunes for the mainline games.
Commentary is provided by John Motson and Andy Gray, but it’s pretty stilted, and it sounds like both men recorded their parts separately and the developers tried to crowbar disparate bits of commentary together in order to try and make it sound like both men are actually communicating with one another. After a while the commentary starts getting pretty generic and dull, especially when Gray is blandly reading factoids off a cue card and sounding like he can’t wait to get his paycheque before he can bog off and play a round of golf. Still, it is nice that most of the players’ real names are used, and Motson actually went to the trouble of saying most of them. Even Gareth Farrelly gets his name read out, and he was hardly a big international name (thanks for that goal against Coventry though, Gaz!).
Sadly, what really lets FIFA World Cup 2002 down is both the gameplay and the lack of longevity. Just tackling the latter issue first, outside of World Cup mode itself, there is very little to do outside of playing some Friendly matches with a limited roster of teams. You do get special unlocks for completing the World Cup tournament at least, with you being able to unlock a continental all-star team for winning the tournament with a team from each confederation. Outside of that though, you’ll soon see everything the game has to offer. Thankfully, they would add in World Cup Qualification for later games in the World Cup series to stretch the game out a bit, with the bonus of being able to take any of the FIFA nations all the way to the World Cup proper. In FIFA World Cup 2002 though, you get World Cup mode and little else.
Gameplay-wise, FIFA World Cup 2002 plays just like the FIFA games from the time period, which means you get boring, buggy, stodgy play with horrid input lag and stiff passing that makes playing the possession game an absolute slog. There’s a reason so many people were flocking to the Pro Evolution Soccer series instead of the lousy FIFA games during this timeframe. FIFA probably wouldn’t get close to anything approaching good again for another 4-5 years following FIFA World Cup 2002, and sadly, that makes FIFA World Cup 2002 somewhat less than fun to play.
The amount of times I would try to pass the ball, only to see it go spiralling off in the wrong direction, was anger-inducing, and heading seemed to be completely at the game’s whim most of the time as I’d press the button and nothing would happen. It’s a shame as FIFA World Cup 2002 does do some things right, and the presentation is top notch, for the most part, but ultimately, there just isn’t enough to do, and the gameplay is so “meh” that you probably wouldn’t even want to do more even if you had the ability to do so. You can probably get FIFA World Cup 2002 pretty cheap as it was mass produced, and there were lots of copies of the game out on the market, but you don’t really need to bother unless you just desperately want it in your collection.