I can still remember the moment I first laid eyes on a copy of FIFA: Road to World Cup 98 as a kid. I was just beginning to discover my affection for video games at the time, but I was instantly captivated by its addictive gameplay, and it'd go on to dominate my spare time over the next year.
I don't know where the last 20 years have gone, but my love for that game remains strong. I still fondly recall many of its unique features, such as its famous intro sequence with the sound of Blur's "Song 2" providing the perfect background. I even put The Crystal Method's "Busy Child" on my local bar's jukebox recently, purely to reminisce about FIFA 98's fantastic soundtrack. I was the only one in there that seemed to know it.
If you ask many fans who can remember back that far, they'll tell you that indoor mode was one of FIFA 98's most memorable qualities. Amazingly, we've yet to experience another iteration of the mode in EA's main FIFA series over the past 20 years, so let's take a trip down memory lane and remind ourselves of this classic feature.
FIFA: Road to World Cup 98
Heading into 1997, EA was only a few months removed from having released FIFA 97 itself, and its continual transition to a fully 3-D engine (on certain platforms) was providing an evident degree of struggle. The game was released to respectable acclaim, but its gameplay appeared to be lacking in certain areas.
At the time, FIFA's rivals included the revolutionary Actua Soccer (VR Soccer '96 in the US) and Konami's International Superstar Soccer Pro (also known as Goal Storm 2), with the latter company later going on to develop the Pro Evolution Soccer series. I personally enjoyed titles like these more extensively than EA's offerings at that period of time (and would eventually become an avid fan of the PES series), but when I first got my hands on a copy of FIFA: Road to World Cup 98, everything changed.
The game was released in late '97 for a variety of platforms, offering the full graphical experience for PC and high-end consoles. Finally, FIFA 98 offered refinement on a grand scale. The game's graphics were overhauled once more, as was its gameplay, to allow a smoother, more realistic feel. Its AI was also improved, causing IGN's review of the game to state: "The AI is very well executed so that the teams actually play as a proper team, rather than the simplistic kick-and-run of previous FIFA incarnations."
It wasn't just the gameplay, either. FIFA: Road to World Cup 98 offered a plethora of game modes, including, as the name suggests, a Road to World Cup mode featuring a massive 172 national teams from across the globe. Backed by an authentic soundtrack, huge roster and important upgrades across the board, FIFA: Road to World Cup 98 captured the attention of soccer fans instantly, and stuck long in the memory for those who had a chance to play it.
FIFA: Road to World Cup 98 included a variety of new features to the series, but indoor mode wasn't actually one of them. It had already been added the year before, but backed by improved gameplay and graphics, FIFA 98's version took it to a new level. It offered 5-on-5 matches inside an indoor arena, enclosed with different colored walls and pitches based on the version you played.
In indoor mode, the pitch was much smaller than usual and the ball never went out of play, ensuring that games were kept fast and furious at all times. It offered something very different from FIFA's usual fare, focusing less on the tactical nature of standard matches, and more on the frenetic, high-tempo encounters instead. It was the perfect mode for couch co-op with friends, or simply when you needed a break from the standard game of soccer.
Above all, FIFA fans remember the mode so fondly because it was a great deal of fun. You didn't have to worry about offsides, corners and throw-ins. It was exciting to hit the ball off the walls and watch it react in a unique fashion. It was just different, and back in '97, you didn't get stuff like this. At least, not with the same immersive gameplay that EA Sports was providing.
What happened to indoor mode? As of EA's World Cup 98, the mode was scrapped, and has yet to be featured since in the core series. However, let's take a detour to EA's FIFA Street series, which is the closest EA has come to replicating it.
I personally enjoy FIFA Street, and while the series has had somewhat of a hit-and-miss history, it offers something different from standard FIFA titles, sharing certain traits with the indoor mode of old. However, it's not quite the same as it's concerned with creating something niche, focusing on over-the-top skills and tricks to attract its audience. FIFA 98's indoor mode was just about playing regular FIFA in a condensed setting, and that's why FIFA Street has failed to scratch my personal itch as of yet.
2012's FIFA Street felt like a game that attempted to mesh both styles together. It took certain aspects of the sport very seriously, such as the introduction of an authentic replication of Futsal. The game attempted to mesh FIFA's existing control system with a new set of tricks, and ultimately, it did a pretty good job overall. It rarely deterred from its 'street' persona though, focusing on skills-based gameplay across all its game modes.
For that reason, I still think it's a valid option to add indoor mode to the core FIFA series, even if FIFA Street makes a welcome return at some point. You might suggest it’s a bad idea from a business standpoint, but by offering a more in-depth 'street' experience for one title and a barebones indoor experience for the other, you'd hope the two could live in harmony.
It's clear that indoor mode's legacy has flourished over the years, but a 2015 VICE article suggests that it wasn't always that way. In it, former EA Canada producer Marc Aubanel appeared to suggest that the mode didn't garner much continued interest at the time.
Personally, I was a big fan of the mode back in the day, but it was at a time when internet access was somewhat of a rarity in my household, and it was hard to gauge how it was being received outside of my group of friends.
There's no doubt that indoor mode's legacy has grown over the years, though. Search for it on Google, and you'll find lots of praise being sent its way. Despite this, EA hasn't even flirted with an indoor mode in the main series over the past 20 years.
It's not like they refuse to acknowledge it. I uncovered a 2013 Mirror interview with EA's David Rutter in which he commented on its popularity, but denied that it would be coming back. Then, just last year, FIFA 17 lead gameplay producer Aaron McHardy told Digital Spy that "5-a-side football won't be in the game," crushing the hopes of its fans in the process.
So who really knows what's to become of indoor mode in the FIFA series. Will it ever be revived? Will its legacy continue to live on? The future is unclear, but for now, you can always grab your PS1 or N64 out of the attic, boot up some FIFA: Road to World Cup 98, and enjoy the nostalgic pleasures of its superb indoor action.
Do you remember FIFA's indoor mode? Would you like to see it make a return in FIFA 18? Let us know in the comments below.