Review by Ryan Harrison
These are the words with which Barry Davies opens up the second instalment of the Actua Soccer series for the PlayStation, along with other in-game commentary snippets from both himself and the game's colour analyst, Trevor Brooking. While the association football (soccer) video game scene is largely contested these days between the FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer series, the Actua sports franchise was having a great run with some pretty good sports games of their own through the mid-to-late 90s, and this particular game, although with not the most in terms of offerings or having the best gameplay, is a pretty solid soccer title that fans of the sport will probably enjoy playing through if they have a PlayStation, and those who aren't fans of the sport might find its fast-slowing and simple gameplay style good enough to grind anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours away.
Released in November of 1997, Actua Soccer 2 is the true sequel to the original Actua Soccer game, with Season and Cup modes featuring over 60 international teams from around the globe, with squads comprised of the prominent players of the 1997/98 season; including the likes of the title character Alan Shearer, by then England and the world's most valuable and in-form striker; as well as other big names from the time such as David Seaman, Stuart Pearce, David Beckham, Paul Gascoigne and Ian Wright making up the England team. With a more polished and refined gameplay engine, along with great commentary and some good graphics the game isn't without a few snags here and there, however.
'Kicking off' with the gameplay, the good things are that you don't really need to know or understand a lot about the sport to come to grips with how to play AS2. The matches all follow the general soccer rules of scoring more than your opponents to win games, gain points and climb the league table or progress in the cup competitions. You've got your basic set-pieces such as goal and corner kicks, throw-ins, free kicks and penalties and can adjust your squad's line-ups, starting players, substitutes and so on. Some other minor gameplay features can be altered via the game options if you want longer games, different playing conditions and so on.
Control of the game is for the most part acceptable, but can take a bit of time to understand at first. The D-Pad will move the highlighted player in whichever direction you press according to the camera angle, and you can make passes with the Cross and Triangle buttons, as well as shoot by holding down the Square button to build your power meter, and by releasing it you'll shoot the ball. One big flaw I found with the game is that while on the defence, the CPU often changes the highlighted player you control at random, often catching you by surprise when you're trying to win possession from your opponents and your guys might run in the wrong direction. This doesn't help either with the camera angle that seems to swing around wildly and as there's no means of actually selecting which player you want to challenge for possession, sometimes opposition players make it past you easily.
The offside rule is also something else that really could have done with some adjusting; while it's good that the game tries to resembles the sport as realistically as possible, it's a tad infuriating that 9 times out of 10, the game tends to judge you offside whenever trying to pull off a through-pass, even though it's painfully obvious you are not. This even happens when making a clearance from your own penalty area to a team-mate in your own half of the pitch!
Some good points are that along with the simple playing style itself, you can also play in conditions which might affect your shooting, passing and running. Weather ranges from dry, foggy, rainy and snowy, the latter of which even utilises dark pitch markings and an orange ball. You'll find that while certain tactics might lead to you scoring enough goals to get into double-figures in some games, the same tactics don't work so well in the next game. You may come up against a goalkeeper who's in such form that he foils your every shot, or a team full of players who easily outrun your own and rob you of possession very quickly, giving you less time to pull off a shot.
Apart from playing a standard friendly match, the main modes of AS2 are its international league and cup competitions. The league mode has 4 separate divisions, and the teams are ranked roughly how good they were at that time. The top division will of course have the powerhouses of Brazil, Germany, Italy, France and England, middle divisions have the likes of South Korea, the United States, Bulgaria and Peru, and then in the bottom division are the world football minnows, including the lovable San Marino. You select your team and play all the others in your division twice - once at home and once away - and three teams are promoted and/or relegated from your respective division after all fixtures are played. The league mode itself is alright, but after a while playing through it starts to get a little mundane and finishing it doesn't really feel as rewarding as it possibly could have been, so I think there was some room for improvement there.
The cup competition again is a straightforward knockout-style tournament played out over one-match fixtures with the winners advancing and the losers being knocked out, and draws being settled after extra time and penalty shootouts if necessary. Again, the cup mode is done alright but isn't anything truly special and doesn't feel very rewarding either. You can also make your own custom tournaments and cups in which you can modify the amount of participants, who can enter and the stipulations. These are interesting to try out. While you've got a few different modes and offerings to try out, the problem is that you'll be through with most of them within a short time (I had played and completed everything here within a week).
The graphics of the game are rather nice by 1997 standards. While player models look like lumps of polygons and sometimes blocky from a distance, the kit designs look pretty nice and they all have different traits such as complexions and hairstyles. The pitch designs all look nice and the weather condition effects are great. The stadium design itself is also pretty good, although every match always takes place in the exact same stadium, and even the same billboards are used over and over again! The game could have perhaps done with different stadiums, but the detail on kits and advertising boards was one of the better things about the graphics. The game also flows at a wonderfully smooth and quick pace and has no slowdown, another good thing.
The sounds of the game are very well-done. While the game only has a few rather unmemorable background beats in the menus, the sounds that accompany the action itself such as crowd cheering and applause sound realistic, and the commentary for the game is great. You can tell they put a lot of effort into the commentary as you'll hear varying lines spoken by Davies and Brooking depending on what's going on in the game. Besides Davies calling out the names of the player in possession, he also comments on how well the teams and players are performing, and at the end of each half Brooking even chips in with some analysis of the game. After a while you might start to hear the same stuff over and over, but it's not so bad as to put you off. Overall I thought the commentary for this game was really good.
The game isn't tremendously difficult and has four different difficulty settings; though the CPU can sometimes be a bit cheap on you, even on easier settings due to the awkward control coupled with the camera angle that moves around an awful lot. The multi-player mode is pretty decent too, and you can also go to a Practice mode to learn the ropes. The gameplay style is enjoyable though sometimes repetitive and mundane, and its lifespan isn't the best for a PS soccer game, it has to be said. The game could have done with giving the player more incentive to play through each mode such as a trophy gallery, an achievements list or more unlockables. A club league mode would have been an ideal inclusion, as well.
A very cheap and easy-to-find footy game, fans of the sport would find this one a good one to check out to whittle a bit of time away if you want something with a simple but good and fast-flowing playing style. I got this game for just a couple of quid from my local game store, and copies can quite easily be found online or by looking at used game stores or flea markets. I suggest you pick it up if you enjoyed the Actua series back in the day or otherwise don't mind the drawbacks pointed out here, otherwise if you're wanting a more definitive soccer experience, you'd be better off sticking with the latest FIFA or Pro Evo game as you wouldn't really be missing out on anything by not playing this. All in all, a decent little PlayStation soccer game, so if it sounds like your kind of thing, give it a shot!
Rating: 3.5 - Good
Product Release: Actua Soccer 2 (EU, 11/30/97)
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