While Pro Evo Soccer currently reigns supreme as the football title of choice for 'true' football fans, it hasn't always been this way. An overhead football title that featured simple animated sprites once topped the table, but it's been missing for a number of years. Sensible soccer was 'the' football game to own back in its day, with fast gameplay and intuitive controls, it was the closest thing we had to real football. Quite why it disappeared is anyone's guess, but it's back and it's damn good fun.
It'll probably come as a shock to most modern gamers, but Sensible Soccer really only uses three buttons. You've got your basic pass button, a button that can be used to hit powerful shots, long passes and perform slide tackles, and a run button. That's it. There's no 'through ball' button nor separate 'cross' and 'shoot' buttons - it's simplicity itself. You can also nock in low shots from close range with the pass button, but even so, if you're expecting a game to challenge the likes of PES and FIFA head on, think again.
Oddly enough, even though the controls are simple, you actually feel more in control of your actions than you do in the current crop of football games. You can choose to play with an arrow coming from the player you're in control of, and this shows exactly where your pass, cross or shot is being aimed. This is initially pretty bewildering, with shots flying a long way wide and passes going anywhere but to a team mate, but after years of hand-holding in modern football franchises it's not surprising. It's not until a few games have been played that the mechanics start to click and the more advanced techniques come to the fore.
What Sensible Soccer has always been known for is insane swerve being applied to the ball. This latest version is no different, and it adds an extra level of depth to the gameplay. You can obviously bend the ball left or right after a shot has left a player's foot, but you can also add loft to crosses and swing a ball round the last defender. You still don't get the level of depth and plethora of options that you do during a game of PES, but Sensible Soccer has far more to it than there initially seems.
It's a fun game, there's no question about it, but it also seems like it'll be full of annoying little problems. To dispossess a player you simply have to walk into them, and while this is once again a very simple way of doing things, it creates moments where the ball is won and lost over and over again in a matter of seconds. It also makes runs through on goal near impossible, as the defender will always be able to run into the back of the striker and take the ball. Sliding tackles also seem rather too easy, with only lunges from miles away and deliberately through the back of a player resulting in the ref's whistle being blown.
Game modes initially seem rather sparse, but there are a load of league and cup competitions to take part in for each region featured in the game. So, while not officially licensed, you can play in the English Prem (Premiership), English Cup (F.A. Cup), European Championship, World Cup and more. Winning these will unlock new pitch types to play on, kit to choose from, new hair cuts for players and an assortment of other stuff. Leagues, Tournaments and Cups can be created as you wish, and a custom team mode is included, but it sadly doesn't allow for total kit customisation. It's still seems like it'll be worth a look, if only to create a team of Martin Keown look-alikes.
Obviously not wanting to compete in the realism stakes, Sensible Soccer uses a quite wonderful looking cel-shaded style, with players sporting oversized heads for good measure. No real effort has gone in to creating player likenesses either, but it's not really needed. Animations are good and players exhibit real emotion when celebrating a goal or complaining about being booked. It's certainly a far cry from the stark realism found on Konami's and EA's recent titles. A concern at the moment would be the general lack of atmosphere in matches, with the crowd rarely getting all that involved, and there's no commentary to be heard, but that's no big loss.
Sensible Soccer is bound to gain some success down to brand recognition alone, but it remains to be seen if it'll have to legs to stand a whole season. While the depth of the Pro Evolution Soccer titles put off many, it's that depth that makes each game just as enjoyable six months after release as it is the day you first play it, if not more so. The pick up and play nature of Sensi is there for all to see, and should please fans and anyone looking for a fast-paced game of football, but the title it once held might be a little out of reach.
Sensible Soccer 2006 is due for release in June for the PlayStation 2, Xbox and PC. Look for a full review next month.