Empire Soccer logo

Is this game an onion-bag-bulging frenzy of footie fun, or no-score bore? We call the shots.

The tall Scotsman from the class next door (Amiga Power) began laughing hysterically. Your correspondent, Bug clutched firmly in sweaty palm giggled, then started guffawing as tears rolled down his cheeks. This game suddenly looked absolutely ridiculous.

The sprites seemed shorter than ever, the match seemingly played at a pace most snails would find comfortable. What poor excuse for a game masquerading as home entertainment brought on this unbridled mirth? The answer: Sensible Soccer. Sinners, I hear you cry. Thou shalt not defame the House Of Sensible with seditious rumblings.

But even true believers like the Scotsman and I could not contain ourselves. After playing Empire Soccer solidly for a couple of hours, we slotted in the old Sensible disks and it just wasn't the same. Empire Soccer's enclosed pitch, large sprites and pace had left us breathless.

But ES (can we call it that from now on?) is not a football simulation as such. The pitch is small - most noticeably between the centre circle and the edge of the penalty area where the gap seems a matter of yards (in real footie terms, of course), and the sprites resemble cartoon characters. The goalkeepers in particular dive across the face of the goal like salmon over weirs.

No, what we have here is a quirky, yet incredibly playable football game. Ace coders Graftgold, not exactly renowned for their sports sims wrote it and in the main, they've done a grand job.

So what's the plot? Well, 32 international teams (including all the teams from World Cup '94) are in here, each with a different style of play and level of skill - but you can equal them out if you wish. There are two skill levels: Novice, where the ball sticks to the players' feet (mostly) and Pro, where it doesn't.

Yet, the great thing is no matter how good or bad you are at footie games, you can jump straight into ES, in a sort of lunging two-footed manner. The Novice option enables beginners to trot around the pitch, ball firmly glued to foot while those with a penchant for The Beautiful Game can tackle Pro.

ES is not a game for sensible soccer fans but it cleverly extracts many elements of Sensible Soccer, slaps them in a large pot, adds a pinch of spice and boils them into a most palatable potion. What we are treated to is Sensible's playability combined with some of the most outrageous action this side of a small chap from Argentina.

ES is not meant to be realistic - only great fun. Where so many football games fall down is in their attempt to outdo the Sensible blokes at their own game. Listen up you softies: soccer games don't and indeed probably won't come better than Sensible.

Steal their best bits and add your own ideas - that's what ES has done. By retaining the fluidity of its more solemn counterpart and enclosing the space in which you play, ES jacks up the pace to an amazing level.

The ball zings about the pitch, players rush madly, every challenge is a committed one - it really is frenetic. And this explains the Scotsman's reaction to Sensible Soccer, it's a sedate afternoon jaunt in comparison, though it would be foolish to compare the two.

Empire Soccer sets its stall out early doors. You instantly know it isn't here to satisfy your dream of being Ryan Giggs and this sets it apart from the rest.

Graftgold have dropped in a pile of special skills which you can utilise at certain points in the game, including Banana Shots, Powerdrives and Superdribbles to name a few. SP (Super Power) appears on screen, you whack the fire button and your chosen special skill activates. Not that it always does you any good. You've chosen Speed Burst, you're running in on goal when suddenly you inadvertently tap the fire button and run straight past the goal at a hundred miles an hour. Damn!

But these skills really add to the fun - Powerdrive is a particular favourite, because even if you don't burst the net, the keeper can never hang on to it so you follow up the strike to tap it in.

But ES can be disconcerting. Often, the ball disappears off screen before the scrolling catches up - normally a cardinal error in footie games, but here it simply adds to the fun. And ES is not without its bugs either. Witness a free kick just outside the box - the wall lines up yet refuses to disperse after the kick has been taken.

And the useful stats screen occasionally goes bonkers. At the end of each half, you're informed of how much possession you've had, shots on goal and the like, but when it suggests you had 38 shots on target in a one-minute half you begin to wonder. But hey, who really cares about wonky stats.

