The beautiful game
August 3, 2010, Author: Phil Ubee
Football (or Soccer as my Trans-Atlantic colleagues here would have it called) is the greatest game on Earth. It is watched, played and loved by billions of people across the globe and is probably the only sport or hobby that transcends all barriers. Man or woman, adult or child, black or white, rich or poor; football has no boundaries.
As the great and good of European football dust off their goalposts and hang their nets it is the time of year that football fans and gaming fans alike gear up for the new season, looking forward to the next in the long list of football games that tries to buck the trend of sweet spots, absent goalkeepers or shoddy online modes. In the current market place there are two out and out market leaders but of course it has not always been PES and FIFA at the top of the table. We have seen many different franchises down the years but in my opinion we are still awaiting a truly great football game.
I remember spending fortunes in the Essex arcades as a youngster, feeding endless 10p pieces into Football Champ or Italia 90 and as fond as those memories are the games themselves were not so good. The first few credits were spent learning where the sweet spot was and then it was easy enough to win against all but the strongest opponents. Usually this was edge of the box, running in at an angle, just outside the line of the goal. A simple tap of the shoot button and it was a guaranteed goal.
As arcades began to lose out to home computers and games consoles, football games began to really develop. The early days were dominated by Kick Off and Sensible Soccer both played top to bottom and despite arguably better graphical animations in Kick Off it was “Sensi” that ruled the roost. It’s unique viewpoint and simplistic controls were hailed by many and its successor, Sensible World of Soccer, is to this day regarded as the best ever football game by many a fanboy.
However SWOS was seriously lacking in the ability to build play resulting largely in players punting the ball all over the pitch with little true control. Frustratingly it was practically impossible to turn without losing the ball too so the game was played in straight lines and “star” players could literally score from anywhere on the pitch which often meant games finished 11-10.
Sensible soccer’s reign came to an end with the release of 16-bit gaming. Konami produced a title called International Superstar Soccer on the SNES system and a new king was born. It was the one game that made me, as a MegaDrive owner, jealous of my friend. The Sega systems alternatives in the early days were Super Kick Off (a sequel to the Kick Off franchise) and European Club Soccer. The latter was comfortably the better game taking a 3D side on view but it was quite “sticky” in comparison to the SNES title.
International Superstar soccer was a major step for football games, it gave a freedom not seen previously to develop a style of play, be it using pacey wingers or clever midfield passing and added a depth to the graphics not previously seen. The downfall was that the sweet spots still existed. It was slightly more difficult to get to them but if you did you would always score.
The birth of the modern football franchise war was two years later. 1996 saw the release of the third title in the FIFA franchise but the first on multiple formats. It brought with it real player names for the first time in football games. Konami released International Superstar Soccer Deluxe across formats and the game was on. The arguments from respective fans were that ISS played the better game but FIFA had the official license. These two were so dominant that almost every other football game released was soon forgotten and now fifteen years on they are still the top two by some distance.
As gaming went 32 bit, the best ever franchise was born. Pro Evolution Soccer broke away from the ISS franchise and added a sheen and polish that FIFA could only dream of. For the first time ever you really had to earn your goals and be a little more inventive and patient with your build up. It fell short in terms of depth of play. Without the official licence of its rival, PES had a limited number of playable teams at this stage of its development.
This all changed with Pro Evolution Soccer 4, for the first time the series had licensed domestic leagues from Spain, Italy and Holland and added to this, unlicensed versions of the English, French and German top flights. This added a great deal to the franchise in terms of its appeal and for my money is the football game that stands up as the best ever. It certainly holds the greatest personal memories of late nights tournaments with a group of friends in my living room.
Since the current generation of gaming arrived with the Xbox 360 back in 2005, Pro Evolution Soccer has fallen by the wayside largely due to an inability to develop the online mode of the game (particularly on Microsoft’s system). Teleporting players have destroyed many a gamers faith in the series forcing them to switch allegiance to PES’ greatest rival, FIFA. During the same period EA Sports have taken online gaming to new levels. Allowing full 10v10 football matches online with little or no lag since FIFA 09. Added to the depth of the official licence and the Ultimate Team add on FIFA is now a long way ahead.
It is, however, still fundamentally flawed, I have lost count of the times I have wanted to throw my pad through the TV at a full back on the opposite side of the pitch playing a striker (who is ten times quicker than any defender on earth) onside,or at the sight of a defender deciding to stop chasing for absolutely no reason, allowing a striker through on goal. FIFA, in my opinion, also still has that feel that much of the game is played on rails.
So, now we begin each new season with PES revealing a major new signing and a fancy new kit. While its fans declare that this year “will be our year” (much like LFC), at the same time on the other side, EA Sports polish their prized assets of licensed stadia and kits, roll out the big guns of sponsorship and simply await the plaudits.
The big signings in question this season for PES are more animations than ever before, the introduction of the Copa Libertadores, (South American Champions League) and what is described by Konami themselves as “the most advanced set of improved gameplay additions and control options in the series history.” They have gone with a tagline of “Engineered for Freedom” to describe these features and in all honesty if they can pull it off, this really could be the “best PES ever”.
FIFA on the other hand will look to build on the huge success of the past three years with tweaks, rather than overhauls to the franchise. The marketing focus has been on the “Personality+” system which is designed to add a touch of personality from the worlds best players and make touch, passing, shooting and tackling more unique to each player.
With just a few short weeks until the start of the new season and just under two months until the 2011 releases, my anticipation and excitement are again peaked, can this year finally be the year where a truly great football game comes home?