It Seems Like It Was Only Yesterday that Andy Cole was the one centre forward that Terry Venables simply had to pick for the England team. Now, just a few short months later, it's Les Ferdinand. Which seems to indicate that all you have to do is join the much-hyped Geordie funsters to become the best centre forward in the land, and have the press howling on your behalf.
Similarly, it seems like only yesterday that the majority of the computer games press were howling about how the cross-format advent of FIFA Soccer was only slightly less world-shattering an event than the second coming of the Messiah. And yet this year, nobody seems to give a stuff about the latest version of FIFA. One reason for this is International Superstar Soccer, a game on the snes which pissed all over the first version of FIFA, and which has just been released in a Deluxe, mega ninja bastard version that makes it the finest football game on the planet bar none and wraps up the console market, in one fell swoop consigning every other console football game to oblivion (a town in Ecuador).
In the pc area, though, for all the fuss generated by some of the games released over the last year or so. there was still very little choice: Sensible Soccer, with its occasionally dodgy scrolling, its distinctly retro graphics but simple and appealing gameplay, or FIFA, with its lush visuals, scrolling that simply couldn't keep up with the action and players who took your input, via the control device, as a starting point for negotiation rather than an absolute command. But now, finally, the pc has a decent football game to call its own-and Actua Soccer is that game.
Well, there's no point in dragging the thing out, is there? Actua Soccer is the best football game currently available on the pc. That's that, really. You don't even have to bother reading the rest of this review if you don't want to.
There's no one thing that makes it the best - it's a combination of factors. The graphics are good and the pitch swirls about to smoothly frame the action as you play, thanks to more cameras than the average outside broadcast unit. They don't blow your mind, they just do the job very well. The outfield players are based on motion-captured animations of Andy Sinton (don't let the idea of playing with teams made up of Frank Skinner lookalikes put you off) and Graham Hyde (which explains some of the tackles) while the goalkeepers are based on Chris Woods. (Insert your own Chris Woods joke here - try something along the lines of them never coming off the line, or letting in last minute goals in Cup Finals, or something like that.) Obviously, they had to get Messrs Sinton and Hyde to pretend they know what to do after scoring a goal for the celebration scenes, which is why they don't quite have the ring of authenticity.
Anyway, there are stacks of pre-set camera angles, including a good old isometric view, for you to watch the game from, some of which move automatically to frame the action. Most of them can also be adjusted up and down or zoomed in or out with the keypad. If none of these are quite right for you. however, there's also a very handy customisable one. When you combine the available camera angles with home stadia that differ from team to team, pitches that look different according to the weather conditions, and even a proper sky for you to gaze at during moments of solitary reverie, you can see that there are no problems on the graphics front.
Barry Davies: England's Number One
The sound is equally good. First of all there's the commentary, provided by the admirable Barry Davies. There are those who prefer John Motson, but then there are also people who like to buy their clothes in their local Woolworths and drink Carling Black Label. The majority of right-thinking people agree that Mr Davies is far and away the best commentator in the country - if nothing else, at least you get an opinion from him from time to time, and he doesn't suck up to the big clubs.
Needless to say. his commentary is the best of any arcade game, and is made more realistic for being slightly less event-driven than most: you get little whimsical asides and all-purpose comments scattered between the descriptions, which add a lot more authenticity to it all. But I should just mention the one little problem I found with the commentary - when you substitute someone in a game, you don't expect to hear their name again in the commentary afterwards. Still, eh?
The crowd noises, too. are good and go a long way to add that all important element, atmosphere. Excitement builds with the action and even really crap shots draw a collective "Aaaaaaaaagh!" of contempt. You can virtually hear them burping up their pre-match beer, chewing their cold, non-specific meat pies and sputtering their tepid Bovril up their noses when you decide to drop your virtual shorts and show them your Harley Davidson tattoo. (Blimey! It really must be bloody good! - Ed.)
As far as the variety of gameplay goes. Actua Soccer doesn't have as much to offer as some games, with nothing but national teams to choose from. Still, at least they're comprised of real players. There are league and Cup options, and of course friendlies. The league offers a fair degree of longevity, with the 44 teams being divided into three leagues depending more or less on world seedings (Brazil. Germany. Italy and the like in League A. England in League B. etc), with promotion and relegation at the end of each season.
It isn't perfect, though. There are a few minor faults that need working on. and hopefully the next version (if there is one) will do something about them. Firstly, the computer selects the player nearest the ball automatically for you. Tins isn't an unheard-of control method in a football game, but this particular example needs a bit of work: it's very frustrating when you want to make a tackle and the control flicks back and forth between two different players so you can't commit yourself with either.
There's also a problem with the "first time" facility. Basically, you can press a button in advance of receiving the ball and your player will hit a shot or pass first time. Unfortunately though, it's not entirely unknown for a button press intended for another player to 'carry over' to the next one. causing them to do something disastrous when you can least afford them to. And the goalies never really seem comfortable with shots that bounce on or about the six-yard line. (Obviously they're big men who seem to have trouble getting down to the low ones, which is what happens when you pick Chris Woods.) It's almost like they're just too busy being well-animated to move quickly enough to make the save.
Still, musn't grumble
But these things are but minor irritants when compared to the fact that the pc finally has a graphically strong, aurally entertaining and very playable arcade football game. No seriously, it has, Honest. Try it and see if we're wrong.
Download Actua Soccer
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode
Actua Soccer Screenshots and Media
- FIFA 97
- FIFA Soccer 2000 Gold Edition
- FIFA Soccer 95
- International Superstar Soccer Deluxe
- Sensible Soccer 2006
- Super Kick Off
- Tiny Toon Adventures - Acme All Stars
- World Cup Soccer
- World Cup USA 94