Kick Off '96 logo

Reviewed by Hugh Poynton

The action rockets along at the pace of an England vs Germany match with two minutes to go until penalties."
You've seen it on the telly, heard Skinner and Baddiel sing about it, and doubtless you've been involved in one of those endless pub conversations about whether or not Tel should have brought on substitutes for extra time. So now play the game. Kick Off 96 is Anco's new release and it offers you the chance to bring football home.

Kick Off 96 is a pretty ambitious game, and is chock full of options. Rather than just playing the European Cup, you have the option to play any one of 49 International squads and 750 European premier division clubs (even Aberystwyth FC) and you can create your own league and cup competitions to play in.

A particularly fun little touch is the 'dream team' option, which allows you to pick 16 of the best players from nearly 800 European football clubs for your squad. Just imagine Gigla from Albania's Shkumbini P playing with the illustrious Mazza from Cailungo of San Marino.

Another welcome option to the game is that you can choose whether or not to play in 'simulation' or 'arcade' mode. In simulation mode you will be penalised for fouls and receive injuries, whereas in arcade mode the players will shoot around 20 per cent faster than the normal game speeds.


Another problem was the otherwise excellent 3D mode. There can be a tendency for the game to seize up for a few seconds every now and then

In this respect the game is sumptuous. There is an impressive array of players to pick, teams to play, and competitions to enter. Visually, the game is somewhat of a rough diamond - there are good points but also a fair degree of bad points. On the plus side, Kick Off 96 comes with a 3D option which definitely sets it above the competition.

This 'Gantry view' follows the action looking down the pitch, with the players and ground narrowing with perspective, adding to the realism and visual impact of the game.

However, despite this there are a few let-downs with the graphics. Most notably, it doesn't feel like there is enough to look at on the screen. Apart from your status bar at the bottom and your cool looking little men shooting around the pitch, there isn't that much took at other than grass. That might sound like a pretty stupid criticism, and I don't really expect to see may topiary hedge or Henry Moore-style modern art sculptures in the middle of Old Trafford, but if you could just see the edge of the stadium, or a few spectators, the screen would look a little more interesting.

Another problem was with the otherwise excellent 3D mode. Thre can be a tendency for the game to seize up for a few seconds every now and then - trivial though this might sounds, but it is a problem when you're in the middle of a life and death struggle with San Marino.

This game's real letdown is the sound which, to put it mildly, is duff. All that can be heared during a match is a constant static-like hissing roar which becomes louder the closer you get to the goal. Whatever you do, don't wait until you're too close to the goal to score, as the resultant piercing roar will probably crack your eardrums or turn you into a nutter.


Hard fought battle

I also found that controlling the players wasn't so much difficult as challenging. The players run around at such a speed that getting them to intercept the ball can be pretty hard work. Like a few football sims, the ball doesn't 'stick' to the feet quite as well as it could, and changing direction when running with the ball has to be done quite carefully, otherwise the ball trundles off into the clutches of the nearest Holland defender.

Final word

I have a gut feeling that Kick Off 96 is going to a bit like skin on a rice pudding (pardon the analogy) - you'll either love it or hate it. I have to admit that I actually think it's a pretty good game. For all its faults, it has two essential ingredients of a good game, speed and gameplay. The action, particularly in the 2D mode, rockets along at the pace of an England vs Germany match with two minutes to go until penalties.

I found myself being trounced 10-0 by Man City and, being an ardent Man United fan, couldn't rest until I had at least plastered a few into the back of the City nets (well one anyway).

Basically, Kick Off isn't perfect. It does have its fair share of draw backs and irritating problems, but it has enough interesting options, views, gameplay and pace to make it a game worth buying.



Kick Off '96 logo

Andy Smith reviews a trusty, old footie game - but can this new version live up to its reputation?

Our most loyal readers may well remember the very first issue of Amiga Format, back in 1989, in which the very first Format Gold award went to a football game called Kick Off. The spooky thing is, I reviewed that game all those years ago and here I am reviewing the latest incarnation.

If you ever played Kick Off, or Kick Off 2 or Kick Off 3 or Kick Off 3 European Challenge, and surely most of you must have played one of those, you'll know how the first couple of games, with Dino Dini at the programming controls, were splendid.

You also know that when Dino moved on to other things and Steve Screech took over, he didn't manage to retain the sheer playability of the Dino versions, but still managed to produce a couple of games that weren't half bad. They weren't brilliant, because changing the game's playing perspective from above the side, kinda killed the way the game played. The magic was lost.

