Sensible World of Soccer Hands-On

We get back to basics with Codemasters' forthcoming classic for Xbox Live Arcade.

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It's fair to say that thanks to Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade and the Nintendo Wii's Virtual Console, we're seeing a lot of old games these days that many of us thought were consigned to the history books. Perhaps some games should have been, but Codemasters has delved deep into the rich tapestry of UK gaming history to pull out something of a classic.

Sensible World of Soccer first made its debut on the Commodore Amiga platform back in 1994 and developed the already popular Sensible Soccer franchise into something rather more far-reaching. By taking the existing gameplay and league structures, it added basic management options, as well as every professional club and national team in the world. It also included all of the correct names and basic facial characteristics for each player. Well, skin and hair colour, anyway.

In addition to a multitude of league or cup options, you could play as any team in any league and buy or sell players (whose value would change according to your performances) across a career spanning many in-game years. You could choose to play every match and attempt the ultimate feats of football brilliance by relying on your own joystick skills or just let the CPU manager take control instead. It was the best soccer game of its day, without a doubt.

After having played the slightly disappointing Sensible Soccer update that was released for the Xbox and PlayStation 2 last year, it was with some trepidation that we jumped into a multiplayer session of SWOS. While the initial adjustment period of getting used to playing a soccer game using just the analogue stick and a single button for all actions took a bit of time, once we got back into the swing of things, it was as if the past decade had never happened.

Compared to football games nowadays, the basic game is really just that: basic. Your players, almost matchstick in their graphical makeup, run around the pitch in one of eight directions, and only the best of them have the skill required to control the ball effectively. This means that, superstars aside, half of the work involved in the game is coaxing the ball up or down the pitch toward your desired goal.

Passing is haphazard at best, with successful connections only really made if another player on your team is almost exactly in line with the ball's path. The only real finesse the game contains is the degree of after-touch swerve that you can apply to long passes or shots. But that's just the way it should be because Codemasters hasn't tinkered with the gameplay at all, and it's great fun.

In fact, you can play the game in the exact form it was originally shipped, although it will also be possible to play in an enhanced mode. This mode basically tidies up some of the rough edges and applies more up-to-date Codemasters-related advertising hoardings. It also adds other bits and pieces, such as deteriorating pitches. The player data is all taken from the 1996-7 edition of the game and the relevant team rosters of the time, which brings back a few memories. However, it's unlikely that the XBLA game will feature the appropriate licences, so expect Sensible versions of all of those player names.

As part of the upgrade process, SWOS will include the standard array of achievement points for completing various challenges within the game. It will also support full online multiplayer options, although that needn't stop you from hosting those SWOS parties that seemed so much fun back in the day.

The final release date for the game hasn't been confirmed just yet, and there are still one or two tweaks that are being made to the code. But from what we've seen so far, the SWOS experience of 2007 is an authentic one, and after a few games, potentially addictive too! Keep an eye out for more on SWOS in the coming months.

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