Written by: Rik

Date posted: February 26, 2012

It’s a throw in, John.

I used to love Kick Off 2. Before the mighty Pro Evolution Soccer came on the scene, it had been the source of my only other significant fake footballing rivalry. The opponent in those days was my dear ol’ Dad, and although the parameters of a father-son relationship dictated that matters be conducted with a certain level of reserved politeness, the battle for supremacy was rarely lacking in intensity. It’s too long ago now to remember the specifics, but I seem to recall we were fairly evenly matched, and regular encounters were sustained for long enough to wear out a series of Konix Navigators. And there was one thing we definitely agreed on: Kick Off 2 was much, much better than Sensible Soccer.

Without wanting to open up an age-old debate, the main bone of contention for Kick Off fans was that while the new kid on the block might have brought a slightly more considered pace to its matches, it nevertheless omitted the ability to trap the ball – which, for any football game that eschews the ‘foot-glued-to-the-ball’ approach (as favoured by modern titles), is pretty darn essential if you want to feel like you have any control over proceedings. In Kick Off 2, you can press a button to bring the ball under control and either play a pass or resume dribbling. In Sensible Soccer, you can’t.

Still, I’d be no better than those myopic Sensi-lovers if I made the claim that Kick Off 2 represented anything vaguely resembling the real game of football. I don’t even remember thinking that was true at the time, if I’m honest, and to revisit it now is to witness scenes of near-anarchy, with players running around like blue-arsed flies, dribbling at death-defying speeds, and dispatching shots goalwards with bullet-like precision. That’s the computer players only, of course, with the bewildering pace at which affairs are conducted requiring some considerable adjustment for even the most seasoned former KO veteran, and my own early attempts at a kickabout while revisiting the game highlighted an abject lack of competency.

It’s in the back of net, John.

With time, though, the old magic returned. Dulled reflexes were forced to sharpen themselves once more, and, allied to the requisite nimble-finger skills, a level of control over tackling, dribbling and passing was soon restored. It felt good. And, whatever you might say about how football games today are vastly superior to these old ‘classics’ (and if you’re saying such things, you’re right, of course), there’s still no beating the feeling of lumping a long ball over the top of the defence for a pacy attacker to run onto and control with a couple of touches, before bending a shot past the goalkeeper with plenty of after-touch. Yes, it was like it was 1991 all over again.

At least, that was my experience with the Atari ST version of the game, which was loaded onto an emulator with some haste after mere minutes spent with this dire PC port, which superficially represents the game I once knew and loved, but at the same time lacks virtually every redeeming feature it ever had, leaving only a depressing, shoddy mess that no-one in their right mind would ever want to play. The chief culprit is the complete absence of after-touch (ie the ability to curve long passes and shots once the ball has left your player’s foot) – which, as we’ve already mentioned, is a key aspect of goalscoring in the other 16-bit versions of the game.

Apparently, the original Kick Off didn’t have after-touch either, with the feature first being introduced in the otherwise content-light expansion pack Kick Off: Extra Time. I seem to remember it was quite well received anyway, which is a bit of a mystery if this game is anything to go by, as its absence removes a major attacking weapon from your armoury, reducing you to fairly haphazard attempts from the corner of the area. Upon returning, reluctantly, to the game at hand, having reassured myself of the ST version’s enduring qualities, I’m sorry to say that the only consistently successful attacking strategy was for my striker to head the ball into the air direct from a goal kick, and then continue heading the ball to himself until he was close enough to head it into the net. Despite the farcical nature of such efforts, on the rare occasions they were successful, they nevertheless prompted the usual verbal outpourings of joy, representing rare bright moments in an otherwise distressing annihilation of childhood memories.

That’s a foul, John. And a yellow card.

Aside from the one significant omission already identified, though, it’s difficult to say specifically why else this PC version is so poor. It seems to be afflicted by odd glitches – occasionally players suddenly become incapable of running, for example, and simply lurk in midfield, lurching around at walking pace, no good to anyone – but generally there’s just that feeling that something isn’t quite right. In the AV department, sound is mainly conspicuous by its absence, with little in the way of crowd noise, and the rest restricted to occasional phutts and peeps. The graphics, on the other hand, are a slight improvement on the ST’s plain green pitch and wireframe goals, but most likely inferior to the Mr-Smuggy-Smug-Smug Amiga version. (Well, it would be the best version, wouldn’t it? Amiga jerks, think they’re so great…)

On top of all that, you then have the problems shared by all versions of the game: the pinball nature of the games; the perils of using one button to trap, pass, tackle and shoot (mainly that you don’t always do what you intended to do); the curiously automated free-kicks and unfathomable corner system; and the extremely limited league and cup options, essentially amounting to one of each, featuring a small selection of international teams boasting players with made-up names.

It’s a menu screen, John.

To return to my words at the beginning of the review: I used to love Kick Off 2. And its charms, though limited, still remain today – but sadly not in the version covered here. Were I permitted to wallow in nostalgia about the game on my once-beloved ST, I would gladly do so (and shoehorn in some more snide digs at Sensible Soccer along the way). But, we’re a PC-only site, and as things stand, the PC versions of Sensi are less rubbish than the PC version of this. Boo!

(But wait! There is another…)