HARD WORK
The perspective's changed again for Kick Off '96, from the side to the more conventional lengthways viewpoint, but it's still not from above. There's even a 3D 'from-behind-the-goal' viewpoint, but this doesn't work well at all.

This damn thing is just such a chore to play. I know you don't have to have the game viewed from above for it to be a goodie - witness Total Football (AF86; 90%), for example, but you do need to be able to control your players, make passes, shoot for goal and use skill to beat the opposition. You won't get the chance to do any of that in Kick Off '96.

Here's a little fun thing you'll want to do if you ever play this; when you've got possession of the ball, just hold down the fire button and keep it held while you role around the floor laughing as your mate attempts to tackle the ball off you. What's fun!

PASSING TIME
You might even want to try holding down the fire button and just watch the match-clock tick down. You might even find, as I did, that when you do this, you go into injury time that can last 10-20 minutes of real time. This happens before half-time, as well as before the end of the match proper.

On the most memorable occasion it happened to me, Holland managed to score 12 goals in injury time against me. We're now going to start on the European Championship competition that comes pre-set with the game. Recently, I tore into Sensible Soccer's European Championship Edition because it didn't take into account the introduction of the Golden Goal rule (the first team to score in extra time from the Quarter Finals onwards would win the match).

Well, the same's true here. Get to the Quarter Finals and you're into extra time and then penalties (to be fair, there is the option to turn off extra time and penalties from the options menu should you so desire).

OUT OF CONTROL
But, rule omission aside, it's down on the pitch that things really count and it's down on the pitch that this game really starts to fall over.

Your player's highlighted with a black star, showing who's under your control, and the number of times, the control switches to someone you don't want it to is outrageous. There's not even a button you can press to change players voluntarily. Truly ridiculous!

Oh yeah, before I forget, if you play the game with a single-fire button joystick (like a Speedking, for example), you won't be able to make passes to your team mates if you are running with the ball. Or moving with the ball at all.

And here's another funny thing, and Nick will back me up on this because he was watching the game with me at the time.. I was checking out the game in 3D mode, playing the European Championships to investigate the Golden Goal rule. My team got knocked out, so I watched a couple of computer teams in one of the semis - Spain vs Scotland.

WHAT'S GOING ON?
After full time, the score was 2-2; great, the Golden Goal was on. The first half of extra time passed without incident and soon after the start of the second half, Spain made a dash for the Scottish goal.

Unfortunately, one of the Spanish players went down, in their own half, with an injury. The rest of the team seemed to carry on and, would you believe it, they scored.
I expected the game to end there and I would applaud Kick Off '96 for at least including one of the major rule changes of the Championships. But no! For some reason the ball came back to the bloke lying injured and a free kick was awarded.

Not only that, but the teams played out the rest of extra time without scoring. Now, guess the scoreline at the end of the game? Yup, you got it, Spain 3 - Scotland 2. What is going on? Crap is what's going on, I'm afraid.

Time for the final paragraph then. Kick Off '96 is dreadful. I've played around with better reader games. Don't be mislead by the fact that Anco have used the name Kick Off on the box - this game is just pants.



Kick Off '96 logo

"Liberty is a bitch who must be bedded on a mattress of corpses" - Louis-Antoine St. Just, Year II.

Scene: A dingy corner of a run-down office, viewed through a telephoto lens from a building some distance away. Some figures can be seen huddled around a flickering screen, occasionally gesturing or scribbling on a small notepad. Suddenly the silent whiteout explosion of a flash grenade momentarily obliterates the view.

The confused figures have no time to gather their thoughts before they are rushed by a team of body-armoured assault troops with mirror-visored helmets. Black hoods are jammed roughly over their heads and they are bundled out of the room. Barely seven seconds have passed.

Scene: A shabby, hastily-adapted courtroom. A hooded and handcuffed figure is led in, to jeering from an unsightly crowd of fat, sweaty young men in Iron Maiden t-shirts who entirely occupy the public gallery. The figure is shoved into the dock, whereupon an official removes the hood, revealing the defendant as Stuart Campbell, videogame journalist. The jeering intensifies as the defendant looks around in disgust. The judge takes his seat. He is the First Cyclist.

