Review: Pure Football
June 23, 2010, Author: Andy Corrigan
I remember a time. A time when football games didn’t have to take themselves too seriously. A time when titles like Adidas Power Soccer and Olympic Soccer offered the masses an alternative to attempted realism. I remember a time when gamers had more than just FIFA and PES to choose from as their choice of football game; I remember a time when Konami and EA had challengers to the throne.
Well, maybe the times they are a-changin’, as it was rumoured at some point last year that Ubisoft had decided that they would try their hand at cracking the duopoly created by the big two, by entering the sporting arena for pretty much the first time. Barely anything had been said of that rumour since, even as their first effort whimpered on to the scene in the form of Ubisoft Vancouver’s five-a-side-em-up, Pure Football. No advertising campaign, no exposure, no nothing. Hell, if it wasn’t for the fact I stumbled upon the trailer by complete fluke, I’m not sure that I’d know it existed even now. It’s always worrying when a publisher won’t market their own product, so is this Ubisoft’s dirty little secret, or is it a bit of a sleeper hit?
There’s a… story?!
Yes, there is a story, well two… kind of. Pure Football is a title that doesn’t know its place in the market, promising to be one thing, offering another but only ending up showing off its identity crisis. The afore mentioned trailer, which appears when the game boots up, tells a story of a frustrated post-game Steven Gerrard, sat despondently in the changing rooms texting a rival player about how the referee robbed them in the final minute, and challenging them to a rematch outside with no refs and no rules. Sounds a fairly decent, if childish concept right? Only that’s not what happens in this arcade five-a-side affair.
In the stylish menus, you find but a few limited options; match, campaign, create, online and options. No custom leagues, no tournaments, not much of anything. Why is this relevant to a story or setting? Well, after starting the campaign and being forced to create a new player to act as my captain in my new fictional team, I was treated to an intro having my captain walking through a crowd of top class internationals cheering him on as he heads towards a team including Pele, Cantona , Best, Lineker etc, all inexplicably now young again and in their prime. It’s at this point I was wondering where the original intro plays its part in this, as Pele passes the character a jersey.
You are then put into a match situation with your player playing with the Legends team (rather than your created team). After so long, you are ripped right from that match around halfway through without any warning, followed with a brief message that says ’28 days previously’. At no point do you come back to this match either, so chuff knows what the point in it was. You then have 28 in-game days to do complete football related challenges on the way to a final.
You read that right; there are no full league seasons, just four challenges to complete at each venue. These challenges can range from winning a four team league, a two round knock-out tournament to being the first team to score two-three goals in a one-off, or just simply winning a game before the time runs out. By fulfilling particular requirements, at certain intervals you might be able to take part in a legends game, usually involving a classic USA or Germany team, but there are no indications of what those requirements are. Once the campaign is over, it’s saved and you can’t carry on with the team you’ve built up for a second season and your created player is either now a free agent or you can upload him for others to use in their teams. While the last aspect is a nice feature, the only option you are left with is to start again at the very beginning with a new team and captain.
Building your team is actually the most enjoyable part of the game. When you play against any of the seventeen included national teams during the campaign, each opposition player has a small mini-objective attached to them, and by completing these during the game, you can unlock that player to trade-up from the one-star rated losers you begin with. For example, want Fernando Torres to lead your front line? You’ll need to put five goals past Spain. Want Van Buyten? Make ten perfect tackles. Once you get a handle on this you can work towards your dream five-a-side squad, aiming for the particular players you want, adding a real ‘Ultimate Team’ kinda vibe to proceedings. What really baffled me here, though, was that you could have three reserves in your squad, but no real point to using them; players don’t get injured and you can’t make substitutions mid-match, so once again I was scratching my head at the point of their inclusion.
So robotic you’d think you were watching Peter Crouch dance
Before I let rip in what is probably going to be seen as a bit of a scathing run down of how the game actually performs on the pitch, I have to point out that at Pure Football’s very basic level, it works as a game. That however does not necessarily make it a good game. From the outset, it’s clear that Ubisoft were taking on FIFA Street rather than FIFA 10, and in that respect, Pure Football, even with all the bugs and gripes that I’m about to touch on, succeeds. Though it’s not like that it is anything to shout about, really…
My instant reaction when firing up Pure Football for the first time was something along the lines of ‘Urggh…’. However, after a couple of matches, the general ebb and flow of the match seemed to fall into place, if still feeling very robotic with the ball acting as if on rails for most part. The lawless version of football promised in the trailer is also way off, as if the players who wanted that then decided that they should have some rules anyway, and made sure that they’re adhered to. You know, refereed. True, you can’t be booked, called offside or even give away free-kicks, but miss-time too many tackles and fill the ‘Foul’ meter, and your next sloppy challenge will result in a penalty for the opposition.
What doesn’t help the game flow at all is the awful team AI battling your every thought of moving the ball forward, running into awkward situations and dead ends. Shooting is handled a little differently to what we’re used to, as when hitting an effort a power bar will appear circling around your player’s feet, and you have to release the moment that the power bar reaches the green area. Release it a moment too soon or too late will see the ball travel harmlessly into or away from the keeper.
