Written by: Rik

Date posted: July 18, 2005

Extras:

Ajax may have been a great side in 1995, but they weren't rich enough to keep hold of this lot for long.

There are some people who believe that Sensible World of Soccer is one of the greatest games of all time. However, I am not one of them. And seeing as I’m in charge for the duration of this review, those expecting a fawning tribute to one of the gaming world’s sporting classics, hailing it an emphatic triumph of playability over presentation are going to be disappointed. And, most probably, a little angry, too.

You see, while I’d like to say that SWOS is the gaming equivalent of Marmite (some people love it, some people hate it), it’s slightly more accurate to describe it as the gaming equivalent of beer or Coca-Cola (most people love it, people who don’t are seen as slightly weird). Sensi-fever may not be the force it once was, but (at the time of writing) the Megadrive version of Sensible Soccer has just been re-released as one of those ‘plug into your telly’ gizmos, while updated and ever-so-slightly illegal copies of PC SWOS are selling on eBay at a pretty reasonable rate.

Slight controversy, then, but it’s hardly the sort of thing that’s going to bring society crashing down around us. I’ve hinted at my dislike for Sensible Soccer elsewhere on the site, but while a vindictive part of me would love to use this review to really lay into it, such an approach wouldn’t really be in keeping with the spirit of FFG. After all, our mission (I think I still remember it from FFG training camp, although I’ve tried to block out most of those memories) is to recommend games that have interested and entertained us over the years, not to subject ageing relics to pages of sneering criticism.

Crowd graphics and a giant rotating 'S' in the corner of the screen. Now that's progress.

Anyway, whether you like Sensible World of Soccer depends largely on whether you liked the original Sensible Soccer, as SWOS retains the vast majority of its predecessor’s core gameplay. The major change is the inclusion of a pseudo-management career mode, which offers players the opportunity to take control of one of many club teams around the world and guide them to glory by playing well on the pitch and signing the right players off it. The sheer number of teams on offer is impressive, and as far as I can tell the squads seem to have been well researched – there certainly aren’t any glaring errors in the English league, even in the lower divisions.

Credit, too, must go to Sensible for being the first to realise that football fans would want to play several seasons in succession: most football games around this time (including FIFA) only offered the traditional ‘league’ or ‘cup’ option – and usually only teams from the top division and/or international sides. SWOS has all the divisions, promotion and relegation as well as accurate fixture lists, incorporating cup competitions alongside the league campaign. This kind of attention to detail really does count, and if nothing else it shows that the people behind the game are real football fans who know their stuff (see also Championship Manager).

However, this attention to detail doesn’t extend into the management aspect of the game. Players don’t have any stats (merely a transfer value) and never get any older, you have little control over your finances, and there’s limited space available in your squad for a full complement of players. While you can opt out of playing the matches yourself, there isn’t really enough depth to the management and coaching side of things for it to be entertaining. There is a tactics editor, but it seems better suited to making adjustments to the way you play more than anything else.

Little men with big heads punting an oversized beach ball around rather aimlessly. Is this really how you want to spend your spare time?

So, nifty features aside, it all comes back to whether Sensible Soccer is your cup of tea or not. SWOS is slightly more polished than the original (the PC version of which suffered from a sloppy conversion) but doesn’t really do anything all that different. While the graphics have been spruced up slightly (with the inclusion of advertising hoardings and supporters), the players are still little men with big heads and tiny legs and the ball is still huge. There’s also the dubious pleasure of some excitable, non-player specific commentary, provided by Jonathan Pearce (not a total unknown, but not exactly Motty either) and a big rotating ‘S’ in the top right-hand corner of the screen.

As for the game itself, there are a few noticeable improvements, but nothing significant enough to win over any doubters. Personally I found it slightly more playable than previous versions, but it’s still a little bit too hectic for my liking, and at no stage do you ever feel like you have the ball under control. Kick Off 2 and Goal! (Sensi rivals during the early 1990s) may have involved your players running all over the place like blue-arsed flies, but you could at least trap the ball before passing it on. Now isn’t the time to rekindle old rivalries, but the one thing that used to irk me about Sensi fans was their claim that their game of choice was more realistic. Frankly, that’s a ridiculous claim, with the frantic button-bashing on offer here more akin to a game of table football than anything resembling a simulation of the beautiful game itself.

Ahh, the days of Leeds in the Premiership with Yeboah up front...(insert further football nostalgia here)

That’s not to say SWOS is completely devoid of entertainment value, and even if the game largely involves plenty of unscientific scrambling to get the ball up to your strikers so that they can unleash a curling 20-yarder, when they go in it’s still pretty satisfying. And with matches generally being tense, frantic and short affairs, you can certainly find yourself stringing a few games together at a time and having reasonable fun doing so. Ultimately, though, you can say the same thing about a lot of football games, and the novelty appeal of SWOS doesn’t offer enough of an incentive to fully exploit what the career mode has to offer.

Chances are that most people with an interest in computer football have experienced Sensible Soccer in some form. Those who’ve already played it will know how they feel, and the vast majority will probably find themselves getting sucked back in given the chance. SWOS is certainly the definitive version, and if you like the gameplay there’s plenty of competition options to keep you going. Personally, I’ve never got on with it (although I did find it mildly diverting this time around) and suspect that its classic status owes a lot to nostalgic memories of entire evenings wasted huddled around an Amiga indulging in some multiplayer. There’s nothing wrong with that, I suppose: I doubt I would look back on Puma or TOCA in quite the same way had I just played them in a darkened room on my own. But anyone reared on a diet of FIFA and Pro Evolution will probably wonder what all the fuss was about.