Written by: Rik

Date posted: March 17, 2007

No motion-captured hugging and kissing when you score a goal here - just a firm handshake and back to the halfway line. Which is how it should be.

We may have mentioned this before on FFG, but people who want to play old football games are quite a rare breed. Sensible Soccer aside, you rarely find gamers pining for ‘the golden age’ of football games, when chunkily-rendered 2D sprites ran about aimlessly chasing one hopeful punt after another, with human players struggling to gain even a basic level of control over the ball, while the computer mixed illogical passing moves and violent fouls with infuriatingly brilliant bits of skill. You see, we now have the likes of Pro Evolution Soccer, which is so far ahead of anything else out there that there almost seems little point in even considering anything else. If you want realism and up-to-date squads – and most football fans do – then you’re best served by heading down to GAME right now and forking across 30 notes for the latest in the series. But then you probably knew that already.

To put it another way, though hundreds of football titles have been released over the years, there aren’t really very many ‘hidden gems’ among them that we can usefully dig up and recommend. As someone who’s bought and played most footy games from the past 15 years, the only game that has ever come close to meeting that description is Puma World Soccer ’98, a fine game and one of the earliest additions to FFG. Generally, though, while some oldies may have some good ideas and interesting features, there’s nothing out there that’s going to drag football-loving gamers away from their PS2 or Xbox.

The goalkeepers are surprisingly adept - they don't tend to dive around much, though.

Total Soccer is a relatively recent game, but it’s one that harks back to the days of fast-paced top down fun rather than trying to take on the big boys such as FIFA. While it was fairly well received on release, it nevertheless attracted a few negative comments to the effect that it was a ‘poor-man’s Sensible Soccer’. Not only is that quite a lazy description, it’s not terribly accurate, and Sensi aficionados will find little familiar to them in Total Soccer other than the top-down view.

In reality, Total Soccer more closely resembles an up-to-date version of the old Dino Dini favourites such as Goal! and Kick Off 2, and fans of those games will soon be at home here. Though these games were once considered the cream of football gaming, they never were the most refined of titles, and anyone expecting to have time on the ball to play a cultured passing game is going to be disappointed. The players hare around the pitch at a hundred miles an hour, rarely in control of the ball, and while it is possible to put a few good passing moves together, success is largely dependent on hoofing it up to your strikers in the hope that they can go on a mazy run past the remaining defenders and smash it into the back of the net. That said, Total Soccer does feature one minor innovation by including separate ‘pass’ and ‘shoot’ buttons, as opposed to the one-button simplicity of the old Amiga classics. While it’s hardly a groundbreaking step, to be fair it does add an extra dimension to the gameplay, allowing you to occasionally keep a lid on the frenzied action by attempting to slow the game down and keep the ball.

You can view replays in 3D - a nice touch, though some of the player graphics do look a little bit silly at times.

Though the gameplay is straight out of 1991, presentation-wise, at least, Total Soccer is somewhat more up-to-date. The graphics, while simple, are crisp and at a reasonable resolution, zipping about at a decent rate on all but the most ancient PCs without any help from a 3D card – unless you still happen to have a Voodoo-based card in your machine, in which case you can enjoy whatever extra visual goodies are packed into the 3dfx version (unfortunately I can’t tell you what they are myself, although given the functional style of the game I wouldn’t expect anything too spectacular). The sound, meanwhile, is pretty low-key, with the crowd seemingly too bored to make much noise unless there’s some kind of goalmouth incident. Still, any kind of commentary would be out a place in a game like this, and given Total Soccer‘s budget-conscious approach, it would probably have involved one of the programmers having a bash at it during his lunch break. And no-one wants that.

All-in-all, Total Soccer is very good at what it does. While it may not be the complete or up-to-date football package that most people are looking for, it’s well put together and provides a few minutes of frenetic fun now and again. If you can find someone else to play against, it could be a fixture on your hard drive for some time, while in single-player, the computer puts up a decent enough challenge, and there are plenty of league and cup options to keep you going for a little while at least.

This game being from 1998, Leeds are a) in the Premiership and b) quite a good team. Which is nice for me personally.

Despite my relatively hard-nosed attitude to nostalgia and sports games, I nevertheless enjoyed the odd game off Kick Off 2 as a young gamer, and I’d be lying if I said that the few hours I spent playing Total Soccer didn’t bring some happy memories flooding back. Though it may be considered sacrilege to admit it here, I have to say that the nostalgia trip was made more palatable by the crisper graphics and sound present here, and not once did I pine for any of the original top-down games to which Total Soccer clearly owes a huge debt. The bottom line is, if you really, absolutely must play a fast-paced, top-down football game, you may as well play this one.