After 29 years of sharing the digital dugout, EA and sporting body FIFA are set to part ways. The breakup will mark the end of the FIFA football series (this Scottish writer just cannot bring himself to say soccer) as we know it, with the developer set to roll out EA Sports FC after the next installment, FIFA 23, has run its course.
FIFA has been the pre-eminent football game for many sports and video game fans over the years and has given us so many memories, both good and bad. From the first FIFA's fixed isometric camera angle and its David Platt and Piotr Świerczewski cover stars, right through to FIFA 23 and all the modern-day gubbins it brings, here are 15 of our favorite (and not-so-favourite) FIFA memories before real-world football's governing body blows for full-time on its partnership with EA.
Running from referees
Game: FIFA International Soccer
Released: December 15, 1993
The first FIFA game was pretty revolutionary when it launched in late 1993. Looking at it now, it's hard to imagine this as the pinnacle of football video games, but critics and players alike fell for its detailed animations, 'realistic' crowd noise, and gamified replication of the sport as it appeared on TV. It was so popular that it became the highest-selling home video game (independent of arcade games which were still hugely popular at the time) that year. Offending players could dodge being carded by the referee simply by running away from them, so there was some realism missing there. Stop running and you'd eventually be cautioned, but it was great fun pegging it from officials until your thumbs got sore. Cue Benny Hill theme music.
First pivot to 3D
Game: FIFA 96
Released: September 30, 1995
While still leveraging a more traditional isometric view on the likes of the Sega Mega Drive (Genesis) and SNES consoles, FIFA 96's PlayStation and Sega Saturn iterations made the jump to 3D for the first time. And if the FIFA football series had ever felt ahead of its time before this point, then, wow, this one may as well have hijacked the DeLorean. Billed by some critics as not just the best football game of all time, but the best sports game that ever was, FIFA 96 was the creme de la creme – from its realistic-looking 'Virtual Stadium' to esteemed English commentator John Motson, this was as good as it got and a sign of things to come.
Game: FIFA 97
Released: November 30, 1996
In what must surely be one of the least-requested features to ever make it into, well, not just any sports game, but surely any video game of all time, FIFA 97 marked the introduction of indoor football. It was a weird one - while indoor football has always been a popular pastime (or, at the very least, something we did at school when the outdoor pitch had frozen over), FIFA 97's indoor inclusion arrived four years before Masters Football popularized six-a-sides to the masses via televised broadcasts. Still, making David Ginola break a sweat in the black and white of Newcastle United while wearing Adidas Samba trainers was fun.
FIFA Road to World Cup 98
Game: FIFA: Road to World Cup 98
Released: November 7, 1997
FIFA: Road to World Cup 98 was the total package. It had David Beckham on the cover, Blur's Song 2, then state-of-the-art animations, the series' first in-game team and player editor, and, believe it or not, the first proper implementation of the offsides rule. Despite what sales figures at the time might say, I don't know anyone who splashed out for EA's cash-grab World Cup 98 six months later, but for me that says all you need to know about the quality of Road to World Cup in the first place. Better still, Road to World Cup was the first FIFA game to let players foul goalkeepers and dive to simulate fouls. Endless fun and guaranteed friendship-breaking material.
Road to World Cup's Song 2 title track was a stone-cold classic, but the FIFA series in its entirety has championed some absolutely banging official soundtracks throughout its 29-year tenure. John Newman's 'Love Me Again' in FIFA 14, to MGMT's 'Kids' in FIFA 09, The Strokes' Machu Picchu in FIFA 12, Kings of Leon's 'Red Morning Light' in FIFA 2004, and Bloc Party's Helicopter in FIFA 2006 are just a smidgen of the heroic head-bobbers the series has delivered over the years. FIFA has kept itself ahead of the game in more ways than one.
Commanding commentary and classic encounters
Game: FIFA 2000
Released: October 26, 1999
John Motson picked up the mic once more for the UK release of FIFA 2000, this time flanked by the real-world BBC commentary support team of Mark Lawrenson and Chris Waddle. While the trio's vocal analysis was recorded in a studio in London as normal, Motson traveled to EA Vancouver's studio to offer his insights and expertise on the beautiful game firsthand. In-game, it shows, as FIFA 2000 felt like a huge stride forward in both visual and technical terms for the series. Its title track was also Robbie Williams' 'It's Only Us' which was, low key, one of the best pop songs at the turn of the millennium.
Gimme some power
Game: FIFA 2002
Released: November 2, 2001
A year on from a somewhat wobbly PS2 debut in FIFA 2001, the series properly launched on the next generation of consoles with FIFA 2002. Everything from Thierry Henry on the front cover to Tiesto Flight 643 on the soundtrack captured the era, and the introduction of power bars to passing added a new layer of moment-to-moment strategy otherwise missing from previous entries. It was pretty crude, but by holding down your controller's shoulder buttons while shooting, you could suddenly bend it like Beckham – something which inadvertently showed how dodgy goalkeeper AI was at that time.
It's a looker
Game: FIFA 2003
Released: October 25, 2002
As far as year-to-year improvements go, few have been as significant as the jump to FIFA 2003. It had revolutionary facial likeness for some of its star players, TV-like highlights packages at halftime and full-time, and a system called 'freestyle control' that first teased flicks and tricks which later installments would build upon. Personal tangent: while playing FIFA 2003 at Christmas time in 2002, my mum genuinely thought I was watching live football on the telly, it looked that good.
