- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 2, 2003

Let's face it: Despite the soccer moms, last year's run to the World Cup quarterfinals by the U.S. men and the World Cup title by the U.S. women four years ago, there's a contingent of Americans and a large one at that that can't stand the game. For a culture that likes its food fast and TV garbage, soccer requires too much patience. After all, how many sports require teams to go backward in order to move forward?
Video games, at least realistic ones, accentuate everything Americans dislike about soccer. Too slow. Too deliberate. Not enough scoring. And World Tour Soccer 2003, out this month from Sony's 989 Sports, is no different. Which is why it's decidedly not geared toward Americans.
Unlike some of the other console titles, WTS 2003 doesn't revolve around Major League Soccer. The league exists only in generic form, probably because 989 Sports lacks the rights to the league and the teams. The game does have the licensing rights to FIFPro, the international players association for soccer players, which is significant considering that the game contains more than 13,500 players. (Yes, you read that right.)
It's pretty clear right away WTS is Euro-centric. The game was designed by 989's London Studio and can be played in seven languages, including English, Spanish and French. There are leagues from 15 countries, and in many of those you can play in multiple divisions. For instance, in England you can play in the Premier League, First Division or Second Division. Again, it appears 989 doesn't have the rights to the team names, considering Manchester United is listed as just "Manchester." You also can play with a number of international teams in a World Cup-like setting.
Beyond league and international teams, you can play in career mode, which sets you up with a group of teenagers in what appears to be an English schoolyard in 1999. The players and teams are fictional and lousy, but winning the school league improves your team and moves it up to a higher division. Eventually, you can compete for real titles.
Perhaps the most interesting selling point here is the Transfer Market, another international facet that basically brings management capability to a soccer console game for the first time. Success on the field brings your team money, and with that money you can purchase players from other teams in leagues around the world.
To earn that money, you have to score, and WTS provides some creative passing features. For instance, there are different buttons for grounded passes, flighted passes and through passes, and a combination of two buttons can transform any of those into a give-and-go. There also are controls for one-touch passes, volleys and headers. That's all nice in theory, but, of course, in theory it always should work. Instead, you often execute a give-and-go when you don't want one, and a player sprung free will send the ball backward or out of bounds. And even when the fancy controls are working, scoring remains at a premium. Three goals in a game well, that's worth celebrating.
Also worth celebrating are the close shots of the players, which are fantastic representations. But during game play, those same players look like tiny smudges on the screen, and there appears to be no way to change the camera angle to make them bigger. Add to that repetitive play-by-play by the announcer and strange statistical listings and you get a presentation both disappointing and unimpressive.
And that's a good word for World Tour Soccer 2003 and console soccer games in general: unimpressive. 989 Sports does some interesting things to spice up WTS, and those features work to some extent. But it's hard to get excited about a video game in which one goal becomes cause for fireworks when you can stick to Madden and drop 10 touchdowns with little problem.

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