Back when I was a wee boy (cue sepia film-reel of a delivery boy with many loaves of bread on his bike), there wasn’t the powerhouse football games of the likes of FIFA or PES. We had top-down arcade-style football from the likes of Sensible Soccer and Dino Dini’s Kick Off. These introduced the player to the glory of pixel perfect passing and the flying header. Despite the sparse graphics and the slightly ropey sound, Sensible Soccer and Kick Off were both exactly what they set out to be. Fast, fun and most of all frustratingly addictive.
One-man band, The Fox Software, have taken the essence of those games from yesteryear and shoehorned them into Active Soccer DX 2 on Xbox One. Could it hope to emulate what Sensible Software and Dino Dini managed to achieve all those years ago?
Crank the title up then, and you’ll see quite a basic front end. This is very reminiscent of Sensible, right down to the player names. The player and team names are not licensed in either title so an oft humorous alter-ego was created for each player. This is evident in Active Soccer to a degree, but the names seem to have been generated automatically rather than given that personal touch. This was, in truth, simply the start of some of the little things that simply require some buffing and polishing to help turn Active Soccer from its current guise to a well-made title that well deserves it’s praise at full-time.
The front end has a few irritating quirks to it. The default team selections don’t always reflect the best available eleven, for instance, and rather than save that selection for the next game, you’ll be finding you’ll have to make that change again. Irritating and time-consuming, but not necessarily a deal breaker. It’s the football we’re here for, so let’s play.
Before you can trot your chosen team out onto the pitch, however, you’ll need to pick your strip. Strangely, the game will allow colour clashes. Obviously this will make playing a total nightmare, so pick non-clashing shirts or someone will have to play in skins. Never nice.
Once you’re on the pitch, the colours seem to blur into one, with little determination between the two teams, regardless of the colour schemes you’ve picked. This, in part, is down to the camera angle and small player size. You can, in the options, change the camera angle, with dynamic being, well, the oddest. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to how it zooms or pans around the lush green pitch.
The pitch itself is very green with a choice of Groundskeeper Willie’s best mowing patterns available. The under-boot conditions are also changeable, with a choice of weather theoretically meaning a change in how heavy the pitch plays. Sadly, this doesn’t appear to be the case and the ball travels and bounces a set distance on all surfaces. Some variation here would have added just that little more shine to Active Soccer.
So, we come to the crux. How does the game play, seeing as it looks so much like the darling of so many arcade football players from yesteryear? Well, in short, it’s mid-table. The passing is crisp and almost as accurate as a Barcelona practice match, but there’s always something in the back of your mind that wants to do more. More dribbling, more beating the man? It simply doesn’t happen. Active Soccer is more kick n rush football rather than tiki taka. More James Milner than Lionel Messi.
There’s something about the entire control set up that doesn’t really click. The sprint option as Y, doesn’t really work. It makes it difficult to pass while sprinting, or to run on to a through-ball and hammer a shot away. Other than the fact that through-ball would appear to be an alien concept. It’s pass or shoot, simple. Yet it’s that simplicity that lets Active Soccer down. If there were more in-play options, more ability to take your opponent on one-on-one, then this would make the game more of a challenge. Sure, you could turn the difficulty up if the game appears to be too easy, but it still doesn’t quite deliver the individual brilliance that can turn any game of football. Yes, it’s a team sport, but pretty much every team has their individual play-maker. Active Soccer seems to have left theirs on the bench, or worse still, on the coach.
Shooting at goal is a whole new experience however. You don’t so much shoot as hit and hope. You tap the button and where it will end up is absolutely anyone’s guess. At first, I thought it might have been my notoriously poor directional skills, so I loaded up the training mode. No. It’s definitely the shooting mechanic. It seems to have a mind of its own. The more I shot, the more I realised it. 33 shots and 4 goals later, you do realise it. You can be all alone in front of goal, with someone’s house on you to score and the game will contrive for it to go out for a throw-in. Perhaps the developer is going for the ‘it hit a divot’ angle, who knows? Whatever the reason, it either makes it nail-biting, or incredibly frustrating.
If you do manage to send a rocket of a shot into the onion bag, then you’ll celebrate with your team-mates. This appears to involve you back-flipping, while the other players seem to twitch around you. I’m not sure quite whose choreographed celebration that is, I’ve got to be honest. There are other in-game issues that might be too numerous to mention, but the essence of a simple game of arcade football does seem to be there. Needless to say, that you’ll miss the ref’s whistle many times and be confused as to why everyone has stopped and you’ve got a free-kick.
The lack of ref’s whistle is probably the only audio that is missing. There’s a natty little jingle in the mold of Sensible’s “Goal scoring superstar hero” throughout the game’s menus and the usual peeps from the ref and oohs and aahs from the crowd. It’s all pretty standard football game fare.
Alongside the single game mode, there’s training mode, a local multiplayer, career and custom tournaments. There is also the welcome addition of a Legends mode, taking some of the giants of European competition from yesteryear and letting you mix it up a bit with them.
Now, during reviews I don’t normally mention achievements. Active Soccer gets a special mention, however. I managed to grab the ‘The Wall’ achievement, gained for not conceding. I won 4-1. Make of that what you will.