While many gamers will bemoan the series’ slow shift from isometric innovation to money-grabbing mayhem, FIFA is the one sports title to rule them all. There have been strengths and weaknesses in every FIFA game, but the franchise has stood the test of time for a reason, and these games have helped it do so in no uncertain terms.
Even more than a decade after its release, many hardcore fans of the series consider FIFA 09 to be an absolute vintage. Compared to its immediate predecessors, it was a faster-moving affair, ensuring that players were more reactive than ever before. However, it still managed to retain the improved slickness of play brought about by the mid-2000s releases of the PS3 and Xbox 360.
Crucially, it also facilitated the very first airing of ‘Ultimate Team’, although it had taken only rudimentary form at this point, and was yet to grow into the omnipresent beast it would become. Coincidentally or otherwise, ‘Team Chemistry’ was also a new team rating alongside the usual 1-to-5 star scale.
Ultimately, FIFA 09 was much more than just another link in the chain, it was a glimpse into the future.
Best soundtrack song: ‘Lights and Music’
96 is by no means the best game in the series, and the physics of the game did not translate particularly well between original consoles and their respective successors. However, it was the first FIFA title to feature real-life players, and soundbites of commentary from the legendary John Motson on the PC and next-gen 3D versions.
The main innovation of the 3D versions was ‘Virtual Stadium Soccer’, with all matches taking place inside a stadium modelled closely on the old Wembley, complete with twin towers. The PC mode was also notable for allowing players to control every team in a league, giving them their first taste of truly god-like powers over the digital world of FIFA.
This edition saw users of the XBOX One and PS4 consoles introduced to the all-new Frostbite engine, which has today established itself as a major factor in the growth of eSports, itself reflected by the expanding range of events currently on Unikrn.
The game was now more realistic than ever, with not only the texture mapping of players undergoing improvement, but other peripheral elements – stewards, managers and the crowd being noticeably more detailed than they were in previous editions.
Career mode was also made far more dynamic, most notably with transfer dealings now resolved on the same day, but the big newcomer was the Journey mode.
Fictional footballers rarely become household names, but Alex Hunter, as portrayed by Adetomiwa Edun in ‘The Journey’ and its sequels in 18 and 19, would become just that. Users controlled his rags-to-riches tale, making key decisions as he negotiates last-chance exit trials, a loan spell in the Championship and an FA Cup final against a friend-turned-enemy.
Best soundtrack song: ‘Hobo Rocket’ (Barns Courtney)
FIFA Football 2003
The sight of a surly trio on the cover, namely Edgar Davids, Ryan Giggs and Roberto Carlos, should tell us everything we need to know about this truly ground-breaking FIFA title. With consoles like the Gamecube and (original) XBOX now widely available across the world, this version needed to be near-perfect.
That it was, with the physics of passing now simplified but no less challenging, and the through-ball now a key part of play. In relation to that, timing sprints correctly – as opposed to simply spamming the trigger button – was all the more important too. Player skins were revamped, as was the way in which set pieces were delivered, giving users more control over those flashpoint moments than ever before.
With FIFA Football 2003 now geared firmly towards the next-generation systems, a new ‘European Club Championship’ league was made available. It featured some of the best teams from the continent, and excellent renditions of their respective stadiums, giving users the closest possible feel of a Champions League campaign before it finally became a fully-branded addition in FIFA 19.
Unique fan chants were also audible at the venues of those clubs, and with TV-style highlights also newly available in the half-time and full-time menus, this one also discovered new heights of simulated telecasting within FIFA.
Best soundtrack song: ‘Bigger and Better’
FIFA 98 – RTWC
Although its successor FIFA 99 is seen as the better title by most technically-minded retro gaming fans, it is FIFA 98: Road to the World Cup that does a better job of retaining the quainter elements of earlier titles, while still making room for new innovations.
Indoor matches on a wooden surface were still a feature, but a league season now allowed transfers. Furthermore, in lieu of the ability to create new clubs, players and teams were now fully customisable on current-gen consoles (N64, PSX and PC). Even today, anybody with a lot of spare time is free to rename players to bring the teams up to date.
Another major breakthrough was the sheer amount of international teams introduced, to go alongside a World Cup qualification mode. Incredibly, for the first time ever, the surreal sight of the Cook Islands taking on Uzbekistan in a World Cup final – so widely taken for granted in subsequent ‘World Cup’ titles from EA – was a possibility.
For that alone, we roundly salute FIFA 98: RTWC.
Best soundtrack song: ‘Song 2’
Two titles not in the main series also deserve some airplay. The first of these is, of course, 2005’s FIFA Street. Playing in a gritty urban environment, users control newly-fashionable players like Ronaldinho, sporting tanktops, sunglasses and various other apparel. The objective is try to score the most acrobatic, skilful goals possible, and it was most recently revamped (as ‘Volta Football’) to form a key part of current title FIFA 20’s new features.
In 1999, there was also a less-known spinoff title made by EA called F.A Premier League Stars, featuring good representations of every Premier League stadium from the 1999/2000 season. Though its gameplay physics and emotive qualities were a disappointment after the roaring success of FIFA 99, it is still the only game made by EA to feature several of the main series’ oft-demanded locales such as Elland Road, Hillsborough and Pride Park.