Pro Evolution Soccer 2015 is released this coming Friday, and is heralded as the first true challenger to Fifa’s modern day footballing crown. So what better way to celebrate than to grab that wonderful man CJ from the equally wonderful Twin Humanities and spout some words about our obsessions with the games of the beautiful game from years gone by.
A TALE OF TWO CITIES
Anyway, yeah I’m a Cov fan. Blame my Dad, he’s from Coventry so it was a kinda pre-requisite. That said, I’ve not ‘followed’ them for years now, the crushing inevitability of lower-mid-table finishes can grind down your enthusiasm. Now days, it’s a check of the scores at the weekend and a glance at the League Table – the only time I’ve been to the Ricoh was to watch Bon Jovi – when it was cheaper to go watch Aston Villa (and at the time, I lived a mere 15 minutes from Villa Park), Premiership football is a bit more enticing than a scrappy 0 – 0 draw.
My Dad’s side of the family is from Nottingham, my Mum’s Manchester. I’d regularly go watching Notts County with Pops, while Uncles Red & Blue vied for favour whenever I spent time up North.
I say ‘vied’, but both Uncles were bonkers about football. In the days before the beautiful game was splattered all over the telly, each would go and see the other’s team on weeks when schedules didn’t collide. There was certainly banter there,don’t get me wrong, but both knew the other side of the Manchester’s lot inside out – and even as a blighter I got the feeling that 3pm on a Saturday was something of a pleasure come the end of the working week.
So I’d go and watch City lead by my Uncle Peter, while Uncle Michael would take me to see United. Neither team were particularly successful at this point, the reds under Ron Atkinson, City under .. I can’t remember who City were under – Billy McNeal maybe? I saw a fair few managers come and go under the tenure of Chairman Peter Swailes, a Fagan like Victorian villain, a world of comb-over and sparkling hairspray residue.
Then a little wonky alchemy happened.
My folks split up and most weekends were spent in Manchester. Red Uncle joined the RAF and I started to see City more. I think my adorations for the blues were forging even at this point though, which may purely have been down to Peter being one of the two Uncles who bought me a pie at half time. A pie full of steam more than meat & potato if I remember rightly, but there was a certain magic to watching that first bite burst into the cold November air of a Maine Road afternoon.
Segue into gaming, and probably my first love of footie games at home, I inherited Michael’s Subbuteo set.
I knelt on too many players, gluing them back to their bases and leaving them to dry against my bookcase, where their slight lean back and clear bulbous blob over their boots showed signs of injury far worse than the modern footballer.
I played with that set to pieces, and while I didn’t have the little stadium posh Ben across the road had built for him by his model train loving Dad, I got game, and the well-to-do lad barely won a match.
When videogames arrived, the addiction continued, and then stopped in the modern day. So Gav and I were talking about the new PES. I mentioned that it was going to be the first footie game I’ve bought in years, and we got to talking about classics from days gone by.
Hence, here’s a few favourites from both sides of the fence.
The first Football game I can remember playing was International Soccer on the C64.
This was on a cartridge…absolutely the most high tech thing at the time (waaaay before I even knew what a NES was), no loading times, 9 skill levels, a selection of kit colours and 6 v 6 games, the height of footballing simulation for the mid-80’s. I was never cool enough to be gifted with a C64 (had to make do with an Atari 65XE) so I played this on brief visits to my cousins…and they didn’t even like it…and injustice really.
Similarly the next game I remember was Kick Off 2, being a loser with an Atari meant I never had this game myself, it was another cousin who would show me the delights that 512 kB of memory could bring to a football game. Leagues, knockout tournaments, penalty shoot outs, multiple referees with different temperaments…this game was -the- shit. A radar to make up for only being able to see an eighth of the pitch at a time, gorgeous smooth animation…the teams even lined up at the start of each match, a nice touch. World Cup Italia ’90 on the Mega Drive took a lot of influence from this game, incredibly similar in the game play and graphics terms…but unfortunately, the developers forgot to bring any of the smooth, quick gameplay with it. Not that 10 year old me cared about that, many hours were lost to this game. Italia had this wonderful *pumpfth* sound effect whenever you hit the ball, one of those sound effects, like the Doom shotgun that sticks heavy in my memory. So at least it gave me that.