FIRST CYCLIST: You are charged that from the 19th of January 1991 to the 20th August 1996, you did wilfully participate in a conspiracy with other members of the magazine AMIGA POWER to unlawfully murder the popular home computer the Amiga. Furthermore, you are charged that during this time you did deliberately and with malice aforethought attempt to facilitate this aim by unfairly maligning the reputations of those concerned with supporting said machine, to wit, software publishers. This offence carries the death penalty. How do you plead?

SC: Not guilty, bignose.

FIRST CYCLIST: You will address the bench as "Your honour".

SC: Bignose, your honour, whatever.

FIRST CYCLIST: Counsel for the prosecution, you may cross- examine the witness.
(The prosecution counsel steps up to the dock. He is the Second Cyclist.)

SECOND CYCLIST: It is true, is it not, that the Amiga is dead?

SC: Very much so. Only a deluded fool would claim otherwise.

SECOND CYCLIST: And it is also true, is it not, that this was not a death of natural causes?

SC: Certainly. What with the AGA chipset and the death of all the competition, it could easily have had at least another couple of good years left in it.


Couple of good years

SECOND CYCLIST: If you hadn't murdered it.

SC: We didn't murder the Amiga, we tried to save it. We tried to make it an oasis in the 'interactive entertainment' desert, the last bastion of true, pure gameplay, affordable to the masses. Look at our Ultimate All-Time Top 100 - where other machines' charts are full of endless monotonous beat-'em-ups and driving games, the Amiga's best games are a world of diversity and innovation unseen since the days of the 8-bits.

From the dizzying platforms of Blob to the steampunk teamplay of The Chaos Engine, to the shining brutality of Speedball 2, to the inspirational weirdness of Wizkid, to the brainwrenching beauty of Gem'X, to the relentless intensity of Banshee, to the superfast future madness of Projectyle, to the steely discipline of E-Motion, to the pioneering spirit of Knights Of The Sky, to the masterful strategy of Sabre Team A1200, to the pinpoint realism of F1 GP, to the poignant carnage of Cannon Fodder, to the sheer gameplay genius of SWOS...
these are the games we championed when others were content to acclaim shabby reheats of tired genre pieces and clones of earlier successes.

The Amiga, even the A1200 could never compete on level ground with the 16-bit consoles on their own territory, far less the next generation machines (check out any of the Street Fighter games for conclusive proof) - we tried to make it strong on its own terms, to carve it a place in the world of videogaming where pure design skill could be showcased and triumph in a way that it never can in the slow-moving, stiflingly cautious, corporately-restricted world of the consoles. And on a platform which people could actually afford to buy without selling a new organ every two months, unlike the PC.

SECOND CYCLIST: And you did this by, what, giving more marks under 20% than any magazine in the history of leisure computing?

SC: Giving something like SWOS 95% is utterly devalued if you also give, for example, Rise Of The Robots 92%. Percentage ratings are meaningless unless you use the full range, and you can't give credit where it's due if you're pretending that everything's good. What encouragement does that give developers to produce quality?

They might as well knock it out at half the cost and in a third of the time if they're only going to get another 3% for doing it properly. Of course, the market will die much faster if people get continually stiffed by crap games, but hey - there's always another machine to move to and start the cycle again.

SECOND CYCLIST: But everyone else marks from 65% up - it's what the punters expect. You're just confusing them.

SC: And if everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you do it too?


95% is utterly devaluated if

SECOND CYCLIST: I'll ask the questions here. So if you didn't kill the Amiga, who did?

SC: Cripes, how much time have you got?

SECOND CYCLIST: I SAID I'LL ASK THE QUESTIONS.

SC: Blimey, keep your cape on. Lots of people are responsible for the death of the Amiga, to one degree or another. You've got the mainstream media, who wouldn't put the Amiga on TV because it's graphics weren't impressive enough (the reason why you never saw Sensible Soccer on Gamesmaster, for example, despite it being an obvious challenge game and one of the best-selling computer games of all-time on any format).

You've got the idiot public, who fell for hype over gameplay time after time after time - Rise Of The Robots heavily outsold Dynablaster, Guardian, Exile, Gloom, Super Stardust, Zeewolf, Head Over Heels, Banshee and Wizkid put together, for example.

You've got Amiga owners themselves, who seemed determined to jam themselves irretractably into a scabby little ghetto of football management games and flight sims - Airbus A320, for Christ's sake! You've got the games industry in general, which decided two-and-a-half years ago to kill the Amiga off for not being profitable enough - we've still got the minutes of the 1994 industry summit in the office for proof. But most of all, more than anyone, you've got the developers who produced utter, utter shit like Kick Off 96.