On the recent rash of football games Empire Soccer is the best because it doesn't adhere to any formula. It doesn't pretend to be anything other than fun. None of the players are named - you can't juggle your Smith with your Sanchez nor should you wish to. ES is as daft as a brush. Enjoy it.


SPECIAL MOVES FOR SUPER PLAYS

Empire Soccer: Powerdrive
A powerful drive that the keeper has real trouble keeping out of the onion bag.

Empire Soccer: Bananashot
For Brazilian wannabees, the swerve takes the ball to the top corner.

Empire Soccer: Snapshot
Spins the player around and sends in a hard, low shot, always on target.

Empire Soccer: Speedburst
Gives you a real turn of pace, although you often run straight off the pitch.

Empire Soccer: Superbarge
Knock over the opposition, and the man in black won't penalise you.

Empire Soccer: Superdribble
Enables the ball to stick to a player's foot for a short period - run it into the net.


Empire Soccer logo

Viele Fußball-Versoftungen sind ja so spannend wie ein torloses Unentschieden, doch bei Empire hat man sich ein paar witzige und ungewöhnliche Features einfallen lassen - das (Leder-) Ei des Kolumbus?

Das Optionsangebot ist zunächst noch recht konventionell: Training, ein Freundschaftsspiel und die Endrunde der WM (bis zu acht Fans dürfen hier ihre Lieblingself aus den 24 Teilnehmnern übernehmen) sind vorhanden. Neben der einstellbaren Matchdauer wurde an verschiedene Taktiken, Auswechslungen und eine Replay-Funktion gedacht.

Dazu kommen zwei Steuerungsmodi, wobei der Ball entweder dribbelfreundlich an den Füßen der Kicker klebt oder die Päße im etwas kniffligeren Stil von "Kick Off" getreten werden.

Aber die Möglichkeit, einen von neun "Special Moves" (vom Superschuß bis zur Option, vorübergehend alle Kontrahenten ungestraft über den Haufen rennen zu können) auszusuchen, findet man wohl in keinem anderen Spiel dieser Art!

Bei den Begegnungen wird dann vertikal gekickt; auf einem flott in alle Richtungen scrollenden Ausschnitt des Grüns tummeln sich ungewöhnlich große Sprites. Daß der Ball dabei schon mal den Screen verläßt, sorgt allerdings nicht gerade für Übersicht, und auch beim Paßspiel muß oft blind agiert werden.

An der Steuerung selbst ist hingegen wenig auszusetzen, denn auf einen Wink mit dem Stöckchen folgen umgehend Tacklings, Kopfbälle oder Schüße. Hübsch sind auch die in manchen Spielsituationen auftauchenden Comic-Zwischenbilder, außerdem gibt es fetzige Musik und Sound-FX für echte Stadionatmosphäre.

Unter dem Strich also eine schnelle, launige und spielbare Action-Bolzerei, die ihrem PC-Gegenstück (dort gibt es Ergebnisse wie 46-0) deutlich überlegen ist. (st)



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As the build-up begins for the 1998 World Cup in France, AMIGA POWER brings you five pages of advance reviews of the games that'll be hoping to capture the spirit of France '98. (And not, for example, a bunch of football games (Empire Soccer, Kick Off 3, Wild Cup Soccer & World Cup Soccer '94) that, for various reasons, we didn't get in time to review before the end of this year's World Cup). Vive le football.

When I first saw this game previewed in the PC Gamer office a couple of months ago, I have got to admit that I was underwhelmingly unimpressed. The pitch looked too small and the animation of the huge sprites seemed stiff and unwieldy. The gameplay lacked depth and mainly consisted of both players trying to out dribble the other before unleashing a shot.

All in all, it looked like fodder for a hatchet job ("A game fit for authoritative, in-depth review" - Ed). That is why I was not looking forward to the game coming in at all.

