Soccer '97 (PlayStation) review
"What do you give a game thatís great for all the wrong reasons? You give it a 5. And a hearty recommendation."
Soccer '97 is never going to win any awards for breath-taking graphics, for precise controls, or for realistic physics. In fact, it's not going to win any awards at all. For all intents and purposes, Soccer '97 is an ugly, broken, bad football game.
So bad it's brilliant.
Let's talk about goals. Place a striker right in the box and smash the ball as hard as your player can (which, by the way, is bloody hard indeed) and watch the goalkeeper pull off an impossible save almost every single time. The Ďkeeper soars across the goal with superhuman agility, the ball sticking to his hands like it's liberally coated in superglue. Try as you like, the men between the posts are not mere mortals; they are GODS and will not be beaten by conventional means.
So wax unconventional. If you want to beat them you can do so by:
Remember kids: If youíre on the floor, youíre invisible!
You can score without these tricks, of course, but why would you want to when you can crack off a shot everytime you wander up to the halfway line? Or when you can merrily poach goals with a little bit of timing and a lot of sliding around on your arse?
A lot of issues also pop up for defending. It's been pre-established that any well-executed sliding tackle welds the ball to a player's foot, but it's just as noteworthy that fouls on attacking players are rare. Clutter into them from behind and smash out their legs, if you like. Screw the ball, go for the kneecaps! Hell, for the violently impatient, there's no real need to wait for the opposition to even have the ball at all; if the mood takes you, feel free to scythe through anyone at anytime. While the ref will randomly award the odd free kick (and, rarer still, flash a yellow card) there's neither rhyme nor reason for the ones he decides to call. The severity of the fouls has no connection with the free kicks being given; just sometimes, the whistle needs to be blown and a player chastised.
If you're involved in a footrace for a loose cross, ignore the ball, annihilate the player. They'll go down like they've been shot and you'll be marker-free and be able to collect the football unopposed!
The slides also have a remarkable distance in them, letting you skid a largely unrealistic distance before your superhuman inertia runs out of you get slowly back to your feet. Missing a tackle in this form rules that player out of the fray long enough to be safely bypassed. Thereís a lot to be said for dancing around these attacks, but you always play the risk of being wiped out if you canít get out of the way quick enough.
Calling all the action is Alan Green, Godfather of all radio commentary! But the lines he delivers only add to the comic-laden farce. "Offside! Oh yes you are!", he'll gleefully mock should you fail to spring the trap. Inaccurate strikers will be met with cries of "That was nearer the corner flag than the goal!" But it's not the mocking that turns heads, it the odder phrases. One such call, "You never hear much about [insert player here], but he's very underrated", doesn't work out so well when the player randomly selected to be inserted into this text is Eric Cantona (sulkily wearing the #10 shirt for some reason: Roy Keane's pinched his #7) or Teddy Sheringham. Green will also fluff lines before promising to get his teeth fixed and demand his tea come half-time. He'll tell the world the subs are warming up (even when they're not) right underneath him before ensuring that the listeners are aware he doesn't mean it literally.
Oddities continue. Both L1 and R1 have area-sensitive commands that can sometimes lead to a unplanned pass or unravel an attacking movement. L1 makes you run a little faster off the ball, but while dribbling, makes you push the ball directly ahead of you, regardless of any obstacles in the way, letting you try to then run on to it. R1 lets you execute a back-heel unless youíre in exactly the right position to whip in a cross. Want to play a ball into the box but are not in that very small area? Tough: you back-heel the ball to, most likely, a closing defender. Want to try and back-heel the ball to an overlapping winger? Itís a risk! Stray into the aforementioned area, and youíll smash in an unwanted cross youíre probably not ready for. Puzzlingly, R2 and L2 are unused, so why are the extra options not mapped to these?
Thereís more! The graphics were so outdated and ugly back and in í97 that the blocky, faceless messes that represented your team scared young kids, the techno-heavy soundtrack so cheesy and out-of-place that itís groan-enticingly brilliant and the little touches that promote competence absent. Canít edit a teamís formation, canít designate who you want to substitute for whom, and canít pause the game without having to wait a good minute for it to unpause afterwards. Soccer Ď97 is a broken mess of a game, but itís those flaws that lead to a superb arcadey game that feels like 16bit favourite Sensible Soccer played by bloodthirsty sociopaths that can whack the ball from end-to-end effortlessly while avoiding reckless tackles that should snap their legs like matchsticks.
A reviewer once suggested that an enjoyable game made enjoyable by the sheer lack of effort and care put into the title should be dished out a 1 or a 10 decided by the fates with a flip of the coin. I am not so fickle: Soccer Ď97 is the football game that has outlived all the big names, the Fifaís, the Pro Evoís, the Actuaís, they all get thrown in their respective machines from time to time, and maybe when I win a match on one of them, it means a little more. But with the simple addition of a second pad, a likeminded opponent and a healty disrespect of reality, thereís only one game to play. Iíve been playing Soccer Ď97 constantly from the day I bought it all those years ago, and I wager I will be doing so in another decade or so.
What do you give a game thatís great for all the wrong reasons? You give it a 5. And a hearty recommendation.
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