Order reigns once more

FIRST CYCLIST: The defendant will moderate his language in court!

SC: Or what? You'll shoot me?
(There is jeering in the court, and a sudden barrage of rotten fruit appears from nowhere and is hurled at the dock by the crowd. Court officials attempt to restore calm, without success.)

FIRST CYCLIST: The court will adjourn for ten minutes.

(Scene: an anteroom of the court. The First Cyclist sits at a desk covered in papers, while the Second Cyclist stands at the opposite side, leaning against the desk edge. Appearing in shot from the far end of the room is the Third Cyclist.)

THIRD CYCLIST: Okay, it's going according to plan so far. Keep it up.

SECOND CYCLIST: I still don't understand. Aren't we supposed to be on the side of The Truth? Are we really going to kill them all?

THIRD CYCLIST: Look, I know it is weird, but trust me. There are forces at work here that even beings as mighty as we cannot hope to comprehend. The AP team knew what they were taking on - perhaps, in another time and another place, they will come to understand why they had to be sacrificed. For now, comrades, we must simply perform our appointed task, as does our brother elsewhere. Let the trial continue.


Would that it was only them

(Scene: back in the courtroom. Order reigns once more.)

SECOND CYCLIST: Explain yourself.

SC: Look, everyone knows that crap games are what kill machines. Look at the Jaguar, or the Lynx, the Game Gear or even the 3DO - capable machines all, but destroyed by a lack of good software. And in the quiet shade of the Amiga market, software publishers have committed crimes greater than those seen anywhere else (just look at last month's reviews - the average for the issue was 7%). Kick Off 96 is only the worst.

SECOND CYCLIST: Come off it. Everyone knows you just hate Kick Off.

SC: True, but even Kick Off fans are being ripped off this time. Many of the flaws are just the same ones present all through the series (ridiculous control, over-close view, three sound effects, insulting lack of attention to detail, teams playing in entirely the wrong colours - I mean, how hard is that to get right?), but there are a whole series of new ones here, including outright lies on the box (there is no 3D view in the Amiga version), and one which effectively renders the entire game literally unplayable.

There seems, then, little point in expanding very much on the rest (even, for example, the one that lets the game clock tick down continually while it waits for you to take a free kick, goal kick etc, although you can wait all day if you like without the kick being taken automatically. So, even if the injury-time bug wasn't present, you could win every game by simply getting a goal ahead, then getting a goal kick and waiting. It's like International Rugby Challenge never happened).

SECOND CYCLIST: And this flaw is?

SC: The fact that in about 95% of the games you play, FIRST HALF INJURY TIME GOES ON FOREVER. At least, I think it's forever - the longest I ever tested for was four hours, but it wasn't showing any signs of stopping. You NEVER GET TO HALF TIME, which means, obviously, that you NEVER GET TO FINISH A GAME, which means, obviously, that all the league, cup and European Championships options, the creation of the 'Dream Teams', the four different passing styles catering for up to four-button joysticks and the 10,000 sets of real player statistics are a COMPLETE WASTE OF TIME.

This happened on every machine we ran the game on, in all competitions, using the finished, boxed version of the game. It's LITERALLY UNPLAYABLE, as would have been obvious to the most cursory playtesting imaginable, and it's been stuck into the shops anyway. THAT'S HOW MUCH ANCO THINK OF YOU. Would that it was only them.

SECOND CYCLIST: Yeah, but, at the end of the day, who cares what you think about anything? No further questions, your honour.

FIRST CYCLIST: Counsel for the defence.
(The defence counsel rises briefly to his feet. He is the Third Cyclist.)

THIRD CYCLIST: No questions, your honour.

SC Well, thanks for the spirited defence, I must say.

FIRST CYCLIST: Very well. The court finds the defendant guilty on all charges. I shall now pass sentence.
(Puts black cap on over his black Cyclist's cape and hood. The effect is minimal.)

FIRST CYCLIST: For the crime of killing the Amiga, I hereby sentence you to death by firing squad. Sentence will be carried out immediately.
(The defendant is dragged off to a room immediately adjoining the court. It is a tatty room, and bullet holes pockmark the walls. He is unceremoniously tied to a chair and blindfolded, and the rifles of the firing squad appear through slits in a large black tarpaulin draped from the ceiling. There is a momentary hush as a sergeant-at-arms raises his stick into the air, and a deafening fusillade as he snaps it downwards. Blood seeps through the defendant's AP t-shirt.)

