Review: Sensible World Of Soccer
They think it’s never getting released…
After more false dawns than Spurs, Sensible World of Soccer has finally made it to Xbox Live Arcade. I’m not just talking about the delayed, and then botched, job they made of releasing the title. Sensi fans have been waiting for a decent release from Sensible (now part of the gaming giant that is Codemasters – who the hell saw that coming?) ever since they released the awful Sensible Soccer 98.
The risible Sensi 2006 stoked up interest once again before everyone realised they been sold an unfinished piece of bug-ridden shit that had no more reason to be in 3D than the average DS game. But then they announced SWOS for XBLA and even the most cynical of us thought ‘you know what? There is a chance… just a chance that they might not mess this up’.
Indeed I flittered from joyful expectation to soul-crushing pre-emptive disappointment so much that I was forced to package up a turd and simply address it to ‘The Biggest Twats in Gaming’ knowing that a flawed SWOS release would guarantee that even Royal Mail would know who I was talking about. Thankfully, for them and all of us, SWOS is a perfect port of the series’ finest moment. Sensible World of Soccer 96/97. My favourite because Fulham and Wigan are in Div 3 and the mighty QPR (now the ‘World’s Richest Club’ still had an England international in the team).
Of course, late 2007 seems like a strange time to release such a straight port of SWOS but after the inexplicable implosion of the Pro Evo Series (hang ’em up Seabass… hang ’em up) the timing couldn’t be better. The boggy, unresponsive 3D monoliths have had their day and it’s time again for the faster, more challenging style of passing football that SWOS plays and being first impressions on firing it up are relief that the crisp passing and frenetic pace are just as you remember.
Scoring on the other hand isn’t quite as easy. You don’t leave SWOS for the best part of a decade and then come back wearing Billy’s boots. Nope, this game makes you work for your goals but once you put the hours in you’ll soon be lashing in howitzers from all over the park. The old ways still work but not quite as often as I remember, maybe things have been tightened up a little in that area but right now the balance feels just about perfect.
Presentation is refreshingly old-school with the menus and music being more or less unchanged from the original and yes the all-important theme tune is still there. The graphics have been given a hi-def lick of paint which looks great and actually looks exactly how I’d romantised SWOS to look in my rose-tinted memories. A quick look at the original graphics setting was enough to remind me that progress isn’t such a bad thing. That said, the new mode does introduce a bizarrely inappropriate rippling effect (which bothers other people more than it does me) and ‘live’ advertising (read: spyware) which, whilst being not particularly welcome, is confined to the hoardings and not plastered over the menus (take note Seabass).
Whilst the, quite exasperating, delays were apparently due to Codemasters tweaking the online mode, all I really cared about was SWOS’ trademark ‘career mode’. I lost far too much of the mid to late 90s to this addictive bastard, at least until ISS Pro Evo saved me in 1999. but it now has it’s hooks in me again and it’s like I’ve never been away.
Starting in Div 3 with Mansfield (my constant starting point for old SWOS campaigns, I achieved promotion, left Mansfield (had to… I fucking hate Mansfield now), joined Southend, left them in the Premiership before missing out on a dream move to QPR and ending up at a very rich Middlesborough. The best thing about SWOS is that it’s not just your skills on the pitch that bring you success. You have to wheel and deal for players, sell your deadwood, take a punt on an expensive striker and hope he doesn’t get injured as he outvalues your entire midfield.
With a game as cherished and eagerly awaited as this, the unfortunate tendency is to focus on what’s wrong with this conversion of the classic SWOS. Yes the compromises in both team and player names chafe, as does the game’s refusal to allow custom teams in multiplayer modes. Nevertheless once you start playing and re-fire those Sensi synapses that have lain dormant for over a decade you won’t care about such trifles and find yourself again enjoying the most playable football (call it soccer and die) game ever made.
Diving tackles, lob shots, aftertouch and dribbling are all executed by a single button click or stick push making a mockery of many modern games that insist in reinventing their control scheme every year to keep up with the Joneses. The so-called enhancements are limited to online play, slightly clearer player sprites and an odd choice of a ripple effect when you score a goal. It looks nice but seems out of place in this steadfastly 16-bit era game.
It’s a shame that Codemasters didn’t include Cannon Soccer as an option over adding graphical garnish as this would no doubt help sell it to the teen shooter market but nonetheless Fifa, Pro Evo Soccer and even Kick Off can all fuck off, SWOS was, is and always will be the king.
Secondary Score: 9/10
Before long you start to know your team. You realise that your midfielder can’t really run but is great at playing the Hollywood lobbed pass into the path of your marauding striker (well with sprites this cute marauding isn’t really the word, it’s like being mauled by a teddy bear that stops for tea breaks) or that your rightback often skins opposing wingers and leaves them for dead. It’s far more direct than today’s ridiculously overblown management sims and all the better for it.
Online it’s not quite as tasty. Whilst matches are refreshingly lag-free, trying to get into one so far has been problematic even with my whorishly open NAT settings. It’s so bad that you can quite easily find a friend’s ranked match when you’d expect that to be impossible in most new XBLA titles.
So why doesn’t it score a Peowwtastic 10? I’d be tempted but SWOS does have it’s failings, all of which are born out of laziness. For example I can live with the player names being messed around (for licensing issues) but why keep the 96/97 roster then? Also, SWOS 96/97 wouldn’t allow AI players to be sent off or injured because there wasn’t enough memory to track the changes. Understandable when the original came on two floppy disks, less understandable now that I’ve got a fucking hard drive.
Even the achievements seem lazy and ill thought-out. Instead of things like ‘win the World Cup’ or ‘take a Div 3 side to the Premiership’ all the achievements can be mopped up easily in the league or exhibition modes with a couple of token multiplayer ones as well.
Whilst I’m thankful to Codies for showing this game the respect it deserves it is a couple of enhancements away from being perfect but for now it’s merely absolutely fantastic and a perfect antidote to the recent efforts of Konami and EA.