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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


989 Sports hits the pitch once again with World Tour Soccer 2003, a comprehensive soccer game for the PS2. Featuring hundreds of licensed players, loads of options and many game modes, this is one of the more impressive PS2 soccer games to date. The graphics engine is excellent and the game controls well with an intuitive passing and shooting system. However, aside from the players themselves, WTS 2003 lacks many of the licenses players have come to expect. Does this really matter in the end? The Laser hits the pitch and finds out if WTS 2003 gets knocked out by a red card or if it scores a goal at the last second to win the match.

989 Sports' World Tour Soccer 2003 for the PS2 is a decent soccer title with a variety of interesting features and a surprising amount of strategic depth. The biggest change from last year's installment is evident in the control-system, which has undergone a complete redesign. Implementing a new defensive and offensive system called the Total Control Interface, WTS 2003 allows you to control every aspect of your team from the strength of kicks to the formations you're going to use. The game is impressive on a number of fronts and it features literally thousands of real players, dozens of international teams, hundreds of club teams and multiple modes of play. There are several modes of play available including single matches, competitive games and several different league and tournament modes. These include national and international cups and players can choose to play these in many different ways. Players can also create their own tournaments and leagues, which adds more flexibility to the structure. WTS also includes an interesting career mode that allows you to start at a school level and build your team's skill until they can reach the professional level. The game also has extensive options that allow you to create customized players and clubs with unique names, facial expressions and even lets you change their uniform designs. Finally, the game's coolest feature has to be the retro players and squads. WTS includes more than a dozen classic teams and hundreds of old-school players. You can choose to play against today's brightest stars or can play them against each other in retro leagues and tournaments, so if you ever wondered how the New York Cosmos of the late 70's would fare against Ronaldo's Brazilian powerhouse, WTS allows you to see what would happen.

The control interface has been improved substantially and this is evident in many areas. This makes the flow of each match is faster and more challenging. However, the biggest change this year is the addition of the new Total Control System that allows players to better direct their shots in goal or penalty kicks. Using the power-gauge when your team is in control of the ball allows you to make shots that are more accurate and powerful. This greatly increases your chances of hitting the back of your opponent's net for a goal. This new system allows for more momentum plays, where you can drive the ball towards the net repeatedly to wear down the goalie. This new system is even better when you're in free-kick mode, allowing you to better target your shots during corner and penalty kicks. Players can also use the game's improved auto-crossing system to keep the opposing team on guard when they're deep in the other team's goal. Speaking of which, the AI of the goalies has also undergone a noticeable improvement and they won't let the ball slip by them as easily as they have in the past. Even when you're playing with the easier game modes, scoring depends more on skill than luck this time around, so you'll definitely need a higher level of concentration if you want to successfully get the ball in the net.

WTS 2003 feels quite solid and allows you to use either the analog or digital pad to control your players. Maneuvering up and down the field is easy enough, and running with the ball, passing and tackling opponents seems much easier than in last year's edition. You should have little trouble when it comes to passing, shooting and tackling opponents, since each of these basic moves is assigned to a face button. However, the game allows greater dexterity than these simple moves and allows you greater control of passes using the icon passing system. To use this system, you push the L2 button and icons will appear over the other players heads, and you simply kick the ball in their direction. You can also change the strength of you kicks and type of pass you are going to use easily, giving the gameplay quite a strategic base. Players can also perform advanced moves including: offensive headers, bicycle kicks and slide tackles. You can also make your player do 360-degree spins when you confront a defender. This definitely makes the game more challenging, especially since the opponents have more sophisticated AI and can perform these moves as well. Using the new total control system is quite intuitive, since it involves using an arrow to control the height and speed of ball kicks. You can change strategies from defensive to attack modes on the fly simply by pressing the analog stick. During the match, you can also change formations and modes on the fly, which makes the strategic gameplay feel much more like real soccer. On the surface, these changes to the controls seem like minor adjustments to the gameplay, the power-gauge, and icon passing system are significant improvements. Taken together, the changes lead to a much more intuitive game that's a lot more authentic and better represents the action, strategy and intensity of world class soccer competitions.

Unfortunately, some problems with the game detract from the overall experience. The biggest flaw in WTS 2003 is that it lacks licenses for FIFA and the MLS though generic teams take their place. This is also true of the top European teams, so don't expect to play as AC Milan or Manchester United. Surprisingly, thanks to the FIFPRO license, the game does include all the real-world players including some of the game's greatest stars like David Beckham, Ronaldo and Clint Mathis. Even classic stars such as Pele and Maradona make appearances in the game. So in the end, this is a mixed bag, though since all the players seem to perform accurately with their signature moves intact, the absence of a few logos really isn't that big of a deal. This doesn't affect the gameplay itself, but the lack of variety in the camera angles does become annoying after awhile.

However, these minor annoyances aren't that grating and the game's eye-candy has improved. WTS 2003's graphic engine has undergone a bit of an overhaul, and this is most noticeable on close-ups where the players faces have been scanned in. Many players have also been motion-captured as well, to give their movement and animation a much better feel. The different arenas in the game look sharp and the game seems to be a bit cleaner in the jaggie department than last year's edition. This multitude of improvements gives the game a much more realistic appearance that should please die-hard fans of the sports. Obviously, the thundering roar of an excited crowd is what makes real soccer so exciting and WTS 2003 does a good job in recreating this excitement. The only letdown in the presentation department is the commentary, which seems to be a bit pedantic and obvious, though the voice-overs are far from horrible. Overall, the game is highly polished in appearance and presentation and most players should find it pleasing.

World Tour Soccer is an excellent game in most areas. It has an excellent feel for the fast-paced action of the sport, and offers players plenty of depth and numerous options. The series has been enhanced with improved controls, more intuitive passing interface, and a much tighter overall feel. Visually, it does an excellent job of recreating the feel of the sports and the new facial animations and expressions lend the close-ups a more dynamic and dramatic feel. While it isn't flawless, 989 scores a victory with this solid release. It is not up to the level of EA's FIFA series, but casual and hard-core fans of the sport will definitely enjoy it.

- M. Palisano

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