Written by: Rik

Date posted: August 5, 2001


The graphics look best when zoomed in, but you can’t really see what’s going on.

The story of football games on the PC has long been a sorry one. Even now, the style-over-substance FIFA series represents the best of a tawdry bunch (Update: Pro Evolution Soccer has now secured a PC release – and yes, it rocks), the rest falling desperately short of the mark. It was largely the same story in late 1997. On the one hand there was FIFA: Road to the World Cup, the first half-decent game in the series, and the basis (with a few tweaks) for the annual update ever since, and on the other you had the also-rans. Actua Soccer 2, FIFA’s main competitor, was championed for its fast, easy to pick up style, and boasted a wealth of options and customisable tournaments. Unfortunately, it was a farcical representation of the good sport, with players haring around the pitch at ridiculous speeds, taking it in turn to bend in shots from impossible distances. Other notably forgettable titles included the latest in the Kick Off and Sensible Soccer series; the former was rubbish, and the latter was far too easy.

So, what could most PC-owning footy lovers do? Well, most of them turned back to Sensible World of Soccer, a phenomenon that surely ranks as one of the most puzzling in gaming history. Even in these times of Pro Evolution enlightenment, people are still occasionally overheard championing the virtues of SWOS. If you should ever come across one of these crackpots, ignore them. Kick Off 2, Sensible Soccer‘s main competitor over ten years ago, is still a better game, ditto every other football game released since then.

Blasting a penalty wide. Notice how the player and goalkeeper are both moving in the opposite direction to the ball.

For those of us not overly enamoured with the prospect of playing a sub-standard Amiga conversion (tiny graphics, jittery and uncontrollable gameplay – I mean, c’mon! Is it just me?) there seemed little other option but to accept our football-free fate. But desperate times occasionally call for desperate measures, and a chance encounter with Puma World Football at PC World (Lincoln branch) sent me scrabbling for my wallet. In truth it was a marginal purchase; in fact all the warning signs were there (no reviews, low price, 2D graphics evident in screenshots) but it proved to be one of the best tenners I ever spent. It isn’t perfect and it isn’t a totally accurate representation of football, but it is a thoroughly enjoyable game which in terms of playability offers as much entertainment as the latest EA cash-ins.

In terms of presentation and gloss, it’s nothing to write home about. A side-on affair, Puma‘s graphics are solid rather than spectacular. A sprite-based game, it remains free from the glitches and motion-capture problems of its 3D counterparts. Everything is clearly defined and there’s a clean and crisp edge to proceedings, with the result that everything runs smoothly on the most modestly-powered Pentium. The sound is rather more functional, with the pleasant background music that plays on the menu screens arguably the high point. The crowd noises are rather generic and tinny, and streamed rather inefficiently directly from the CD, resulting in a curiously delayed reaction to the in-game drama, most notably goals. As for the commentary, chances are you’ll find it to be either irritatingly crap or reasonably (although unintentionally) amusing. The voice talent is provided by Sky Sports guru Martin Tyler and some other bloke constantly referred to as John (although curiously, a look at the manual reveals his name to be something completely different), and they both sound like they’re reading from a script (which, of course, they are).

You have to find your team on the map before you can select them. For Manchester United fans, here’s a clue.

Initially, games can prove frustrating as it seems impossible to score: it’s reasonably easy to get through on goal, but once you’re there there’s very little chance you’ll beat the ‘keeper. However, a little perseverance gradually reveals a number of different routes to goal, including headers and volleys, which have proved difficult to implement realistically in numerous other titles. On the easiest difficulty level, you’ll soon be banging goals in from all angles, and having fun doing it, too, until you start to win every game. When you crank up the computer skill, things get a little more tricky and you have to refine your game somewhat.

However, at all levels it’s still possible to play a varied style of football – you can pass it around on the floor, boot it long into the corners, or place the emphasis on using the wide players. While the range of actual button-presses is restricted to the limited pass/shoot/chip selection, the moves are themselves quite versatile and can all be used in different situations to good effect. For example, you can play quite effective long-balls using the shoot button in your own half, and the chip can also serve as a handy through-ball.

Bizarrely, indoor football is also offered. It isn’t really much cop, though. So now you know.

Hardcore football fans may scoff at some of Puma‘s idiosyncrasies: for a start, it’s virtually impossible to play effectively using any formation other than 4-3-3, not exactly in regular use throughout world football. And, as I’ve hinted at already, the method of goalscoring is not always conventional; usually you rely on your wingers to cut in and punt it in the corner, or else seize on one of the frequent goalmouth scrambles using the formidable volley feature. In addition, the team line-ups are not desperately accurate (although you can edit them) and there are no international teams, just club sides. And, sadly, it does get all too easy rather quickly, and by the time you’ve mastered it, even on the top difficulty level, the computer teams won’t even get a look in.

But never mind all that. At the end of the day you’re left with a game that isn’t far off the mark which owes its limited lifespan, if anything, to the player’s interest level remaining consistently high. With a host of leagues and cups on offer, plus the chance to create your own, and a decent multi-player option, Puma has no small degree of depth. Sure, eventually you’ll get bored and move on, especially if you want the complete football experience, but to get anything approaching that you’ll have to get a PlayStation and a copy of Pro Evolution. You certainly won’t get that with Puma, but it remains a solid and playable effort that was sadly overlooked at the time of its release.