FIFA goes through cycles. We’ll get a few years of exciting innovation, and then a few years of EA simply changing the fella on the front cover. It’s how it’s always been, and I can only imagine how it will always be. In 1997, though, it was most definitely the former.
While the ISS vs FIFA feud was hotting up (due to the sheer quality of ISS, the series that eventually morphed into PES) I was still firmly in Camp Blatter. As well as the real names and kits, which were very important to a 9-year-old me, EA gave us one of the best football games of all time in FIFA: Road To World Cup 98.
Firstly, it had an entire World Cup campaign. Qualification and all. Given Ireland’s shoddy record of making it to the big boy table, this allowed me to live out my dreams and bring my beloved boys in green to the promised land. When I was up for an even bigger challenge, I did the same, but as Western Samoa: every single national side in the world was included. Sure, the likenesses were an absolute shambles, but that didn’t dull the joy of lifting the big golden hand as Papua New Guinea.
As good as that mode was, though, it’s not the first thing that enters my head when I think of FIFA 98. The first thing I think of is the assist count the perspex had in the indoor football mode. Encased in a plastic prison for your enjoyment, 10 professional footballers would battle it out to see who could score the most outrageous volley after leathering the ball off the sides. After years without an indoor football mode, I thought my prayers had been answered when it was announced that Volta football was going to be in FIFA 20, but that mode feels hollow in comparison to the happiness the FIFA 98 variant provided.
On top of that there was a licensed soundtrack – the first FIFA to have one – that was outstanding, the inclusion of the massive set-piece arrow, and the ability to hack the opposing keeper. It was an instant red, of course, but it was still as cathartic as anything.
FIFA 98 wasn’t another example of EA swapping out player X for player Y on the front cover; it was, and still is, one of the best sports games of all time.