It’s the Euros! The final! And England are in it!

As usual, the real football created a hankering for some virtual football, and so, in time-honoured tradition, I dug out whatever modern-ish football games I bought last time there was a tournament on and failed terribly at them.

I’m not sure when exactly I went from being the (self-declared) Pro Evo master to the kind of person who sticks it on the middle difficulty setting and still finds the whole thing bafflingly slow and fiddly.

(But I think some time around this point might have been where it all started to go wrong).

Anyway, ahead of the Euro 2020(1) final, it seems like a good time to take a brief look a bit further back at the history of European Championship tie-in games.

European Championship 1992

Goooooal! (etc.)

While it’s altogether a less significant affair than the World Cup, it’s still a surprise that the first game based on the European Championship didn’t come out until 1992.

Not that it has much in the way of official licensing, or indeed any frills at all. The roster of teams doesn’t match the real tournament, and there are no player names.

As we shall see, tournament-based games tend to be based on an existing release, a reasonable strategy given their limited shelf life. I thought this unheralded oldie might be an exception, but apparently it too is effectively an update of an older game, Tecmo World Cup.

A side-scrolling arcade title, the PC in 1992 wasn’t perhaps its natural home, and your correspondent’s periodic attempts to play it for review have, to this point, always been abandoned at an early stage.

Euro 96

I couldn’t play this one for long without unearthing historic Actua Soccer rage.

With the tournament in England, it made sense for the official game to be provided by an English studio, Sheffield based Gremlin Interactive, who had recently stood up to the might of the big-budget FIFA series with the critically-acclaimed Actua Soccer.

Euro 96 was less well received, however, and was the subject of some confusing to-ing and fro-ing from PC Zone, who secured an exclusive review and gave it a lukewarm score, only to issue an addendum and apology to readers, explaining that it was based on unfinished code, and that a new review, based on the finished game, would follow.

When it did, the game received exactly the same score as before, with the review reiterating all of its original criticisms.

Zone were fans of the original Actua Soccer though, while the position of this humble site is that it is one of the worst old footy games we’ve covered over the years. As such, we’ve not been in a rush to catch up with this one.

EA takes over (Euro 2000-2008)

Euro 2004

Electronic Arts finally got their grubby hands on the license in 2000, and began producing tie-ins that were broadly in line with their previous FIFA game.

The early part of the decade was a low period for the FIFA series, however, with EA’s football games lagging behind Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer.

EA’s games did introduce the qualifying campaigns into their games, extending their lifespan, and allowing fans of nations that hadn’t qualified to get their team into the tournament.

In general though, footy in the mid-00s meant Pro Evo, and its superiority on the pitch proved more than enough to make up for the lack of official frippery.

By the time of Euro 2008, FIFA on the Xbox 360/PS3 was actually getting better, but PC owners got a converted and mildly-polished version of the inferior PS2 version instead.

Hello DLC (2012-)

PES 2016/Euro 2016 (official press shot as I only have this on 360!)

For a period, whenever gamers bemoaned the fact that tournament licenses were an excuse for the likes of EA to charge full price for essentially the same game as their last one, the suggestion of cut-price data discs was occasionally made as an alternative.

Eventually, this came to pass in the form of the modern equivalent, DLC. For the first time, in 2012, FIFA 12 owners could purchase a content pack for the summer tournament and no standalone title was released. (Although they did revert to a separate game for the 2014 World Cup).

From 2016, the rights switched to Konami and Pro Evo/PES, although the DLC idea persisted, with the additional content provided for free to existing owners of the game.

Your correspondent played this 2016 edition most recently, managing to successfully recreate the ignominy of the real-life England team at that tournament by losing 2-1 to Iceland in the knockout stages.