The superstars need you

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 January, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 January, 2000, 12:00am

I dribbled left, stutter-stepped to the right. I head faked Kobe Bryant into the air and drove past him to where Shaquille O'Neal was waiting for me right by the rim.

I jumped and executed a brutal two-handed tomahawk in-your-face slam-dunk sending the 300-pound seven-foot oaf to the parquet floor.

The next hour found me blitzing through 300-pound offensive linemen en route to drilling Steve Young, the star quarterback for the Forty-Niners, forcing him into early retirement.

And for the finale, I don Brazil's colours, sprint past David Beckham (yeah, the pretty boy who lost the cup for England) and kick a goal that wins the World Cup. For a moment, I am Ronaldo.

Not a bad afternoon for a 195-pound, 6 ft 4 ins couch potato with smoker's lungs. Especially good for an afternoon spent staring at my computer screen and playing with my joystick.

Today's sports games for PCs and console gaming machines are so impressive and realistic they cease to be poor representations of the real thing.

They are a far cry from the early years of the Sega Genesis, the Apple IIe and the pathetic Nintendo Super Computer sports games.

Most of the available games in the market try to reproduce the quality of a television broadcast, and most of them pull it off beautifully.

Graphic representations of star athletes actually look like them. They trash-talk, swagger after a dunk, celebrate a goal and even slouch after a defeat - way better than that Pong game I had for my old Atari 2600.

With the future release of more powerful platforms, graphics and sound cards, the sports games industry is probably a couple of years away from a presentation that is exactly like a TV broadcast.

This year's crop of sports games comes very close though.

First on my list is NBA Live 2000 from Electronic Arts Sports. Among all my sports games, this probably is my favourite and the most authentic in terms of mimicking a live broadcast of an NBA game.

Most of the players look exactly like their live counterparts, thanks to the technology EA calls 'face wrap'.

Game play also is vastly improved compared to earlier counterparts - players shout, throw fists in the air after a dunk and you can see the facial expressions change.

In some close-ups you can read the players' lips.

The cutaways are impressive, including shots of players waiting before every substitution like a real broadcast.

Replays are included and presented TV-style with matching commentary from true-life sports broadcasters.

The next-best American football game I've played is Sega's NFL2K for the Dreamcast. Its TV-style presentation is probably the best for that sport and playing the game is a delight.

Thanks to the Dreamcast's 128MHz processor, player movements are smooth and life-like.

Linemen breath in sub-zero weather and you can see the mist floating above their helmets.

Hitting the opposing team's players also is a delight. The physics are so real I grimace in pain when one of my players gets knocked down.

Madden 2000 - also a football game - comes close to Sega's NFL2K but, owing to the ageing machines it is made for, the graphics are not as crisp.

FIFA 2000 by Electronic Arts Sports also is high on my list. Compared with the soccer games on my old Apple and Pentium 100, it is sheer perfection.

A few years ago, I had to live with faceless stick-like representations of my favourite soccer stars, whose movements were twitchy and unrealistic.

All that has changed. FIFA 2000 is revolutionary in design, player movements are believable and, like NBA Live 2000, they all look like their live counterparts.

Presentation is in a TV broadcast manner with so many cutaways it seems you are watching the real thing.

I enjoy tackling and fouling, especially because every time I get caught, the game cuts away to a scene where the referee pulls out a yellow card and my player just throws his arms up in frustration.

Most amusing, however, is the Scottish brogue one of the presenters speaks. It gives the game an authentic European feel.

When I feel aggressive, I turn to my boxing games. In Knockout Kings 2000, I get to be Muhammad Ali replete with all the taunts, the dancing and the massive arms.

A bit over the top, game play is too monotonous, with victories easily secured with a few thumb-mashing techniques.

The most redeeming aspect of the game is that the boxers' bodies and faces show the abuse of several rounds of fighting.

When I fought with Evander Holyfield, his eyes were swollen and his lips a bloody pulp after seven rounds.

With all the technical improvements the new sports games are offering, and as their presentations become more realistic, it is hard to think of getting off my couch and actually trying out one of these sports.

Either that, or most of these game developers need to include anti-rash cream with their packages for buttocks that have been sat on for too long.

When I fought with Evander Holyfield, his eyes were swollen and his lips a bloody pulp after seven rounds