Just beyond the green area of the shooting meter is a white section, land here and the player will perform a ‘Pure Shot’. Here, the action is taken into slow motion, meaning that your player has hit the ball perfectly. While it looks nice and dramatic, it doesn’t guarantee goals and adds nothing to gameplay, though it does slightly increase your chances of netting if your placement is right. You also have a ‘Pure meter’ which builds up as you string play together. Once full, the next shot will be a Pure Shot no matter how badly you’ve timed it. There is no freedom or unpredictability with this system, and it really hurts a game that’s based on a sport that relies so heavily on that quality. This is made especially worse when you consider that Pure Football has so many sweet spots for scoring goals it should come with a diabetes warning.
Crosses and corners are actually managed in a very similar way. Release the meter in the green when crossing the ball and the game will enter slow-mo and focus on the intended recipient, where you have to use the same power trick to beat the defender and land your shot. These moments are so contrived it removes any frantic moments, urgency or anticipation from the game before it’s even had the chance to inject any.
Then there was that moment. The moment that I crossed the ball and it was heading towards the free man at the far post. The second that the ball left the wingers foot the slo-mo camera cut to that free man, and he was no longer free. An opposition player had literally appeared there in a split-second, meaning I had to battle for the ball. Perplexed, I paused and went straight to the replay option. I changed the camera to a wider view and watched as my open man clearly had no-one near him. Then the camera, against my will, switched angles to hide the defender teleporting from one part of the pitch to the other. Not only did that teleportation happen, the replay had the cheek to try and cover it up.
Of course the camera work doesn’t help you when tackling, the default camera is handled looking up the pitch, much like Be A Pro in FIFA, only with none of the finesse. It works fine when going forward; you can see the field in front, pick and choose your passes with great effect, however problems arise when attacking the wing and the camera switches around to show what’s happening in the box. This would be fine, you would think, useful even, but get tackled in the opposition’s corner and the camera will swing uselessly and distractingly back into place in a way that makes it nigh on impossible to win the ball back. Switch to the only other camera angle, more akin to a broadcast, and not only do you lose an idea of where your players are despite there being only five of them on the pitch, you also have your view irritatingly obstructed by semi-transparent scenery.
Uglier than Luke Chadwick
The problems when trying the other camera angle isn’t the only thing I found visually wrong with this game. The player look ridiculous, modelled somewhere between the last FIFA Street and something more cartoony, although it leant more to the caricature look. Only in this game the likenesses are terrible. The pitches and arenas are uglier, with jagged edges prevalent and visually distracting, certainly not befitting a game of this generation. I could probably forgive some of this if it was an XBLA or PSN title, but then there are the glitches to add to the list of grievances.
For example, I changed my controls between the usual from old school FIFA to PES styling, and although the loading screen would sometimes reflect this change, it often wouldn’t, and in the first instance had me panicking that it hadn’t saved my control changes. Then, in the big final that the game had hyped to high heaven over the course of the campaign, the pitch and arena didn’t load, leaving me thinking that I had entered the world of TRON.
It’s not totally without its charms in the presentation, the menus are nice, some of the styling is pleasing enough. Score a goal or miss a pen for example, you get a little cut-scene showing your characters emotion with a football related phrase, or announcing your player before he takes a penalty, however this kind of styling does little to make up for a very unpolished product all round.
The sound of silence
In gameplay, Pure Football actually has some nice sound effects. There’s no commentator, no referee’s whistle, so you’re left with sounds of the area, somewhat repetitive (and for some reason cockney) shouts for the ball, and the general movement of the ball. The latter is done rather dramatically, bringing up thoughts of sporting advertisements where passes and tackles are represented with exaggerated bangs and thuds that have real force. This really does have a great impact in that respect.
I would have liked to have given a more comprehensive review of the online mode, unfortunately there was literally nobody playing whenever I tried. Knowing that Neil is as big a sucker as I, I managed to call him in to do the honours. You would think, that seemingly being the only two people in the world online on this game would ensure a lag free experience… right? Nope. We had moments of up to 2-3 seconds button lag over the entirety of the games we played, players walking the ball into the goal without the keepers even glancing. Even worse is that the sweet spots in the game were magnified ten fold, especially when playing someone as cheap as Neil (if you think that means he won, then I’m afraid to say that you’re are absolutely correct… grrr!).
It’s a shame, because here was a great chance to add the longevity seriously lacking from the single player side of things, and all you have is a bare-bones online more with problems galore. The lack of care and thought is typical of the experience that Pure Football provides.
Back to the drawing board
To be fair to Ubisoft, they have marketed this at a budget price point of £30, with many retailers selling it for much less, however this is still too much money for the package you actually get and the state you’ll get it in. While it’s admirable that Ubisoft Vancouver have tried something a little different in terms of the single player game, after sampling the nonsensical but mildly amusing campaign and an instantly forgettable online mode, there is very little to keep you coming back to what is a rather soulless and obvious attempt at cashing in on World Cup fever. That said, I did find myself playing it solidly for over a week; there was something about it, possibly the simplicity, that kept me going back to it beyond the need to review. It had become something of a guilty pleasure. That, however, is the only positive status it will ever be likely to receive.