How astoundingly smotheringly surprising then that this is going to be the only the second time ever that I have awarded a game 90 per cent. But why? There are so many football games around at this particular moment in time that any new one has to offer something really special even to find itself kicked into the 80 per cent AP stratosphere.

The reason for Empire Soccer's exceptional score is simple: gameplay. And depth, and fun, and lastability. Do not let the initial impression of superficiality put you off. This is merely a pointer to the ease with which you can pick up the game and immediately start playing. Trust me.

Before I begin waxing lyrical about how much fun you can have with Empire Soccer. I will discuss and definitely dismiss some of the criticisms aimed at the game by a couple of fellow journos - namely, ("Cam" - Uncle Joe Stalin) and JD.

SPEED
JD said he found the restricted view a bit limiting. I would agree: a restricted view has spoiled many a footy game, and Empire Soccer is limited in the strictest dictionary sense of the word. Take, for example, the kick off. There is just about enough space to fit the centre circle in. But (and this is an absolutely unignorable gargantuan, but) look at that gamedozer among games, Speedball 2. Its view is every bit as peripherally limited as Empire Soccer, but it detracts from the game not one infinitesimally imploded iota.

After a trifling amount of practice you know exactly where your players are going to be as you hoof out a pass, and the larger sprites make for a more easily-followed, zippier game.

("Cam" - Uncle Joe Stalin) criticisms were aimed mainly at the apparent shallowness of the game. "It is one of those grab-the-ball-and-dribble-it-through things, isn't it?. Simplistic drivel that crumbles before the mighty powers of Sensi", he sneered. An obvious comment, but one steeped in specious logic. Empire Soccer wallows in (admittedly hidden) depth. Fairly predictably, but none the less welcome for it, each of the 32 teams plays differently. (But you can equalise their abilities for a straightforward match).

Bettering Speedball 2, there are five team formations to master, from a wholeheartedly aggressive 5-3-2 to a weedily protective 2-4-4. And (best of all) there are special powers. Basically you can beef up your play with an unstoppable Power Drive, improve your goal kicking chances with Snap Shot, baffle interceptions with the Banana Shot, litter the pitch with unconscious opponents with Super Barge, carve furrows in the mud with Speed Burst, or fox tackles with Super Dribble.

It all adds to the zingy unreality of the game, allowing you to (for example) score fantastically exaggerated comic book curving goals, or blast the ball three-quarters of the length of the field to your waiting shooter, which is a Good Thing. Even so, you can turn off the special powers if you feel it is Just Not Football. Blinkered fools.

And, yes, you can indeed dribble the ball up the field and run it into goal, but only if your opponents have inexplicably forgotten how to tackle. Such tactics can also be quashed by de-velcroing your boots and switching to the "professional" game, which demands a passing style of play that will appeal to those who really cannot be torn away from Sensi.


Get off and plant your feet

CORKSCREW
By now, you may have guessed that I like Empire Soccer a lot. I have refrained from the inevitable footballing comparison cliché of, "It's good, but not as good as Sensi". (So it is not really inevitable then. - Ed.). It is not trying to be Sensi - the only thing the two games have in common is the word "soccer" in the title and the objective of trying to score more goals than your opponent.

Empire Soccer is a far more arcadey (but not simplistic) game, with the emphasis on cartoony larger-than-lifeness (though not at the expense of playability). In fact, if you load up Sensi after playing Empire Soccer for a bit, Sensi seems sedate, slow, tiny and pedestrian by comparison. It is a weird perception. Imagine the following by way of analogy. You have just been on a roller-coaster, or the Corkscrew, or the Black Hole or whatever.

As soon as you get off and plant your feet on solid ground, the rest of the world feels distinctly odd for a couple of minutes. That is what it is like playing Sensi after Empire Soccer - distinctly odd.

