Written by: Rik

Date posted: June 13, 2014

Extras:

The definition of an unsuccessful tackle, there.

The definition of an unsuccessful tackle, there.

There’s a reason that Puma World Football was the first, and for a while, the only old football game covered on FFG. It’s because most of the others were, and are, terrible. And when I say this, I speak from experience: I bought most of them at the time of release, hoping (but not expecting) to find something good in each one. In many cases, there was at least an interesting feature or novel approach, but rarely was the overall experience satisfactory. When faced with such paucity of quality, the mind tends to play tricks, and one can end up making questionable decisions that fly in the face of all past experience.

Hence why, despite not particularly enjoying the original Sensible Soccer on the Atari ST, I nevertheless bought three subsequent Sensible Soccer games, including the largely-identical Sensible World of Soccer. The game we’re covering here is a tweaked and updated version of Sensible Soccer ’98, which itself was originally known as (and even reviewed in PC Zone under the title of) Sensible Soccer 2000. Following the review, sometime in late 1997, the game disappeared for several months, only to finally reappear around the time of the 1998 World Cup under the new name, before undergoing a minor rebranding with the addition of club teams not long afterwards, much to the anger of those who shelled out first time around (I bought both).

Like many remakes and modern updates, Sensible ’98/ECE came with the promise of blending modern features and presentation with the classic gameplay that fans know and love, but, true to form, after briefly convincing press and public, it was later dismissed as a shit cash-in that no-one really liked. It retains the classic top-down view, but with the option of 3D replays, and a simple control method, albeit with the inclusion of an additional button for pace/block tackle (alongside the main pass/shoot/slide tackle button from previous games). The graphics don’t make use of 3D acceleration, and time certainly hasn’t been kind, with the replays highlighting boxy models and basic animation, although it’s altogether more acceptable in the standard view.

sensiece2

Half the fun with old football games like this is a) working out who the player with the misspelled name is supposed to be and b) whether you remember them or not. This one’s pretty easy: a) David Hopkin, and b) Yes, I don’t think he had any front teeth.

Out on the pitch, it’s a curious affair. The main difference is that the ball now sticks to your player’s feet. For fans of the original games, this is possibly a deal breaker, removing much of the skill required to keep, or run with, the ball. (Possibly as a concession, the developers have at least prevented any particularly unlikely pelvis-snapping turns by building in a stumble, should you attempt one). However, for anyone frustrated by the ping-pong nature of previous games, like me, it could be seen as a positive, at least allowing you to feel in control of the ball and pass it around.

The ball physics are a bit odd. At times, passes can run away from your players unexpectedly on the ground and hold up in the air, but it also seems as though adding some height is necessary to get any power behind your shots. Meanwhile, sliding tackles are launched from improbable distances and rarely seem to be punished, despite an unhealthy proportion of them bringing a gasp of anguish from the fallen player, often signifying an injury of some sort.

ECE‘s biggest failing, though, relates to the difficulty level. It’s far too easy to score, especially in a one-on-one with the goalkeeper, who is easily beaten by a modest straight thwack from close range. In general, the ‘keepers seem to be from the [ex-Leeds goalie] John Lukic school of limboing underneath shots and/or falling down on the spot rather than diving for the ball. Meanwhile, your opponents seem incapable of creating a chance, although if you do contrive to give the ball away in defensive areas, you’ll find your own goalkeeper is as easily beaten as your opponent’s. The main other area of concern is the frequency of injuries, with the aforementioned ‘violent tackle from yards away’ seemingly a punishment for dawdling on the ball, and you can expect to have to make full use of your squad. However, despite the improbable speed with which your first-choice team becomes depleted, it rarely has much impact on the pitch, thanks to the general lack of challenge.

That's a yellow card for Onderton.

That’s a yellow card for Onderton.

To illustrate: after a couple of friendlies, I decided to launch straight into a World Cup with England, and won every game, despite having to resort to an improvised strike force of Paul Scholes and Steve McManaman (or P Schales and S McMenaman as they’re known in-game) due to injuries. In fact, Schales scored four goals in one game but still was not named Man of the Match (an award which is seemingly made at random). This experience was repeated in other tournaments: for example, taking the notably terrible Nottingham Forest team of 98/99 past their points total for the season in real life (30 – they finished bottom and were relegated) after 11 games. And I didn’t even have the services of sulky forward Pierre van Hooijdonk to call on.

It would have been interesting to see how they misspelled his name, at least, because unlike its predecessors, ECE evidently didn’t have the required licenses in place for authentic player names. In fact, there’s a general low-budget feeling to the whole affair; while the originals could certainly claim a certain stylised authenticity, next to the FIFAs and even Actua Soccers of the day, this seems a bit cheap and silly. I was struggling to identify the commentator (my notes said ‘sounds like Jonathan Pearce’ – who did the honours on CD versions of SWOS) until the credits revealed it to be programmer Jon Hare, evidently multitasking on this title – he also sings the catchy ‘football is our love’ theme tune in the intro video (which, it should be noted, was also featured in Sensible ’98).

Sensible Soccer: European Club Edition is not particularly good. Although I personally prefer it to the originals, the ease with which it can be mastered really shortens its lifespan. While I had played the game before, it was about 15 years ago, so I’m not sure I was particularly reliant on prior knowledge, but I suppose it’s possible. I still reckon anyone who is vaguely competent at this kind of thing will have largely the same experience and start racking up consecutive wins pretty quickly.

Do you see what you get, Charlton? DO YOU SEE WHAT YOU GET WHEN YOU MESS WITH THE MIGHTY NOTTINGHAM FOREST TEAM OF 1998/9?

Do you see what you get, Charlton? DO YOU SEE WHAT YOU GET WHEN YOU MESS WITH THE MIGHTY NOTTINGHAM FOREST TEAM OF 1998/9?

While there remains a level of satisfaction to be gleaned from curling in a long range shot, to be truthful the main motivation for me to keep playing was to work out how to make a substitution (press both buttons with the ball out of play) – incidentally I managed to win the World Cup without making this discovery – and how to save the game (move the cursor to the name of the tournament until it flashes and then press a button), so I could at least provide that information here. (I sold the big-box version – with manual – many years ago, and the version I reacquired on eBay was jewel case only).

There is some fun to be had here, but the window of enjoyment is pretty small – in single player at least – due to the low difficulty. In most cases, those seeking top-down football fun would be better served returning to their respective favourites (particularly if those favourites were the earlier Sensible Soccer titles, ’98 excluded) or something like Total Soccer.