Right then deep breath and brace myself to make a confession. I am not a football fan.
Seriously I find the whole sport boring as heck. Maybe it's the endless dissection of the match after it's over and all the multiple replays of when someone scores a goal, and the inevitable interview with the managers etc etc (Is it me or do the Managers always sound so bored?)
So when this disc was handed too me, I thought, OK remember you are approaching this as a game, a sports simulation, and having just recently reviewed a boxing game which is another sport I am not a fan of, and actually didn't dislike it, I thought OK let's give this a go.
First thing I discovered was the character creation option. Now if you think the WWE create a wrestler modes had lots of options, then this one may well make your eyes boggle when you see the wire frame style options to shape eyes, noses, cheeks, jaw bones etc.
Then there's the hairstyles, tattoos and height, build etc and you'll find that this may take a while!
Once past that, then it's onto the game itself, no hold on, as I was a novice I headed straight to the training options. Here I was taken through various exercises including dribbling and shooting, etc and soon learnt that pressure on button presses can effect the outcome (more on that later).
Then once through all THAT, it's a case of looking at the game modes and for a newcomer like me, I thought strewth, there's a lot that you can do here and that is no lie.
Now I know most of you out there are already familiar with this series but I have to find the balance between talking to the fans of the games and any newcomers out there so bare with me on this!
You can play as a player/manager, making team decisions, make transfer deals between clubs and guide your team through the seasons, in the hope that you get offered a better job and indeed perhaps get the job of managing your country's team.
Or you can play as a player. This guy you have already created, so give the guy a name, pick the team you want him to play for and off you go. You can select the skills you want him to hone to a fine edge and pick the position you want him to take on on the pitch.
Or select a team without the managerial options entailed and play through a league competition. This can be the English League Cup or indeed the EUFA cup. Depending on the difficulty level you have selected this will offer you a challenge that may seem ridiculously easy to quite tricky.
On easy you may find this game TOO easy but cranking up the difficulty will present quite a challenge indeed as the A.I will respond in kind. The online play will give you a mixed variety of opponents. Ranked matches will match you against someone with equal skill whereas a friendly match will give you a randomly selected opponent.
You can by the way, do the training exercises at any time you like if you need to remind yourself about how things work.
It's a game of two halves...
Whichever mode you select to play, you will discover a wealth of options to look at and explore and I'll leave that up too you dear reader. Be aware that each tournament you enter will require it's own save slot.
So with the option of being a player/manager or a player, you'll be presented both with a different style of player but also camera angle. For the managerial and tournament mode, the camera will give you an overhead camera angle, and for the career mode, you'll be controlling your footballer in a third person perspective.
The latter style will be familiar to anyone who has played an NHL or NBA simulation and the third person view will not be that unfamiliar either. What will change though is the controls and their functions.
In both modes the left stick or d-pad will direct your player, and the X button is used to pass the ball to another player. If you want to pass the ball on an elevated plane then press O to pass the ball through the air. Where things change is the use of the R1 control button.
In team mode, the player running can be made to put on a short burst of speed by pressing R1, but in the third player mode, there is no sprint. To run keep R1 pressed down.
Why this is changed I do not know as the other controls seem to keep the same functions in both modes.
In both modes to pass the ball to another player that is not directly to the side or ahead of you, flick the left stick in the desired direction. The power and speed of the pass is set by a press of the X button. Keep the X button pressed down it will go further but be aware the chance of it being intercepted increases. When shooting, you can set direction and power of the shot by a button combination. R2 will regulate the aiming of the shot, by giving you a brief opportunity to set the power with X. This takes some getting used to for novices, so practice the shooting in training mode. It's quite easy to accidentally put too much power in the shot and have it rebound off the woodwork or sail over the goal and into the crowd. But practice can and will make perfect, so stick with it.
Perhaps a tad confusingly, X can also be used for tackling, and like other buttons, the pressure of the button push can if not careful, make a big difference. A gentle press of the button and you will tackle, but press too hard and you'll go into a sliding tackle and it's very easy to accidentally commit a foul. Whilst approaching a player homing in on an attacker, you can press the Square button to run interference or send an order to other players to close up gaps.
I have accrued a few yellow cards unintentionally so be careful! Also it's possible for you to be substituted on the pitch in career mode. You have to watch the rest of the match but it can be speeded up with a press of the R2 button.
Learning the different combos can again be mastered through the tutorials and it's worth doing. There are various ways of regulating the corner kick, throw in and the goalie either throwing the ball or kicking it away from the goal area after saving or picking it up from the back of the net.
You can choose as said what position you want to play in in career mode. I do not know if this covers the goal keeper though. I thought that if my team were on form and dominating then that could have made a very quiet match so I haven't tried 'applying' for that position.
There are a LOT of options here and this could end up looking like a novel if I went through them all. I'll leave it to you dear reader to discover them all for yourself.
From the camera angles, to the atmosphere evoked from the sound effects (i.e crowd cheers, boos and football songs) this is a slickly presented affair indeed. The animation of the players is smooth and flows without stuttering, and online there is no noticeable lag either.
All in all this side of the game is very satisfactory and pleasing.
The ball acts exactly as you want it to. When players collide they tumble and react to impacts in an authentic way. Some will leap over a leading leg if there is a sliding tackle, and where needed the A.I handles incidents both on and off the ball very well.
Going back to the ball, it bounces in a realistic way, swerves nicely if a curve shot (like Beckham's) is pulled off, and all in all looks darned authentic. I was pleasantly surprised to be honest.
Now we are NOT talking authentic likenesses of players here, as this is a fictional football world for want of another term. There is no Manchester United or Birmingham City, you'll get the West Midlands League, Northern England, etc so it's a kind of regional based football league. Some of the players faces look a little like a mannequin to be honest but that does not matter too much to me. Sure the teams may be for the most part fictional but the occasional well known name does appear from time to time.
But the animation is smooth, and I was impressed by player movement. Nice very nice.
Lighting is spot on and shadows are nicely rendered.
From the sound of the crowds cheers and boos, to the commentary and the music on the menu screens, you do get a feeling that this is an occasion. Does that make sense? It makes you feel that you are being drawn into an atmospheric world set in a sporting arena. Very satisfactory.
Intuitive yes, but there are times when the controls don't quite act the way you'd like but as I said that is down to the pressure exerted on the control buttons or triggers. It's a bit of a juggling act, fine for PES pro players out there but a little hampering for a novice like myself but I am getting better at it with time.
It's fluid and fast and plays in a speeded up time mode. Team play there are no major gripes, it's relatively easy to correct minor mistakes and halt them in their tracks in managerial mode.
Where there is a gripe is in the career mode. There is no I in team....yes well, there are times when you place yourself in a position to shoot but the teams major player can be a glory hound and hog the action and shoot when he could have passed the damned ball to me and let me have a pop at it. There's also the case where I have passed to someone and they have scored. Now I take it that like Ice Hockey or Basketball that should count as an assist, but no it sometimes does not count it? Anybody know why? 'Cos I sure as heck don't.... Never mind, onwards and upwards! (It's denied me an assist on a number of occasions now) but these are minor issues for me and although annoying I can live with it.
I have been pleasantly surprised by this title like I was with Real Boxing on the Vita. Is it going to convert me into a football fan overnight and head off to support my local team from the terraces every Saturday? No it's not, but it's good enough to have me reach for the game and see how far I can take my team or player through their respective careers, whenever I fancy a break from my normal gaming fare and that's saying something. There is downloadable content aplenty to expand your gaming experience though I probably won't be purchasing much of it to be honest.
But I like it and that as said surprises me as it will no doubt surprise some people who know me well.