THE GREATEST FOOTBALL VIDEO GAMES OF ALL TIME (PART -2)
Click here here for the part 1
1. PRO EVOLUTION SOCCER 5 (2005)
There are so many elements of PES 5 that made it the perfect football video game. Gameplay-wise, the ball physics were unbelievable… Each shot or pass felt like it was coming off your own foot – with the shooting and passing animations leaving room for player intuition and invention. Furthermore, you did not need to abuse obscure skills to get past players, and yet defensively if you had the requisite defensive IQ, you could keep a clean sheet.
PES’s offline offering was the greatest a video game has ever had to offer – period. There was the training arena itself which was phenomenal. I have never put as many hours into the training arena honing my craft as I did on PES… its situational training and challenge training was fun, relevant, and challenging. The varied training modes on FIFA today pay tribute to the foundations laid by PES. Master League involved having to develop a team of no-marks to the point where you earn enough coin to build a star-studded squad. Nothing revolutionary perhaps but it was extremely competitive and challenging. Progress felt natural, the matches did not feel scripted and each AI opponent seemed to present a different set of problems. You could throw hours into it and it never felt repetitive.
Tactically you could tailor your side exactly how you wanted. Messing around with work rates and positioning genuinely made a difference. It was worth putting in the extra time to squeeze out that extra 1% from your side. This was a game that sought to cater to the purist and football geek… not the casual gamer. Memories include Arsenal playing in that wonderfully iconic dark burgundy kit and possessing a very strong roster but they weren’t the only ones… Real Madrid, Barcelona, United, Chelsea, Inter, AC Milan, Juventus – there was a tonne of brilliant sides and that is before you even look at the international sides. There was so much quality across the board and each with their own distinct styles compared to the boring Barca/Real hegemony we have seen in recent FIFA games.
2. SUPER MARIO STRIKERS (2007)
The game was criticized in some quarters as repetitive and lacking in depth but there was sufficient variety in my opinion in the form of skill moves and power-ups. More impressively, the underlying mechanics of the game were solid even if they did at times defy gravity – which only served to enhance the surreal experience. In terms of offline career mode, online play – this game was not going to score very highly but if you are looking for a quickfire game against an opponent who would not normally fall into your usual type of opponent…i.e. a younger sister/cousin, this was the ideal multiplayer game to get the juices flowing and for that reason, it holds a unique position in Football video game history and I would love to see Volte Mode take a leaf out of its book and embrace Super Mario Striker’s zaniness and fluidity.
3. FOOTBALL MANAGER 2007
With Mourinho mania hitting its zenith, the cult of the manager had never been so prevalent in the world of football. FM 2007 was not necessarily the most ground-breaking of Football Managers - FM 2005 was more innovative but with its Matalan Coat wearing model gracing the front cover, this was Football Manager at its most polished.
What made this edition particularly special was that the football world was undergoing a significant transition of the old guard with the likes of Zidane, Henry, Ronaldinho, and Maldini coming to the end of their careers whilst the likes of Kaka, Ronaldo, Rooney, Robben, and Messi were on the cusp of greatness. This made the transfer market incredibly dynamic and it was exciting to see how FM predicted their careers would pan out. A revamped scouting engine allowed for more efficient scouting of potential stars including the ability for scouts to "learn" from their experience. A "scout report card" was also included, in order to provide easier access to important, detailed information about scouting targets. The effectiveness of the scout report card concept made the game too easy and have made team building very enjoyable and it rewarded those who sunk hours into building the club's support staff network.
In terms of interaction, the game succeeded in offering a more immersive footballing experience than anything seen before it. Team talks could now be dished out before the game as well as at half time and full time. Feedback would be provided for individual player's reactions, meaning you could gauge how to approach pep talks in the future thus rewarding those with higher emotional IQ and superior man-management skills. The game also introduced enhanced media interaction, including the ability to make comments on any player in the game world.
As for the match engine, it was still in many ways behind FIFA Soccer Manager in that it remained a 2D affair but the games remained riveting and nail-biting. Somehow the 2D dots were infused with elements of personality and you could really feel each players individual quirks and styles of play. There was a genuine vibrancy to the games which has not been captured since the move to 3D after FM 2010. The game received almost universal critical acclaim on release, with GameSpot describing Football Manager 2007 as a "truly immersive football experience", while PC Gamer suggested that "no other game comes close”. It was also nominated for a Golden Joystick Award and won the Gamers Award at the BAFTA.