So go on, buy this game. If you do, it can only encourage Graftgold to do better next time. Because it is not perfect. There are quite a few Sensi and Speedball 2 features that could be further bolted on to make it one of the best games of all time, the most important of which would be the ability to customise and personalise your own football teams. I would love to be able to play as (Nngh. - Ed) Kilmarnock FC.

But these are only small gripes. Empire Soccer, as it stands here and now, is a fast, fabulous, fantastic, frolicsome, fruitini, fandango, flavoursome footballing fest. Do your friends, your Amiga and, most of all, yourself a favour. Even if you have got Sensi, grab hold of Empire Soccer today. It is a winner.



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World Cup fever passes boiling point as Empire Software join in the fun. Tony Dillon screws his studs in once more.

"Oh no", I cried. Not another one, please! "But you are Games Editor", said the rest of the team, "and for the privilege of playing all the latest games, you have to review your share of the soccer ones." "But I can't", I called back from my pit of desperation, "I've seen everything there is to see in a football game, and there is no way I can think of anything original to write!" "Don't you worry", came Big Al's soothing tones, "this one will be different. This one is original. This one has nothing to do with Sensible Soccer."

Well, as they always say, the Ed knows best, and it looks like this time he was right yet again (okay, enough grovelling -Alan). Empire Software are the latest in a very long line of software houses to release a soccer game based upon the World Cup, and like Sierra Soccer before them it has enough original points to make it worth a look.

To begin with, though, I would like to make it clear immediately that this is not the most sensible soccer game ever, and I mean that with no pun intended. Up until now, and in fact since the dawn of computer soccer games, developers have strived to make their game the fastest, the most accurate, the most realistic, the most controllable, the game with the most moves in the world and so on, and to be honest quite a few of them seem to have lost the plot along the way, dropping straightforward playability in favour of fifteen different types of bicycle kick and more complicated joystick manoeuvres than a left-handed game of Mortal Kombat.

Empire Soccer is very different. If I were to compare it to anything, it would have to be the original Sensible Software soccer game, MicroProse Soccer or even the old arcade classic Fighting Soccer. It has very large sprites, way out of scale with the rest of the pitch, who can only do a small number of different kicks and tackles.

It has a comical referee who trips, falls over and can even be fouled. The goalkeeper can receive a back pass, and then run as an attacker to the other end of the pitch, where, if you play him well, he can even score! This is certainly not the most realistic or accurate football game ever, and that is the main reason why I like it so much.

This game requires almost no practice at all before you can race all over the pitch, passing smoothly and chopping down other players here, there and everywhere. It's simple. It's fun. You can play anyone at it, and as long as they know how to use a joystick, they've got a fighting chance of beating you. If I were to compare football games to card games, then Empire Soccer is to Goal! what Snap is to Bridge!

The big concern is, of course, how long will you play it for? Obviously. if it takes no time at all to get into, then there should be every chance that it will also take no time at all to get out of. This would probably be true were it not such a great two-player game. Like any good soccer game, after a few minutes of play you find yourself on the edge of your seat, leaning into the screen and mentally shouting at your players to get the ball, if not actually shout out loud!

It isn't as smooth and fluid as Sensible Soccer. It doesn't have many options as Goal!. It wasn't programmed by Dino Dini, or based on any real licence, but at the end the day Empire Soccer is a damn fun game, and that makes it a winner my book.


STAR PLAYERS
Before each match you can choose the special ability you want your team to have. Naturally, if you have two completely mismatched teams, then you are going to need some kind of extra feature to even things out slightly, and Empire have added quite a few special moves to make playing last that little bit more interesting. There's the Super Barge, for example, which when selected makes any player you come in contact with collapse on the ground. Or Super Dribbling, which makes the ball stick to your feet for a limited amount of time. There are also banana shots and Super Shots, which fire the ball at five times normal speed towards the goal. One of the game's most original features, this adds an extra layer of fun to an already smart game.