SC (coughs)... is that the best you can do? (The sergeant-at-arms' stick rises and falls again. There is another burst of fire. This time, there is only silence).

REPORT OF THE CLERK OF THE COURT



Kick Off '96 logo

Price: £25.99 Publisher: Anco 01322 292 513

Although much maligned in its last incarnation, will this year's version spark the imagination once again?

Anco invented the playable overhead footie game before Sensible even got up for breakfast and proved that the formula would work. Of course once Sensi got hold of the idea they produced an all time classic game, the best of the genre, but let's not forget who started it all.

Kick Off 1 and 2 were games some journalists love to hate. It must also be noted that the buying public had no such hang up: they went out and bought them in droves. The journalistic snobbishness surrounding them was based on a 'Sensible rules, everything else is rubbish' philosophy which also saw the more than reasonable Football Glory get a trashing in some magazines.

But these were fine games for their day. However, when Kick Off 3 was released in late 1994 there was genuine cause for complaint. What happened to the overhead view they invented? What in heaven's name were all these matchstick men wobbling around the field for (KO3 was not an impressively fast game)... and playing side to side if you don't mind?

So it was with some trepidation that I loaded up Kick Off '96. Having checked out Sensible World Of Soccer European Champions some months ago I was left with a slightly bitter taste in my mouth. That offering was a statistical upgrade without major game enhancements - a marketing exercise in effect. My inclination was that Anco were likely to follow suit.

But no, fair play to Steve Screech and the Dartford crew. They obviously took the criticism of number three to heart and have gone back, if not to basics, to a concept likely to create a better game. For a start they've lost that horrible side view - and the isometric one that caused so much controversy in the Kick Off engine that was included in Player Manager 2.

This time they've gone for overhead 2D again with added spice in the form of a '3D' view option which basically lowers the camera perspective to around 70 degrees, makes the players bigger and giving the goals a 'realistic; look.

Competition
The whole reason for KO96 is, or was, of course the European Championships. For which it's a bit late. But nevertheless the opportunity has not been lost to include as many foreign teams and players as possible (as well as a reasonable number of top domestic teams).

Believe it or not, they've outdone Sensi on the international stat front, although the menus (still mouse driven) are more awkward to navigate. A good test of just how far a game has gone with footie stats is to search through the Republic of Ireland league for the little known (outside the emerald isle anyway) Sligo Rover, which a cousing of mine has captained and played in defence for. If he's in there, it's pretty comprehensive... and he is, though I'll wager he would have a lot to say to Anco for marking his Vision statistic as 34 (out of 100). Since they've also set his aggression levels at a hooliganistic 66, they are surely taking a risk; he has their address.

You can set up any size and mixed manner of league you like, including the creation of a dream team. Imagine Shearer, Klinsman, Cantona and Gavin Dykes on the same team! World beating and no mistake. Dream teams are nothing new, you get a similar feature with Sensi, but for the mad statisticians among you. KO96 does give you more detail with players rated according to Pace, Vision, Flair, Agility, Retention, Passing, Shooting, Tackling and Heading.

Two halves
There are problems though and the first strikes you right from the beginning. Why must we still live in the dark ages as far as loading games is concerned? There are three disks here, and number two and three need to be switched regularly... but the game only recognises one disk drive. Add to that the frustration of seeing the enclosed PC manual's hard disk installation instructions and you get the picture.

Another pretty basic complaint is that, having played Sensi (and I'm sorry Anco, but who hasn't) I'm pretty used to seeing the name of the player with the ball on screen. This not only provides more commentary about what is going on, but is a useful tool for examining players' skills throughout the season. KO96 tells you the number of the player with the ball, but not the name and this makes no impact whatsoever.

Also, believe it or not, it doesn't even tell you which team is which, or which team has scored. And in some cases the players' kit isn't right so it can't give you a clue either.

Although the speed of the game is now impressive enough, and playability has increased as a result, the animations are still extremely matchstick-like, especially in 3D mode. Here it looks as though a couple of frames have been left out to increase speed - which is probably the case.

Nevertheless KO96 is definitely head and shoulders above its predecessor. It's simply more enjoyable and although it doesn't even challenge SWOS in the overall playability stakes. If you're looking for a game with a bit more depth that the latter you should give it a chance. On name alone many probably will.