We recently got the chance to play an early preview build of Midway's upcoming soccer game, Red Card 20-03. What makes Red Card similar to the company's other unconventional sports titles--the NFL Blitz, NBA Jam, and NHL Hitz series--is its focus on aggressive, full-contact gameplay, which translates remarkably well to the game of soccer. While Red Card features a wide variety of international teams to select--52 in all--EA's FIFA series easily outweighs it in the auxiliary features department, so the main draw in Red Card is instead its potential for high-scoring, high-impact play and its enjoyable arcade-style pace.
It almost appears that Red Card began its development cycle as a purely simulation-oriented soccer game, as the fundamentals and basics all seem very solid. Instead of the miniaturized lineups of the other sports games, Red Card makes use of a full 11-man roster, with situational formations and other standbys of modern soccer games. Red Card doesn't lay claim to the official FIFA license, but it does have an abundance of appreciable features that you'd expect from a licensed game, such as real player names and detailed character models representing them, a variety of play modes (including alternate weather effects), and authentically re-created real-world stadiums.
Unlike the conventional three-button layout of Midway's other sports titles, Red Card 20-03 utilizes a surprisingly deep control scheme, while still making use of the hallmarks of Midway sports gaming. Each player is able to perform a wide variety of moves, both on offense and defense. When handling the ball, players can make three different types of passes, including nifty one-touch moves. Ground passes are accurate and safe, while through passes are perfect for getting past interfering defenders. Lob passes are ideal for crosses, where a wing centers the ball in front of the goal, opening up ideal scoring opportunities. Passes are rather simple to execute, as the receiving players are highlighted based on which direction the control stick is held. Either the right analog stick or a face button can be used to attempt a shot, with different shot types being made based on the situation. Getting the proper angle will allow for slick, in-the-keeper's-face-type goals, while good crosses and corner kicks often result in header or bicycle-kick goals. The athletes are able to leap really high into the air at times, and they can pull off some great looking, almost kung-fu-like spinning kicks that look particularly great during replays. There is an incredibly useful juke move for faking out defenders, while the slide tackle can be countered with a well-timed hurdle. When the speed needs to be turned on, you can also tap into your turbo bar, although this sacrifices the ability to steer for a short time after being used. With all these abilities, and a name like 20-03, it seems like Red Card is deliberately going for a high-scoring type of affair, and the games we played displayed a definite propensity for goals.
While there are a lot of options available to the offensive player, scoring can be difficult due to the lenient refereeing, which allows for hard-hitting defensive work. This may be Red Card 20-03's most noteworthy element, as even though scoring plenty of goals is lots of fun for those who find traditional soccer games slow-paced, what most players will remember after playing Red Card are the punishing hits that defensive players can lay on the opposition, whether they're controlling the ball or not. Much like a popular strategy in NFL Blitz, defensive players are almost encouraged to slide-tackle the offense players before passes reach them, resulting in an abundance of turnovers. Slide tackles, jumping kicks, or hip checks are all used frequently to flatten opposing players, and more often than not, they can send them tumbling head over heels. The default setting in Red Card is set to zero referee interference, although in our build he still punished the occasionally flagrant tackle with the namesake red card, giving out a free kick. We believe the system will end up similar to that of NBA Showtime, where players can often knock down their opponents to take the advantage, but can end up paying with penalty kicks (similar to the free throws awarded in Showtime.)
While our build of the game was rather early and had definite stability and camera issues, we were able to take in what is most assuredly a rock-solid graphics engine--the game ran at a constant 60fps. The game looks relatively good as well, at this stage of development. There's a decent grass texture used for the field, the stadiums look good, and shadows are cast where the roof overhangs. The players are relatively small, especially when compared with those in Midway's other sports titles, but they animate very nicely, especially when they're on the receiving end of tackles or when pulling off a juke move. The players are further brought to life with real-time shadowing, which is definitely a nice touch. Red Card automatically makes use of a couple of shifting camera views for different situations--starting relatively close up at midfield, zooming out as the ball is handled, and shifting to an angled behind-the-back perspective when taking corner kicks or a shot on goal. Scoring a goal will cut to a close-up of the jubilant player, often in the familiar routine of racing across the field in joy, then sliding on his knees. Red Card still has some of the Midway flair as well, which can be seen in the flaming footsteps left behind by dashing players. The CPU AI also impressed us with its ability to provide an entertaining match and its intelligent use of the many different moves available. Red Card's sound effects also fare nicely, even at this early stage, and they're accompanied by solid color commentary.
When Red Card 20-03 nears the end of its development cycle, we'll be able to bring you more on the features of the game that weren't available in this current build, such as the create-a-player function and instant replays. So far, Red Card looks like a strong step in the direction of realism for Midway sports games, while still nicely balancing this with their aggressive style. Stay tuned for more on Midway's promising Red Card 20-03 as it develops.