Sensible World of Soccer Xbox Live Review

SWOS 96/97 on the Amiga has been long regarded by many fans of the genre as the finest football game of all time. ISS64 and Pro Evolution Soccer’s various guises have produced valiant efforts but to this day no series has come close to matching the sheer enjoyment and accessibility of Sensible Soccer. Codemasters bought up Sensible Software in 1999 and since then we’ve seen a number of botched attempts to re-make the game, the most recent of which being the dire Sensible Soccer 2006.

This Xbox Live Arcade release is effectively the original Amiga version of SWOS 96/97 ported directly without changing the gameplay, with Kuju responsible for updating the graphics, adding extra menus and netcode to allow multiplayer over XBL. The new initial menu, which sits on top of the familiar SWOS interface, fits the style of the series perfectly and allows you to choose single player, multiplayer, change options and view achievements.

Graphically the game has undergone a facelift, the primary benefit being the addition of widescreen for those of us with HDTVs. I was worried the new graphics would ruin the classic feel of the game but they are for the most part subtle and do nothing other than enhance the experience. The only criticisms in the visual department is the ‘ripple effect’ that appears when you score (though you will not notice this after a few games) and the way the players run off the pitch, trampling over the tunnel textures in some stadiums. It should be noted that you can turn off the enhanced visuals if you wish, along with having the choice of whether to listen to the updated soundtrack or the haunting superb original. Brilliant.

It has been some while since I played the Amiga version but it appears that the near perfect gameplay of the original has been left unchanged. There may be very subtle gameplay changes but the only thing that struck me was the goalkeepers appear slightly harder to beat in most situations. Thankfully the Xbox 360 controller also copes well with the quick reactions the game demands. Those unfamiliar with the series may feel the game is somewhat simplistic but there are surprising depths to the gameplay, which features the best aftertouch and headering in the genre. SWOS features a career mode that I always enjoyed back in the day, preferring it to Championship Manager as playing the matches made the career mode all the more involving. You can customise formations, make transfers, players get suspended, injuries occur and new players arrive for a trial. There’s a vast array of teams on offer, with multiple divisions present in even the most unlikely of countries, plus a series of comical Custom Teams you can modify. The CPU offers a great challenge throughout the season and is far less annoying than competing against the Pro Evolution Soccer AI.

Unfortunately the career mode is harmed somewhat by the low budget nature of the release. Firstly, the squads are unchanged from the 96/97 release, which will be a major annoyance for some. For example, Ruud Gullit, George Weah and Eric Cantona are still playing. Secondly, the vowels in the player names have been jumbled up making some players hard to recognise, for example Zola now goes by the name Zile. Most infuriatingly it’s not possible to edit the names yourself or hack around with the option files, something which has been common practice in the Amiga and PC scene to keep the game up to date. Although understandable due to the low budget and copyright concerns, these two issues deal a major blow to the game as many people are after an authentic experience, the kind offered by SWOS back in 96/97 and FIFA/PES today. I urge everyone to look past these drawbacks but nevertheless it knocks 10% off my final score.

The online play was said to be the reason why the game’s release was delayed from summer to Christmas, yet it’s immediately clear it’s not in a finished state. There’s a quickmatch mode where you can compete in an epic leaderboard but most inexcusably it’s possible to quit a match in the 89th minute to avoid defeat, which urgently needs fixing. There’s also the issue that both players control the same menu cursor, allowing them to do unexpected things like select each other’s team and put their opponent’s best striker on the bench before the match. To round off the problems there’s a good chance you’ll run into laggy opponents, there are complaints of online heading and tacking delays, plus you can’t use your saved tactics or custom teams online. One can only imagine that Codemasters wanted a pre-Christmas release no matter what, in which case they will only be forgiven for the multiplayer problems if they patch the game in a timely fashion. If not it will be a great travesty.

Thankfully the offline multiplayer radiates quality, with the DIY Competition feature allowing you to create your own league between friends. By default matches last 6 minutes so if there’s a number of friends round you don’t have to wait long for your turn. With only one button needed to control the game it’s easily accessible for everyone, even parents. Good players can handicap themselves by selecting worse teams and it makes for a surprisingly challenging encounter. Rounding things off nicely is the Highlights area, which automatically remembers the goals from the last game, giving you the option of saving your finest moments. In my best match so far as the lowly Faroe Isles I held out for a 1-0 win over Brazil, made all the better by the winning goal which was a looping shot out wide from my own half.

The addictive core gameplay is still unparalleled in the genre and has deservedly been revived from gaming history. This version will keep you going for months but it’s a pity there are so many problems with the online play. Hopefully Codemasters correct these, recognise the great reception this version of SWOS has received and that it has more potential than any of the inferior remakes. Should they decide to release SWOS 2008/09 with well-researched, up to date squads and flawless online play, we could be looking at the next ultimate football game.

Still a goal scoring superstar hero.

8 out of 10
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