Along side the myriad of FIFA games from the 16 – bit era, there was the understated glory of International Super Star Soccer, one I’ve wrote about before on this very blog, but the game deserves constant mention for bringing a lot of the features you expect in a football game to the fold first. My favorite (and one that seems to have dropped by the way side) is the sublime scenario mode. Essentially a series of challenges, the game drops you into a pre-set narrative – Sweden area 3-1 down to Brazil with 70 minutes gone, can you pull it back? Each with their own difficulty. A great mode to add a little spice to the game. The big thing for me, especially since for me, like fighting games, football is best played with friends in the same room. Since I’m now old and time for games is scarce between work and family, a scenario mode would add a reason to play a football game in single player…FIFA’s be a pro mode sorta sedated this for a bit, but it lacks the drama of an underdog come back.
Speaking of FIFA…the one game I’ve put more time into any football game is the glory that was FIFA 97. Released at the height of my footballing fandom: Euro ’96 had just broken all our hearts, Coventry were still holding on in the Prem and Dion Dublin was cementing his legacy as the most underrated player the league had ever seen…FIFA 97 encapsulated all of this in a polished, David Ginola branded package. Before we all got used to having Sky Sports style presentation on our games and Geoff Shreeves touch line reports, this was the first game to try and emulate that. Des Lynam intro to each match and a tag team of John Motson and Andy Grey spitting football related poetry in your ears – this was, by 1996 standards, an interactive Match of the Day. The best part of it all (other than the great indoor mode) was the fact that at any time, with almost any player, you could position yourself around 15ft to the left of the center circle and launch a shot on goal that would without fail, go bouncing into the goal – all possible due to some absolutely awful collision detection, but never the less fun. The game wasn’t the best football sim out on the PSOne at the time, that award goes to Actua Soccer 2 which was by far a more competent take on the game (and importantly, it had a scenario mode…so…it wins), but FIFA enticed me with its shiny presentation.
But then FIFA really turned into the behemoth it is today. Iterations of FIFA between 08-12 were all fantastic games. Friends and myself played them so much we’d have to invent games inside the game…Keepers…’The Robot’ (score 5 unanswered goals and get to use the brilliant Robot Dance celebration that went on FOREVER). But the one that stands out for innovation was Euro 2008. Normally, I’d ignore the tournament specials, they’re usually just rebranded versions of that years FIFA with a few graphical touches, but Euro 2008 was different, it had the ‘key player’ that added a little arcade-y feel to it. Basically, this feature would kick into life if you were trailing in the last 20 minutes of the game. One of your main players, be it Rooney, Gerrard, Robben, Torres etc, would get a boost to their skills allowing them to score those dramatic, last ditch 28 yard screamers. It brought a bit of drama to those last moments, the desperate feeling of ‘I’ve got to get the ball to Gerrard’, knowing you might just snatch victory if you get him in the right place and unleash a shot. The game itself wasn’t too special, a bug drenched version of that years FIFA, but that feature was something I wish EA expanded on instead of ‘player emotion’ or whatever marketing guff they came up with this year. It also featured the most terrifying representations of each countries’ manager:
Sensible World of Soccer
To my mind the best footie game ever made, and easily my most played videogame ever.
I started out on the Amiga version, which at the time seemed wonderfully difficult, and it took ages to truly shape a side.
I recall taking a team up from the old Division 4 to Division 2, couldn’t afford to bring in the players I wanted to, and those on the sidelines were really not up to snuff. As much as I wanted to do fancy-schmancy attacking wingplay, I was relegated to a lot of longball to punt play up from classy defenders to decent attackers, while bypassing the rest of the team. Grinding out results as best I could to get the most out of what was – and wasn’t – available.
A dance with the bottom three just avoided weeks away from the end of that particular season. The year after mid-table security. 12 months later brought a play-off appearance, from which I think I lost in the final. The campaign after saw me finally running away with the league, to then go up to Division 1 to go through the entire cycle all over again, with every glittering stress and exhilaration amplified by facing a daunting class of opposition.
