While the sport of soccer is much more popular outside of the United States, recent efforts have been made to popularize the world's most prevalent game in this country. Now in its seventh season, Major League Soccer continues to bring American audiences a version of the world's game they can call their own. In ESPN MLS ExtraTime 2002, Konami attempts to draw in fans of the sport with its television-style production values and its official license. The gameplay itself may disappoint those who've played some of the superior soccer games available on other platforms, but on its own merits--and as the only soccer game currently available for the Xbox--ExtraTime 2002 does a decent job.
The official MLS and ESPN licenses have given this game both an authentic SportsCenter look and an admirable roster made up of some of the most exciting players in the game today. The combination of international and American players is part of the MLS' novelty; Colombian superstar Carlos Valderrama and Nigerian striker Daniel Amokachi play side by side with American talents such as cover athlete Clint Mathis, Brian McBride, Landon Donovan, and Cobi Jones. The recent failure of the Tampa Bay and Miami franchises has reduced the league to 10 teams, but it has also strengthened the talent pool across the board, making for more statistically balanced matches. Aside from featuring the official MLS trademarks and player likenesses, the game also lets you take control of a number of international and club teams from across the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Africa, as well as a handful of custom fantasy teams.
There are numerous gameplay modes to choose from, including exhibitions, custom leagues, MLS, training, and challenges. The MLS mode lets you play through the entire 28-game season, all the way to the MLS Cup playoffs. Won or tied games earn you transfer points, which allow for one-on-one player trades during the season and before the 20th round of the season. Based on the class of players involved, each trade will cost a varying number of transfer points, giving you an incentive to play a great many games with your team to improve its pool of players. The training mode places you on a practice field with your chosen team and encourages you to practice such necessary skills as ball handling, one-two passes, and corner kicks.
Much like EA's recent Madden Football games, ESPN MLS ExtraTime 2002 features a series of challenges that let you relive notable MLS situations. For example, the premier challenge puts you in the championship game of the 2001 MLS season, with an opportunity to re-create the final moments, when the San Jose Earthquakes took the lead. Completing these scenario challenges will earn you edit points, which are then used to customize your created players. The create-a-player mode is fairly detailed, letting you custom-build a goalkeeper, midfielder, forward, or defender, with quite a bit of leeway in terms of their appearance, including facial hair, skin tone, and facial structure.
Graphically, ESPN MLS ExtraTime 2002 is functional but somewhat bland--while it looks good enough to serve its purposes, it won't be winning any awards. The polygon count of the close-up character models is considerably lower than the counts found in competing games. Considering the graphical capabilities of the hardware, the players on the field are far too simple, with only slight attention to individual detail. The crowds at least are fairly well done considering the generally poor crowds used in most sports games. The Xbox version of ExtraTime 2002's animation is of generally solid quality--many of the animation routines are fairly impressive, such as how a player will block a high pass with an extended leg, knocking the ball down before commencing to dribble, or how a goalie will leap back and punch away a chipped ball. Despite the generally solid quality of the players' movements, when the game is examined at the closest level of zoom during instant replays or during the postgame ESPN-style highlight reels, all of their subtle flaws become apparent.