ESPN MLS Extra Time 2002 Review (Xbox)
ESPN MLS Extratime has great graphics and excellent gameplay, but both are compromised by the lack of a quality camera angle. You just never feel like you can see far enough in front of you to truly play a proper brand of attacking soccer. The best way I can explain my feelings on this game are by how much I played it, one day I might play 2 or 3 games and enjoy myself for the most part but then I might not pick it up again for 4 or 5 days. Although a quality title, it did not call me back to play some more.
GAMEPLAY AND AI
I like to combine AI and Gameplay, mostly because I find it hard to separate one from the other. Without a doubt Extratime is the best playing soccer game I have experienced. It requires you to play soccer. You need to pick the appropriate times on offense to force the ball ahead with long aerial passes and when to move the ball more slowly down the field with shorter passes and dribbling. A lot of this will depend upon the style your team is playing versus the style of your opponent.
If your opponent is playing a conservative defensive style with 4 or 5 players back, you may be able to push the ball up the field but will be consistently thwarted if you try to force your way through the back line. This will require you to come up with different ways to attack the D. You can try crossing passes from the outside but the D is smart and the goalies are by far the smartest goalies I have encountered in a video soccer game. The goalies will play very aggressively coming out and grabbing the ball when required, I can’t really think of a misplay by a goalie in the games that I have played.
Offensively you can call your offensive strategies on the fly, I found it a little difficult to maneuver the ball upfield and switch my attack. Fortunately you can set the strategies to semi automatic, with this setting I was able to read what my cpu players were doing and play off of that. Plus the cpu is just smarter than me so I let it call the shots. If you are a true soccer devotee you may enjoy the challenge of choosing your plan of attack.
Set plays are probably the biggest downside of the gameplay. You can’t call for different sets and your view on throw in’s are really inadequate. At first when you have a free kick or corner you don’t feel like you have much control over the kick. However, after playing for a while I began to like it and thought that it mirrored the real thing better than kicking it directly to a player’s icon. In fact the time or two that I scored on a free kick was really rewarding or even when I made the goalie come up with a big save.
When you start the game you can pick your formation and the formations usually have a variation on the standard set. Once that is done you can pick a player’s aggressiveness you can set them to either be neutral, attacking or defensive. So within the different formations you have some flexibility on how your team will play from that formation. One thing that is lacking is the ability to mark a particular player.
Controls can take a little getting used to, momentum is overdone, granted a person running full steam cannot just stop and go the other way, but in Extratime in order to turn your player around in a reasonable amount of time you have to anticipate way in advance. I could understand this if you are speed bursting all the time but even at normal speed the responsiveness is not quite where it should be. That being said you will get used to it and it is only a small nuisance.
The graphics in Extratime are very good, the player models are crisp and realistic the animations are varied and very realistic looking. The stadiums and crowds are done quite well. One drawback is that you can only choose from MLS stadiums. The primary problem with the graphics is the camera angle or lack thereof. You can only play from the side view and even though you are allowed to change the cameras height and distance you just never feel like you are seeing enough of the field. My biggest complaint is when you are attacking on the lower half of the screen once you get past midfield you seem to have open field, yet common sense tells you that someone on D is near you. Sure enough out of the left side of your screen comes the defender and you have almost no time to react. I just don’t understand that in a game like soccer where it is so important to be able to see upfield that they wouldn’t implement a camera angle from behind the play.
The game and stadium crowds are actually quite good, drums in the background and solid crowd noises that actually sound like a crowd. The problem starts with the commentary, which is offered in both English and Spanish. The commentary is not too bad if you stick to playing games in the MLS but if you play any international games it’s another story. Because Extratime does not have the foreign players real names the announcers resort to saying pass to #10, pass to #4 and so on, which wouldn’t be so bad if they only did it on some passes but they do it almost every time the ball changes hands. It is extremely annoying and only accentuates the fact that they don’t have an international license.
The biggest omission is the lack of any international license, so you have fake club teams and fake international stars. The good news is that you can edit players and change their names and that the numbers of the players on each team and their attributes seem to match up with the real players. So you can kind of figure out who is who. However, even if you take time to change all the names the play by play will still refer to them by their number. The other problem is that although the MLS uniforms are recreated superbly the International teams uni’s are not really even close and all have Konami across their chest. They totally take away from an otherwise great looking game. I think someone who is colorblind must have come up with the combinations of uniform colors. Again, if you desire you can edit team uniforms.
In MLS play there is an attempt at franchise play of 5 seasons. The odd thing is that when the season starts you are thrust into your first game. So any moves you want to make have to wait until after the first game. The players are rated on a point system and when you try to make a transfer you can only trade for players who play the same position, which is kind of annoying, it effectively stops you from bringing your MLS rosters up to date. The franchise mode is a start but didn’t really add to the game. There are retirements and a draft but I didn’t spend anytime with this aspect of the game.
You also have a scenario mode in which you are put into various game situations from the previous MLS season. It does not allow you however to create your own scenario.
There is training mode in which you can practice your corner kicks and free kicks as well as your passing. I would recommend some time in this mode to work on your kicks; one nice effect is a coach yelling out instructions as you practice. You can also set up a tournament of up to 16 teams but it is not set up in the fashion of the World Cup. It is a one loss and you are out type of tournament.
The gameplay in this game would rate over a 90 but the lack of a good camera angle hampers that score and helps brings the overall score down. If they had World Tour soccer’s camera angles and set plays and FIFA’s licensing you would have an excellent game bordering on Hall of Fame.