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Not-So-Sensible World of Soccer

23 February, 2009 (12:43) | Emulation and Vintage Gameplay | By: admin

My experiences playing Warcraft reminded me of a time when games were simpler, and I enjoyed reliving those memories.  Sensible World of Soccer, on the other hand, reminded me that, when it comes to sports games, added complexity is a necessity that is sometimes taken for granted by younger players like myself.  To get right to the point, I find SWoS to be almost unplayable.

But before I address how the gameplay in sports games has, thankfully, advanced over the years, I will note that my issues with SWoS began with the speed of the game itself.  When I began playing the game on DOSBox (see previous posts for information on how to obtain and use DOSBox), the little soccer players were zooming around the screen.  Before I could hit escape and catch my breath, it seemed that five goals had already been scored against my team.  No matter much I tried to slow the game’s movement through DOSBox’s options menu, the game never seemed to calm down.  Filled with frustration, I downloaded the recent re-release of the game from XBOX 360’s online marketplace.  To my surprise, though the game was slowed considerably, it was still blazing at a speed entirely incompatible with the actual game of soccer.  Can this really be the default speed?

This was the first of many complaints about the ways in which SWoS presents the game of soccer to video game players.  Soccer is known throughout the world as the “beautiful game,” due to the grace and intricacy required to truly compete in the sport.  Soccer is not the kind of hyperkinetic sport that basketball is, or that SWoS would have you believe soccer is.  It is more like an athletic chess match; players are constantly scanning the field, looking for their best option before making a move.  The speed of SWoS makes this kind of thought and strategy impossible, robbing the sport of its great uniqueness.  In modern soccer video games like EA Sports’s FIFA series, the game allows the player to take his time; indeed, acting or moving too quickly will likely result in defeat.  This is the pace that a soccer video game demands, the pace of the sport itself.

Another glaring issue is the one-button control scheme.  You use the same button to pass the ball and to shoot the ball.  This requires you to use your movement buttons to both move your player and to guide the ball so that, when you press the “kick ball” button, the ball is sent toward a teammate for a pass or toward the goal for a shot attempt.  There is not enough room here to elaborate on how incompatible this button scheme is to soccer movement and strategy, but I can simply say that soccer players often find themselves running in one direction and kicking the ball in another direction.  A player running towards the goal may have an open teammate to his left; good luck trying to kick the ball to your left while continuing to move play forward in SWoS.  In modern games, the player is given a shoot button, a normal pass button, a lob/cross pass button, and a through pass button, and all of them are necessary if the player really wishes to recreate the sport itself.  Considering these options in addition to the advanced buttons that a player can now use in modern games to turn a normal shot into a chip shot or an exceptionally powerful line drive, one recognizes how important the new complexities of modern soccer games are.  These control options are not simply added in for innovation’s sake; they are, in fact, finally allowing the soccer video game to be what it ought to be.

Obviously, I am not suggesting that SWoS was a failed attempt in its time.  I imagine, in the mid-1990s, that soccer fans were happy for any soccer video game they could find, and SWoS certainly broke some important ground that continues to benefit soccer gamers today, most importantly the incredible depth of its leagues, player rosters and career modes.  The manual for the game claims to have “practically every professional team, league, and cup competition in the world,” and after perusing the team select menus, I am inclined to agree.  Also, the game not only features 26,000+ real life players but also includes “accurate personal statistics,” so the better players in real life will perform better in the game.  These inclusions provided SWoS with an off-the-field depth that was ahead of its time and set a high standard for games to come.  Not to mention that the game now serves as a delightful history lesson; for someone like myself who only recently became a fan of world soccer, it is quite interesting to see who was playing for all the teams I know and who were the best players in the mid-1990s.

With that said, I could not wait to turn SWoS off and return to my beloved FIFA ’08.  I have come to expect from soccer video games the ability to guide the players that I know and love via advanced control schemes at a thoughtful and strategic pace, and it is astonishing to see what gamers had to settle for just over a decade ago.  Many of the classic video games that have been deemed important and influential have aged well, continuing to be enjoyable and entertaining to new players even as the graphics increasingly show the game’s age.  However, SWoS, I would argue, will be better served in my generation by remembering than by replaying.

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