It is not until you have been a follower of football and computer football games for a while that you realise their historical importance. Take my home team Kilmarnock (Gngh. - Ed). This year they reached the semi-final of the Scottish Cup for the first time in twenty years - a landmark in the club's history.
If you read last month's AP, you will already know that we were up against Scottish Champions and European Challengers, Glasgow 'dirty stinking hun' Rangers. On the fateful day of the semi-final, we forced a replay. I felt so proud of Kilmarnock that I stayed over in Scotland to catch the next match.
Now, I do not mind if we get beaten fairly and squarely in any game. Sickeningly though, in the replay, Rangers were awarded a non-goal as a goal - the equaliser. Consequently, our game fell apart for the next ten minutes. Rangers took full advantage of the demoralising situation and scored the winning goal of the game. Hearteningly, Kilmarnock's play picked up from that major setback. They pressured and harried the huns for the duration of the match. In the end, it was to no avail, but at least they tried. They played with one hundred percent conviction and even more heart; it very nearly paid off, too. Despite the extreme disappointment at the result, all of the Killie supporters who went home that night felt proud of the team for their effort and commitment.
Killie's manager, Tommy Burns, is the first to admit that our players are not as good as Rangers' players. Just like Tommy Burns, Jeremy Wellard, the Project Manager of Audiogenic, admitted that Wembley International Soccer is not as good as Sensible Soccer - the game with which every other soccer game on the Amiga and indeed, any system is inevitably compared. But, just as with the Kilmarnock/Rangers situation, that does not stop WIS having some star features which make it more than capable of challenging and beating Sensi.
The first of these features, and the one that made me literally just about almost beg Jonathan to give the review two pages on the flat plan, rather than the allotted one page, is the inclusion of some code that lets the A1200 make full use of the CD32 controller. Yes, that is right, I can hardly believe it myself. Even the game's chief programmer told them it could not be done. Every single button on the CD32 pad is made use of by this game. It is quite literally more astounding than something that is astonishing: the extra button availability opens up a world of fantastic potential. (Steve, calm down - Ed).
Let us deal with each button in turn. The cursor pad fulfils its statutory obligations, i.e. it controls the direction you send your players in. The big red button is your shooting-, tackling- and heading-control. Shooting is similar in style to Kick Off, so the longer you hold the button down, the greater the strength of the shot on release. Slide tackling takes place if you are not in possession of the ball and you use the button while moving. The last function of the red button, heading and volleying, is achieved through some dextrous, well-timed, nimble-fingeredness, and can result in some particularly fine goals if it is executed properly.
The blue button implements a function somewhat ridiculously known as 'ping' passing. Now, the thing with ping passing is that it allows you to play a very accurate, flowing passing game. The man you are going to pass to appears in a little window, affording you extra visibility to gauge where he is on the pitch and whether or not he is in a good position to pick up the pass. Provided you are pleased with his present position, a quick tap on the blue button will send the ball hurtling in his direction.
The yellow button changes the view from a top-down plan view à la Sensi and Kick Off to a side view much like John Barnes Football. Whichever view you opt to use (the top-down view, admittedly, does not work too well), there is also the obligatory transparent map like the one from Kick Off to let you gauge the positions of players on the field.
And the effort has really paid off
The green button is similar to 'ping' passing except that you can choose just about any player on the field to pass to. This is achieved by moving a little direction arrow which appears above the player in possession's head. Intelligent use of this button will allow you to catch the opposition on the hop.
Those are the main control buttons. The shoulder buttons and the pause button are also used in a peripheral fashion: for replays, pause (surprisingly enough) and for speeding up those deadball situations.
Do not think from all this cock-a-hooping that the game is not any good using a normal joystick. It is. It is just that the mechanics are a little trickier to get to grips with - at the time of writing, I am still trying very hard to get the hang of one-touch passing.
There are plenty of game options too. Varying from bog standard choices such as referees, type of pitch surface and wind strength, to the incredibly helpful style-of-play tactic choice. You can opt for a British style, i.e. hoof the ball and chase after it, or a continental passing game, or any one of the three other styles on offer. You can even customise your own set of tactics so that, as soon as you have familiarised yourself with the passing routine, you can fine-tune your footballing skills.
The biggest criticism that WIS leaves itself open to is that of speed. If the pitch was larger and the players moved faster, this game would be nigh-on perfect. As it stands, it looks and feels as if the players are being held back by an invisible magnet, giving the impression that the footballers are running on the spot while moving (if that makes any sort of sense to you). That obstacle is something, I am sure, Audiogenic can and will improve on with future footy game releases. I certainly hope they do. They are onto a real winner if they manage it.
It is obvious from playing WIS that an incredible amount of though has gone into the playability and entertainment stakes. Both Jeremy Wellard and Neall Campbell (Audiogenic's playtester) are true enthusiasts who really believe in the games they are helping to create. And the effort has really paid off. Just like Kilmarnock FC, Wembley International Soccer has a lot of heart and commitment behind it. The use of all the buttons on the CD32 controller is nothing short of a historical landmark, and one that we hope to see other lots of other software houses pick up in the near future. What is more, WIS is capable of some upbeat play, and that has got to be better than a good thing.