Written by: Rik

Date posted: October 8, 2007


If you play in the 1958 tournament, you get black-and-white graphics.

We’ve all played a few really crappy games in our time, but generally our policy on FFG is to try not to write about them. While there may be a certain amount of mileage to be gained from giving them a damn good slagging, gleefully describing their glitches, bugs and gaping holes in the gameplay while at the same time congratulating yourself on your awesome intellectual might and rapier-like wit, it has to be said that the logic behind dredging up an old, forgotten about game and telling everyone that it’s been surpassed and isn’t worth playing is somewhat flawed. Besides, if you’re going to spend your own hard-earned cash on eBay to buy back a game that you’ve already bought and sold once already, and then spend your evenings and weekends ignoring your friends and loved ones while forcing yourself to do something you don’t even enjoy just so you can post something humorous about it on your mostly-ignored web-site, then, frankly, the joke’s on you.

Anyway, as a quick glance will indicate, Viva Football isn’t very good at all. It’s ugly, dated and buggy, absolutely nothing like real football, and almost entirely devoid of entertainment value. Writing these words gives me very little pleasure (although slightly more than actually playing the game itself), mainly because I did actually think it would be quite an interesting one to cover. With football games generally being an excuse to churn out another seasonal update, anything that makes an attempt to do something a little bit different has to be worth a mention. Clearly, as EA know all too well, football fans are pretty eager to shell out for the latest stuff, be it a replica shirt with a different sponsor on the front or a FIFA game that’s virtually identical to the last one. But while the obsession with the most current and up-to-date shirts and squads is certainly where the obvious money lies, football fans are also pretty big on nostalgia – I mean, ferchrissakes, England won the World Cup once, on home soil, more than forty years ago, and people in this country are still banging on about it at every opportunity.

Chaos in the England area. No one seems that interested in the ball though.

This is exactly where Viva Football is coming from. Its release was accompanied by quite a high-profile advertising campaign which showcased the game’s ability to let you go back and right the wrongs of previous World Cup campaigns – particularly the heavily romanticised ‘heroic’ defeats to superior footballing nations which England seem to specialise in during major tournaments. It’s actually not a bad idea, and with accurate kits and squads from 1958-1998 and qualifying included as well if you so wish (meaning you can help your chosen nation to a tournament they didn’t actually compete in – hello USA ’94) there’s certainly a lot of content in there.

All of that’s fairly meaningless if the game itself isn’t up to scratch though, and sadly, that’s the case here. Memories can be hazy things, but I do actually recall having quite a bit of fun with this first time around, playing through several tournaments with different teams from different eras. Even allowing for the fact that years of playing various Pro Evolution Soccer titles must have significantly raised my expectation levels, it seems inexplicable that I, or anyone else, could ever have gleaned any enjoyment from playing this game, with any vaguely positive sentiments I had retained over the years disappearing roughly ten minutes after shoving the CD in the drive.

Aesthetically, it’s not the most pleasing game, and once you’ve made your way through some fairly grainy video footage introducing your chosen tournament, the in-game graphics certainly show their age. The player models are fairly solid, although I did find their virtual knees disconcertingly bulky (okay, perhaps this is just a personal thing). Disappointingly, though, they’re also rather devoid of detail, with all players looking more or less the same, save for the colour of their hair or skin, – they’re all the same height, move and run in the same way and have very few distinguishing features. This may be understandable given the game’s age, but it’s a shame that in a title designed to recreate legendary World Cup moments, the superstars remain mostly anonymous – although admittedly Maradona’s 1986 mullet is present and correct.

The penalty system is pretty rubbish.

The greats are unlikely to stand out due to any great skill or fancy footwork either, with your own attempts largely scuppered by the fiddly control system and sloppy game dynamics. In an effort to try and give you lots of options on the ball, Viva makes use of eight joypad buttons (or keys on the keyboard – but then you’re really buggered) but even the most straightforward ones – such as passing and shooting – don’t really work properly. With ground passing a haphazard affair, the best option is to hoof it forward at every opportunity and hope one of your players eventually comes away with the ball. If you do manage to fashion an opening, shooting is also fairly random, and though you do theoretically have control over power and direction, your player will usually do one of three things: 1) smash the ball into the stratosphere, several miles high/wide of the goal; 2) smash the ball towards the goal, only for the goalkeeper to make an improbable save, catching the ball cleanly as if he had applied superglue to his gloves; or 3) unleash a pitiful attempt on goal which floats harmlessly into the ‘keeper’s waiting hands. Frustrating? Oh yes.

The AI teams fare no better, with aimless passes and bizarre goal attempts from unlikely distances/angles commonplace, and the net result is that there’s virtually no chance of you recreating any memorable pieces of World Cup magic with this game. In fact, the general level of incompetence on display calls to mind a schoolyard kickabout rather than an international tournament, with players haring around mindlessly after the ball only to give away possession as soon as they get it. And while we’re on the subject, the general impression of amateurishness is compounded by a noticeable lack of atmosphere, with crowd noises and reactions seemingly coming from a different match across the street. There’s no commentary, either, and as much as it shouldn’t matter, it’s another reason the essential ‘big-match’ feeling is sadly missing.

One of the game’s buttons lets you throw a punch. It takes a bit of practice to connect with one, but once you do – er, well you get sent off. Obviously.

Of course, not everyone has the budget for such things, but they could at least have paid the BBC’s Mark ‘Lawro’ Lawrenson to record his habitual assertion that a game has ‘0-0 written all over it’ seeing as that accurately describes the vast majority of games in Viva. While goals are a possibility, they usually come out of nothing – which is irritating when the computer comes up with an uncharacteristically good bit of play, and it also makes it difficult to get excited when your own efforts hit the back of the net.

There’s a whole load of other bad things we could mention – the disjointed animations, the stupid system for free kicks and penalties, the way the referee blows the whistle right in the middle of a potential goalscoring opportunity – but I’m pretty sure you’ve got the gist by now. As for good things, well, there is the fact that you can control your own goal celebrations, which is actually quite a fun feature that the big boys could do with adapting. The main positive, though, is the idea – the historical angle – and it could still make for a great game. Unfortunately, Viva Football isn’t it, but with EA looking for excuses to churn out more than one FIFA a year, they could do a lot worse than take this idea and run with it.