The derby match: rivalry with PES
Game(s): FIFA 99 – FIFA 17
Messi or Ronaldo? Barca or Real Madrid? Celtic or Rangers? PES or FIFA? Football is full of rivalries that burn bright or burn out. The latter was the biggest derby of virtual football for the best part of 20 years, and it was often hard to say which was the better game at any given time – so much so, many players, like myself, switched sides as many times as Brazilian Ronaldo or Zlatan Ibrahimovic. PES, or Pro Evolution Soccer, was often faster, more arcade-y, and focused more on the video game elements of virtual football. FIFA, on the other hand, was a television broadcast simulator that leveraged its massive library of official licensing to great effect. PES no longer exists as a brand, having been replaced with Konami's online-focused eFootball. It's not very good, and feels like the video game equivalent of your rivals being liquidated and sent to the third division as punishment.
Take it to the street
Game(s): FIFA Street, FIFA Street 2, FIFA Street 3, FIFA Street (2012)
Released: 2005, 2006, 2008, 2012
With combos and high-score tallies, concrete pitches lined with battered chain-link fencing, and Ronaldinho looking cool as hell in a sleeveless shirt, FIFA Street certainly was different. But whereas FIFA 97's indoor football mode felt like it came out of nowhere, FIFA Street at least paid homage to the culture of street football as it played all over the world. It had a distinct focus on the tricks and fancy footwork popularized by the Joga Bonito movement, first coined by perhaps the best footballer to have ever played the game: Pele. Whereas FIFA Street 1-3 had a larger-than-life, cartoonish feel to them, 2012's FIFA Street reboot targeted a gritty, so-called 'more authentic' take on street football – but there was no denying the charm of that first run of games.
Build the Ultimate Team
Game(s): UEFA Champions League 2006-07, FIFA 09 onwards
Released: 2006 onwards
Given the juggernaut FIFA Ultimate Team (or simply FUT as it's now better known) is today, it's actually hard to remember FIFA games without it. The fact that it was first featured in a non-FIFA game is an even stranger premise. EA's UEFA Champions League offshoot some 16 years ago (when EA held the rights to Europe's top club tournament) first pioneered what would become FIFA's most popular feature: a mode that lets you build your dream squad from players of all generations. When Ultimate Team first made the jump to FIFA, it did so in FIFA 09 as DLC, before steadily growing and growing into the beat it is today. Not without controversy given its loot box and in-game monetization elements – operating in a base game that costs a few quid, no less – but FUT epitomizes modern-day FIFA.
Go on The Journey
Game(s): FIFA 17, FIFA 18, FIFA 19
Released: 2016, 2017, 2018
Alex Hunter, remember the name. The Journey was the FIFA series thinking a little more outside of the box, but it really worked. Following the rise of Hunter, The Journey was a three-part story mode that spanned FIFA 17, FIFA 18, and FIFA 19, and tasked players with succeeding in the English Premier League. As a right or left winger, an attacking midfielder, or a full-blown striker, Hunter was never far from the action under your control – both on and off the pitch as he waded deeper into the celebrity life of a top-level footballer. An extra dose of immersion came via real-world cameos from the likes of Harry Kane and James Rodriguez.
Glitches in stitches
The first FIFA glitch that I remember most (besides running from refs brandishing red cards in '93) affected my favorite player, Pierre Van Hooijdonk. Big Pierre, as he was affectionately known by the Celtic faithful, is a tall, Black Dutchman who, during his playing days as a striker in Glasgow, had cropped dark hair. But, in FIFA 96 for the PS1, Big Pierre would occasionally take to the field as a short, white fullback with long blonde hair. This made nine-year-old me laugh more than it ought to – but glitches in FIFA have gotten steadily more hilarious, and more iconic, over the years with each passing iteration. From players being swallowed by the pitch, being fired miles into the sky, limbs losing total control, and faces seemingly melting in real-time, the best, or, perhaps, worst FIFA glitches will make you cry with laughter – and haunt your nightmares thereafter.
Online opponents not skipping celebrations
Game(s): FIFA 2001 and on
Released: 2000 - on
Is there anything more inherently infuriating than playing an opponent online who makes you sit through their goal celebrations? This may be the worst thing in the entire spectrum of EA's 29-year FIFA run. And yet, it's also one of its most notorious online features. Don't worry, we won't hold you long on this entry, we'll let you skip right on ahead.
The beautiful game
Game: FIFA 22
Released: September 21, 2021
Today, FIFA 22 is surely the quintessential football simulation game – doubly so given the faltering quality of its closest rival PES, aka eFootball as it's now known, in recent years. Its strength in depth is typified by its myriad features: Ultimate Team, Career Mode, Pro Clubs, Volta Football, player traits, 30 officially-licensed leagues, over 700 clubs, and more than 17,000 players. Its strides to mirror the essence of real-world football broadcasting remain unsurpassed – with neat upgrades often flying under the radar, such as pitches actively becoming visually heavier underfoot as the clock approaches 90 minutes. FIFA and EA's enduring partnership have given us plenty to love, and some things to loathe, but one thing is clear: it's been one hell of a journey. FIFA 23 will carry the torch for another year after its scheduled launch on September 30, 2022. After that, EA Sports FC has it all to prove in the coming years.
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