4. FIFA 2010
After PES 5, Konami failed to meaningfully take the series any further and just kept using the same technology with updated rosters. By the time the next generation consoles arrived, PES’s ascension came to an abrupt end and it had nowhere else to go. FIFA, on the other hand, which had not produced a game of note for close to a decade sniffed the chance to recapture the disillusioned football gamer market. By 2006, there was a sign that things were on the up as the revamped gameplay finally began to resemble the modern FIFA we see today but graphically the game was not up to scratch and it took until 2010 for everything to come together and for FIFA to finally produce a game which converted the PES diehards of the noughties.
So what made FIFA 10 so special? Well for the first time in football video games history, we had a game which possessed a fully functioning exciting career mode (not quite Master League good but right up there) as well as a terrific online offering perfecting modes such as Ultimate Team (which began to resemble the monster we see today with features such as TOTW and the ability to run your team via a Web App) and Be a Pro. Virtual Pro, a new addition within the Be a Pro game mode allowed gamers to create a player in their own likeness and then play him across a plethora of game modes, including local multiplayer, Manager mode, and even the practice arena. Whenever you played with your virtual pro, he gradually improved mentally, technically, and physically while also unlocking new goal celebrations, tricks, and clothing, like GTA’s Carl CJ Johnson but in Predators.
The biggest new gameplay feature was the 360-degree player control, which shockingly was not an EA gimmick... it genuinely ensured that FIFA 10 provided the most fluid and complete ball-carrying experience in history. Being able to slow down before accelerating out at an angle made players like Messi and Robben sensational to use but for those more into their skill moves, the game still allowed tricksters like Cristiano Ronaldo to tear up defenses in the right hands. Set Pieces and in particular free kicks could be customised and in general, were a joy to master and not scripted - building on the mechanics which first came to the fore in FIFA 07. There was a ‘right’ way and ‘wrong’ way to take them, not the arbitrary rubbish we are accustomed to now.
In terms of realism, the differences in stats such as height, weight, agility, and strength had never been so faithfully represented in a virtual arena. Zlatan felt like Zlatan, and whilst it could feel frustrating being in control of a lumbering oaf like a Nicklas Bendtner up front.. at least it was true to the real game and therefore figuring out your own style of play and which teams/players suited you was pivotal to getting results.
The only real criticism I had of this game was that the ‘finesse’ shot was incredibly overpowered. Literally, any Tom, Dick, and Harry could bend it like Beckham and plant it into the top corner whereas normal drilled shots or power shots with the outside of the foot were ineffective. Matches would therefore become a battle of working your players into certain angles to get a finesse shot off thus there was a slight lack of complete freedom compared to PES 5.
5. FIFA 2018
FIFA enjoyed a period of utter domination post-FIFA 10 but in many ways, the evolution of their game stagnated after FIFA 12 in which the last major significant change ‘Tactical Defending’ was introduced. Whilst some were adamant that it had been incrementally evolving year upon year, I like many was disillusioned until the magnum opus that was FIFA 2018.
What made it different? Well, the dribbling was the smoothest it had been since FIFA 10. It rewarded old school changes of directions such as ‘feints’ which were incredibly effective and had to be timed to perfection. Tactical defending was the best it had felt since its introduction, with charged tackles being incredibly effective and thus ensuring there was a better balance between defence and attack.
Finishing which has since been destroyed with the introduction of timed finishing was arguably on the easy side in FIFA 18 but at least it was logical. No one can deny it did not feel very satisfying when drilling it into the bottom corner and long shots were the best I have experienced in a football title full stop. Finesse was underpowered but there were more than enough ways to score goals to keep attackers happy. In terms of set pieces; corners and penalties were excellent but there was certain ways you could ‘game’ the system in order to become more effective at them which raised questions on the ‘scripted’ nature of the game. As for free kicks, they were a nightmare… nigh on impossible to get right unless you had time to watch a billion YouTube tutorials.
Other poignant criticisms included the fact that Seasons mode and Career mode were in a state of utter neglect and the game was becoming heavily focused towards the promotion of the Ultimate Team game mode. In FIFA 18, FUT Champions reached its peak, leading to broken pads and thumbs all across the globe. This game made it still possible to build a good side and have a lot of fun. However, the sheer relentlessness of the ‘Weekend League’ concept eventually led to a huge backlash with comments on its negative impact on people’s pay packets and their mental health.
In terms of tactical depth, the game had not really significantly undergone any real change since FIFA 10, and if anything had gone backward as suddenly a lot of teams seemed to play the same as one another. That might be a reflection on the real world in which it is becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate team’s styles of play but I recall in FIFA 10, some people having a penchant for using target men and preferring physical sides. In FIFA 18, everyone seemed to be playing slick Barcaesque football. Despite the negative tone towards the end, I still rate it as a cracking game and the best of the last decade.