E. A. Sports. It’s In The Game!—who doesn’t remember that jaw-dropping introduction? Just in case you do need a reminder on how awesome it was to boot up FIFA Road To World Cup 98 in 1997, here’s a video highlighting all the exciting moments from the beginning to the menu system to the end of a match:
In lieu of the now over European Championship football matches in June, I wanted to get my hands on a bit of nostalgic football on the PC. I can vividly remember RTWC98—the abbreviation “RTWC” might just as well be Return To Castle Wolfenstein!—as it was the first football game I played where I customized my team and firmly put my grandfather in the goal. He did well: we usually ended with 13 to nil. Back then I didn’t even realize there were difficulty options available, although it does stay on the manageable side.
I already wasted a few nostalgic words on the game at Brain Baking:
The back of the PC box boasts the 3DFx logo. What a wonderful time for PC gaming, the year 1997. Those with money to burn installed three video cards: two PCI Voodoo cards connected with SLI and another one that occupied the AGP slot for 2D rendering. A year later, the Voodoo2 would be released, dramatically increasing the texturing abilities. My much overpowered GeForce 3 doesn’t even flinch, while rendering the laughably bad face textures of seemingly cloned football players. Back in the day, it looked incredible.
When you replay the game now, “looking incredible” might be stretching it a bit too far. Remember Quake 2’s texturized enemy faces? Those flat looking monster dudes that all look like they were cloned, no matter the variation? It’s more or less the same here. Blocky galore. When scoring a goal, a few team mates execute exactly the same animation (fall over, do a slide, …) at sometimes exactly the same moment: it’s hilarious to think that this was cutting edge 1997 technology.
Still, gameplay wise, RTWC98 has everything to offer. You can play inside, there are plenty of countries and stadiums included, and even the pre-World Cup qualification matches can all be played. This was probably the only way for me to imagine Belgium winning a World Cup game: they didn’t even make it through the group stages back then.
Controlling the game with keyboard (or mouse) does feel a bit awkward, as multiple button presses—and the amount of sequential keypresses—invoke another action, be it lobbing a high ball, executing a soft or hard tackle, and so forth. Custom keyboard configuration is absent, unfortunately, leaving me in a state of total confusion with a QUERTY-keyboard on an AZERTY-configured Windows 98. The instruction booklet contains a small table with keys and their function but as I explore Gamefaqs.com, I learn that it’s not even complete. How strange.
Still, just jamming the run button as soon as my attacker has the ball and pressing the shoot button in an angle just after the keeper makes his move does the trick. It’s even possible for your keeper to run all the way to the opponent’s goal and put it in himself: great stuff!
After a lot of exciting and less exciting matches, and after a lot of red cards (whoops, wrong button, slide tackle!), we ended up on top, easily defeating Romania with 9 - 1:
The game still manages to increase my blood flow. I still clap my hands from excitement every time we score a goal, or curse when I provoke a penalty that manages to hit the net. What more do we want from a game such as this? The only gripe against the PC version could be that a game such as FIFA is more enjoyable with a friend, thus perhaps a controller or two and a couch is the recommended way to play it. I had fond memories of it playing on a Pentium on my brand new CRT as a kid, so I bought the big box version on eBay—because god knows what I did with my original copy.
I love the match commentators, John Motson and Andry Gray. Having these two say “I don’t quite know what’s going on here John, hand me that calculator, the goals keep on coming!" is priceless. Sensible Soccer on MegaDrive might be enjoyable, but without funny commentators, football is nothing.