Sensible Soccer 2006
The Amiga's original Sensible Soccer first made its entry to the world of sporting videogames way back in 1992 and prompted a swiftly amassed fan base while taking its place alongside that of leading football series Kick Off. Sensible Soccer's fast-paced arcade approach offered gamers a bird's-eye view of the pitch where forced-perspective 2D players happily slammed home goals from any and all angles - and Codemasters' revitalised Sensible Soccer 2006 comes from a similar gameplay mould, albeit with more defined 3D overtones. However, following some 14 years of gaming evolution since its debut, can Sensible Soccer 2006 expect to mount a serious challenge amid a sporting genre ruled by Konami's Pro Evolution and EA's FIFA? Well, no, not really. After only an hour of game time with Sensible Soccer it's clear that Codemasters should have left the beloved series to sit fondly in the memory rather than uncomfortably on present-generation gaming platforms.
While the flowing sensation of playing the old Sensible Soccer is certainly in evidence, it also happens to be the biggest point of detraction in a game that bears no subtlety, no pacing, no nuance, and, more importantly, no fun. Moreover, the on-screen players may have progressed to the level of slickly executed, cell-shaded 3D, but, by comparison, the gameplay remains sadly two-dimensional and unintuitive. Passes are directed by an on-screen arrow that sits beneath each player and must be positioned via the controller before attempting a pass. Essentially, this is no different from leaning the analogue stick in the desired pass direction before tapping the appropriate button (as seen in Pro Evo and FIFA) but here in Sensible Soccer it devolves into an unreliable mechanic due to unrelentingly quick game pace. This results in seemingly simple and secure passes often going astray or straight to the opposition, and attempting to tackle back possession highlights yet another control fault. Tackling can be performed (though clumsy sliding tackles are a sure way to land a yellow or red card), but, more often than not, players simply run into one another, fall over pathetically, and the ball runs to someone else. Repeat until bored and/or frustrated. Shots are also controlled by the on-screen direction arrow, and emerge as similarly fractured in terms of fluent reliability. It's a struggle to decide on a shot preference based on goalkeeper positioning, implement its direction, execute the shot itself, and then apply wicked swerve to its trajectory...all while speedy and mindless defenders are closing down the attacker and creating a mass of struggling bodies in and around the penalty area. Yes, with regard to control, Sensible Soccer 2006 is extremely faithful to its 1992 inspiration.
Sensible Soccer 2006 is also disappointing aesthetically, and its graphic content stumbles in almost every way. Though the players are cute and interesting, their cell-shaded appeal and comically oversized heads only emerge during close-up replays - which also reveal a definite lack of effort in player likenesses - whereas the game's (singular) high camera view all-but removes any semblance of their unique design. Indeed, players are fairly indistinct beyond their specific team colours and initialled names, and the gameplay's sole camera option doesn't help to bring the action or the players any closer either - particularly as its movement is both jerky and disorientating. The heavily zoomed out view also means that stadiums are sadly bare bone affairs that offer scant little environmental atmosphere - again, unless seen down at pitch level during replays. And, speaking of atmosphere, Sensible Soccer 2006 contains absolutely no commentary, which some gamers may not especially miss, yet the gap it leaves in terms of presentation only serves to accentuate the game's flat sound effects. The ball's sound as it's arbitrarily kicked about is a dull thump that's overly loud and quickly grating, whereas the crowd effects are oddly subdued, pulsing and repetitive, and never successfully raise the heart level or in-game adrenaline. Ultimately, the game's presentation quality is far too close to that of the original and, although some may say it's a homage to the series' roots, it feels much more like cheap development.
In terms of content, Sensible Soccer steers clear of a more obvious longevity-friendly career mode, instead offering Friendlies, 45 different international and club Preset Competitions, Leagues, Cups, and phased Tournaments to occupy player time. Of course, there's no official license in evidence here in Sensible Soccer 2006 so teams and squad rosters look predictably bizarre. However, those willing to invest (considerable) effort can use the game's edit feature to change player, team, and competition names so that proceedings at least 'feel' more authentic - though inhuman patience will be necessary to trawl through 67 international teams and 300 'sound-a-like' club teams from England, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Portugal, Scotland, and Spain. There's also a Custom Team and Custom Player feature for those wanting to mount a more personal assault on football glory. Finally, steady progression throughout the leagues and tournaments, etc, means that various unlockable extras such as new balls and playing surfaces can be attained.
The bottom line with Sensible Soccer 2006 is that it wants so very badly to be a laidback arcade sports videogame but, more notably, it's also desperate to reproduce the same consumer effect it first inspired in 1992. That, however, is the game's central downfall seeing as today's football titles are so very much more advanced, layered, responsive, competent, immersive, and enjoyable than what was on offer 14 years ago. Sadly, in that regard, Sensible Soccer 2006 emerges as a completely successful failure thanks to its uncomfortable controls, the singularly lousy positioning of its game camera, lacklustre graphics, poor sound, and thoroughly uninspired gameplay. There are moments in the life of a videogame reviewer when a slice of software comes along that you really hope will transcend gathered expectation and hold true to cherished memories. Sensible Soccer 2006 was one such game. It's a crashing personal disappointment to openly bash it so that pennywise consumers duly avoid adding it to their footballing collection.