Soccer, or "football," as some would have it, is the world's most popular sport. That said, it's not unreasonable to assume that any time a soccer video game is released to the general public, it goes under the microscope as closely as one might critique a basketball game for accuracy and "feel." Very few of the myriad soccer games released have approached the upper echelon of what most people consider "an excellent soccer game." The games that have done so most recently have been titles like EA's FIFA, Konami's International Superstar Soccer, and Sega's World Wide Soccer. Interestingly, it is Sega that has created the Dreamcast's first soccer game, and surprisingly, it does not hail from the accurately detailed World Wide series. Instead, Sega's first "footie" title comes home from the arcade in the form of Virtua Striker 2.
Virtua Striker 2 is as simple as a soccer game can get, and it's a soccer game that, against all reason, is incredibly popular in Japanese arcades. Practically as popular as Virtua Fighter and Virtual On in its country of origin, Virtua Striker has somehow managed to forge itself a devoted following, making this one of the more highly anticipated titles to come to the Dreamcast. While Sega would probably like to think of Virtua Striker 2 in the same breath as games like NFL Blitz or NBA Showtime, due to their extreme playability, this is absolutely not the case. Virtua Striker 2 was designed to provide a stadium-like sensation, along with all that implies. Not since Namco's Libero Grande have you ever had the sensation of being on the field as much as you do in VS 2. What's significant is that a game like this was only recently made possible due to the Dreamcast's powerful hardware. However, that doesn't save this game from being a clunker. The game is incredibly beautiful, but in the gameplay, where it counts, the game falls miserably short.
To begin with, there is no analog control. While the arcade version featured the standard eight-way joystick, and not true analog, the Dreamcast version would have benefited from analog greatly due to the overly stiff control the D-pad provides. Secondly, never during a game do you feel as if you really have control over your players. This is partly due to the horrible auto-select feature the computer provides. What this means is that the computer selects which player you control, and the choice doesn't always make sense. Often, the computer automatically switches you to a player that's not even onscreen. Other times, while you're chasing a ball, another member of your team, coming from the opposite direction, will come within striking distance of the ball. The computer automatically switches your controller to this player, instantly switching the direction of your controller and taking away any sense of interaction with the player you might have tentatively had. It never gets better either. Goalie control? Bah! Good luck!Your other controls consist of short pass, long pass, slide kick, and offense realignment. While this sounds streamlined and dandy, it never seems to work to your benefit. The computer is agile and very adept at taking the ball from you every two seconds, something that, unfortunately, doesn't seem to work the other way around. Frustratingly, your only method of defense, aside from trying to steal the ball, is a slide-tackle. Despite the simplified interface, where throw-ins and goal kicks are handled via an onscreen button prompt, the game is anything but simple. One-touch kicks are nothing short of impossible to do because of the "innovative" power meter. The power meter functions like a swing-meter in a golf game. Instead of instant pass-shoot one-touch shots on goal, you must pause (even while running) to hold down the shoot button for an indeterminate amount of time before you can kick. Early experience will find you shooting far wide of the goal, often missing by a mile.
There are many other jarring problems, including an almost total lack of voice commentary - the only vocal sample powerful enough to stick is the incredibly grating "GOOOOAAAALLLLLL!!!!!" that some loudmouth bellows every time someone scores. You're also stuck with one lousy camera angle that, while functional, gets boring quickly for people who like a top-down, or side-scrolling view in their soccer games. There's no FIFA license in case you were wondering. The list goes on and on, but the biggest crime this game commits is the complete and utter lack of playability. While there are loads of tournament, arcade, and versus modes available, they all play badly and are no fun, in equal proportions. Perhaps the biggest and most offensive omission is the lack of four-player gaming. Virtua Striker 2 only supports two-player action, which is incomprehensible, considering the four controller ports on the front of the Dreamcast.
Graphically, the game is wonderful to look at, if you like looking from one stinking camera angle the whole time. Character models, though, are built with oodles of polygons, giving them a nice hi-res, full-bodied look, which is impossible on the PlayStation or N64. Motion capture was put to good use here, as every player moves smoothly and fluidly, but again, this never carries over into the gameplay. When games like FIFA 99 almost completely get it right, with control a deliberate and conscientious thing, Virtua Striker's faults become obvious far too quickly.
With Namco developing a soccer game (World Kicks) on Sega's Naomi board, and Konami whipping up an International Super Star Soccer for DC, there are far better possibilities for DC soccer playing looming on the horizon. Even without the third-party competition, it would even be difficult to recommend VS2 as a rental. A hi-res example of how not to design a soccer game, Virtua Striker 2 is a classic example of good ideas gone horribly wrong. Avoid at all costs.