Ah, football. It’s just small boys in the park with jumpers for goalposts, isn’t it, hmm? Well, maybe that was true once upon a time, but now football is much more than an innocent game – it’s a franchise.
In 2014, EA Sports’ FIFA 15 was the biggest selling console game in the UK, with over 2.5 million units sold.
It even outstripped other top end media sales, such as Ed Sheeran’s latest death rattle and the Mrs. Brown’s Boys movie. Yeah, it’s that good. Presumably these high sales figures are how it can afford to pay global football icons such as Linus Messi and Harry Henderson to be on the cover of FIFA16, and not via other, more nefarious, means.
However, quite why the console playing public continually swallows the regurgitated offal that is the FIFA games series is a mystery. Every release promises to be closer to an actual game of football, offering “a balanced, exciting and more realistic football experience”, including “the agility and explosiveness of real footballers”, “realistic ball physics” and “unlockable celebrations”.
That’s right; gamers are actually paying for the privilege of being able to make Peter Crouch “pull the rope”. The thing is, a match of FIFA is about as realistic as the tears from a victorious X-Factor contestant. Where are the players falling over their own feet, or shanking a cross into the stands when well placed? Seriously, it doesn’t even feature a beach ball.
Of course, the best bit of FIFA is bamboozling your opponent with an array of skill moves, which contradicts the “realistic football experience” ideal like a vegetarian butcher. Yes, it’s technically possible to perform a 360-round-the-block-whirlwind-nutmeg at speed, but probably only eight people in the world could actually pull that off, and even then, never in an actual match.
Of course, EA Sports missed an opportunity to make a great game from all of this razzle-dazzle with FIFA Street – an updated version of the truly dreadful Chris Kamara’s Street Soccer from the PS1 – but they didn’t go far enough. It should have resembled Shaolin Soccer, with absolutely preposterous moves and tricks, along the lines of the slam-dunks from the SNES-classic NBA Jam. Instead, they ended up with a slightly tweaked FIFA game and some cobbled streets.
Admittedly, it’s difficult to make a football game truly original, but it is possible. Sensible Soccer, often heralded as one of the great soccer games, offers a decent interpretation of standard Association Football, but it is a 1992 demo that really stands out as unique.
The makers replaced the players with troops from Sensible Software’s existing hit, Cannon Fodder, and replaced the ball with a grenade. This would bounce around randomly before exploding periodically, killing any players nearby. It was brilliant, because it was completely unpredictable and well executed, but sadly didn’t feature on any of the full game releases – possibly something to do with the game being set in 1942 and the match being England versus Germany, or something.
Taito Power Soccer also blended football with violence to good effect in 1990s arcades. Here, the basic premise was to obtain the ball from the opposition via a variety of assaults, such as punches and flying kicks, which would mostly go unpunished. There was a referee, whom it was possible to remove from action with a well-placed ball to the breadbasket, but foul play would largely go unpunished.
Word on the street was that it was even possible to entice a streaker from the crowd, although this may have simply been a rumour spread by the owner of Rhyl Bowling in order to generate extra income from gullible arcade punters.
NONES ON THE RUNS
The thing is, none of the above games are original and enjoyable to play and interesting enough to keep you coming back for more. What is needed is a real football game, like from back in the halcyon days of our youth down the local park.
Team size/ability should vary wildly from match to match (depending on who turns up), the left wing may be rendered out of bounds due to the presence of a massive dog turd (unless it can be rolled out of the way with a stick), and the “post and in” rule can be invoked depending on the size/ferocity of the claimant. Match lengths would be arbitrary and end abruptly, usually as a result of a fight or the ball being lost, and the actual final score would be largely subjective.
Admittedly, this would be one incredibly frustrating game, but at least it would be unpredictable – which is more than FIFA can offer.