The FIFA franchise and its most important moments

It’s here. The juggernaut of all sporting video-games returns for its 25th annual iteration. Yes, folks. FIFA is back, resulting in midnight launches nationwide of tracksuit laden ‘lads’ and a stiff aroma of Energy Drink in the air outside your local video game store.

It’s fair to say that over the years FIFA has become EA’s biggest banker and an easy win when it comes to generating revenue and delivering the premier footballing experience for gamers. However, it hasn’t always been that way. We’re going to take a look back over 25 years of FIFA and pick out the 5 key moments that resulted in it becoming the behemoth of sports gaming that we know it as today.

FIFA International Soccer (1994) – Setting the bar high

The importance of the original FIFA cannot be under-estimated. Created almost as a side-project on the back of EA’s genre-defining Madden and Hockey series, FIFA International Soccer was made with extremely low expectations and a relatively tiny budget, even for the early 90’s.

The master-stroke of obtaining a FIFA license instead of creating a generic football title was shrewd, even if it didn’t allow for real player names at the time. The level of sophistication in this game was truly unprecedented, compared to the kings of the genre such as Kick-Off and Sensible Soccer.

The isometric viewpoint added a degree of realism that was missing from your traditional top-down football simulator and we all quickly became attached to those star names borrowed from the game’s real developers, such as Matt Webster, Bruce McMillan and Joey Della-Savia.

It was the little touches, such as crowd reaction, scoreboard presentation and a more simulation style of gameplay, that made it standout amongst its rivals. FIFA International Soccer was the archetype for EA’s high gloss presentation style for many years to come; and whilst it was released on many formats, it was the Mega Drive original that will remain most fondly remembered.

FIFA ’96 – Modernising the winning formula

Heavily borrowing from the high presentation values of the earlier 3DO version of FIFA International Soccer, and utilising EA’s Virtual Stadium technology, FIFA 96 was a massive leap forward in the graphical quality and overall polish of the series. Gone were the restrictions of the 2D isometric environment; players could finally choose their own camera angles and the realism of the game was ramped up enormously due to the enhanced stadium effects, audio commentary and real player names for the first time.

The series continued on the 16-bit consoles in its traditional 2D isometric vain for several more years. However, FIFA 96 was the first in the series to transition to a full 3D environment via the new next generation consoles (Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn) and established the blue print for the series for several years.

In what would seem a rather odd move (or perhaps a shameless cash-in), EA released two football games inside of one annual lifecycle, with FIFA: Road to World Cup 98 (the traditional FIFA game of that year) and an iteration purely focused on the World Cup of that year itself.

It goes without saying that this would be DLC in today’s market, but the fact that the FIFA franchise had grown sufficiently to warrant licensing a World Cup brand was truly remarkable. Hardened FIFA fans will likely re-call Road to World Cup 98 as the best FIFA of the fifth console generation, by introducing the iconic ‘Indoor Mode’, having licensed songs on the soundtrack (who can forget that intro using Blur’s ‘Song 2’?) and graphically it really began to progress with some individual player models and textures.

World Cup 98 was almost identical to RTWC but with some minor refinements, such as focusing the structure of the game and presentation entirely around the World Cup of that year. Whilst people would likely shun a full-price game with such minor improvements nowadays, it was a massive leap forward for the franchise’s positioning as the definitive video game football series and arguably the first step towards FIFA becoming the AAA series we are familiar with today.


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