Utterly engrossing, a wonderful slog at times, infusing an inkling of most Managers experiences, as well as being an absolutely belting game of footie.
Take than on a further notch and into the truly astonishing, where enough time, effort and skill could see you taking the likes of a Mansfield Town to the final of the European Cup! As to whether you win it, mind you, is another thing entirely.
I remember one final where the Division 4 side I’d taken into Europe headlined alongside Barcelona. I was battered throughout 90 minutes, they were faster than my lot, cannoning shots in from all angles and distances, but somehow my goalkeeper had risen to Godhood, and, alongside all manner of last ditch sliding tackles, somehow the ball stayed out.
Extra Time and Barca’s torrent continued, my players were knackered, my prayers laced up with 3 subs sent on to replace the brave and the broken. Then, just before the end of the first half of extra time, a long ball punted up towards their goal, a shot swerved and .. 1-0.
I was winning.
Desperate moments thereafter of thrash-metal-kickdrum-heartbeat and copious amounts of sweat weeping from my palms, to be wiped upon jeans upon every blow of the Ref’s whistle, before returning to held breath and renewed focus.
We won. I screamed the place down. My neighbour gave my door a courtesy knock to see if I was alright. It was amazing. BLOODY SENSI!
Beyond the amazing game, the management side was a joy. For the longest time – and perhaps even now – the only game where near every league in the world was represented.
Taking over my beloved Manchester City was too easy. The fun was in becoming manager of a team in the bottom rung of the leagues. Eyeing the team through early games, and sticking everyone on the transfer list who wasn’t up to snuff – which was mostly players without a rating for speed in their 3 attribute skillset.
Having a small transfer kitty from the club, plus monies accrued from sales, inspired trawling in the lower divisions of world leagues looking for a bargain with the potential to make a difference. To grab a lad in, say, the Japanese second division, and see him start to smash goals in was a real rush – and made foraging for further gems quite the addiction.
Beyond the Amiga version came the PC iteration, which on the face of it was faster, and a bit easier. I’m not sure if that was because of the added speed, the team doing the conversion or if I’d now become rather good at the game. The big difference was Jonathan Pearce’s commentary.
Pearce’s BBC career hadn’t started at this point, instead plying his trade on commercial radio. His Sensi commentary was equal parts verve and pantomime, chipped in at applicable moments, and each was a belter. Tickling way beyond modern day Martin Tyler-Alan Smith robo-patter, Pearce’s bullet-points barbs a world of purposeful clichés, designed to make you giggle more than anything, with the likes of “HAS TO BE!?! OOOooOoOooh IT’S OFF THE POST!!!” surprisingly never veering into tiresome.
I have to admit I’d commentate alongside Pearce as I played – my team .. um .. seemed to play better when this happened (THEY DID!) – harking back to those days I’d play myself at Subbuteo as a blighter.
I still play Sensible World Of Soccer on Xbox 360. The Live Arcade iteration looks a touch prettier, but is still the same brilliant game it’s always been. In my current run I took a minnow to the top of the league, left for my beloved Manchester City, where I won everything and departed a legend.
I went to Italy, taking over at AC Milan, decided to sell all their most expensive players in an added bit of story about corruption at the club [this was in my own head and commentary, mind, not actually in the game], then joined Fiorentina and had them nibbling at the top of the table, whilst not being quite good enough to top it. Yet.
I wish Sensible World Of Soccer was still a thing. I have no desire for swanky 3D cutscenes, real players or any of that guff – but a swizzy top down game, with a few tweaks and improvements, stadiums packed and buzzing, a ton of quirks and character. I think it would be amazing.
That no indie studio has thought of having a pop at this plain baffles me. I reckon there’s a market for it, and I’d genuinely love to see it happen.
As for an actual new Sensible World Of Soccer, I reckon Codemasters have all forgotten all about it. A massive, massive shame
And that’s ya part one. Get back here for part two coming very soon where CJ dives head first into the glory of Dino Dini and Gav divulges a horrid addiction.
*Header image stolen lovingly from The wonderful ‘Sensible Software 1986-1999‘ by Read Only Memory