Review by mark1bdi

Reviewed: 12/05/04

"He was already on the next page he read that so early."

Released early in the Playstation's life, Gremlin's Actua Soccer series, at one point, offered gamers their only true taste of 32-bit football, with Electronic Arts concentrating on ringing out the last of the cash from the 16-bit era. Club Edition was the second in the series, offering players a carbon copy of the first game with the added bonus (god how we take things for granted nowadays) of English Premier League teams.

With just the Premier League to choose from, gameplay options are restricted to playing a single friendly game or a trawling through a thirty-eight game season. Whilst this may seem a simple option, a full Premier league season is missing from almost all football games released and is at the least satisfying to complete.

Looking back at the game seven years after its release and it is difficult not to become nostalgic when the Premier league team roster is filled with names like Derby, Wimbledon and Sheffield Wednesday. It is difficult not to be enthralled at the prospect of reliving the glory days playing as Vialli or Cantona.

The game's depth considering its age is quite impressive. Although accuracy is Pro Evolution Soccer's hallmark, only recently has the FIFA series begun to delve into a player's ability to the level Actua managed back in 1997. Each player is given eight variable percentage ratings such as Flair, Control, Accuracy and Stamina, allowing each of the players to have their own unique abilities, with high levels of skill shown as icons on the team selection sheet.

Gremlin must have been concerned that the sheer volume of player information would put off arcade junkies. There solution was to add differing play models, Simulation and Arcade. Playing a simulation game depends upon each member of the team and where they play, allowing for a more measured experience. In arcade mode, the emphasis is on just playing a game of football and so only the overall strength of the team is taken into account.

Player consideration is not Club Editions only positives. The game has quite a few nice touches, not least of which are its camera settings. Attached to the R2 button, the camera can be dynamically selected during play from one of six modes. Although Plan view may be useful in blocking counter attacks from a corner, accidental activation can be annoying when the opposition are flooding your box and you are forced to temporarily control from a blimp above the ground.

Commentary is also excellent if a little clichéd. The developers have used Barry Davies to record player's names in both a normal and an excited tone to deliver a more passionate narrative. Sarcastic throughout, Davies delivers cutting and comedic lines that only detract after prolonged playing. You will have to count on both hands the times that "Good passing movement, variation they’re showing" and "he was already on the next page he read that so early" are used when playing a five minute game.

Graphically there are certainly better football simulations on the PlayStation. All of FIFA's variations are prettier than Actua with its tragically blocky character animations and players only recognisable by their shirt and colour. Where Electronic Arts present stadiums as they are in real life, Gremlin dresses theirs in advertising hoardings for upcoming games. Where FIFA opt for realistic weather effects, Actua provide an almost static blue sky approach.

Graphics are not the only unfortunate comparison between Actua and its competitors. The speed of play is also an issue. Where other games ping passes around like a game of Pinball, Actua opts for a patient and steady build up. Where other games allow players to run endlessly up and down the pitch at blistering pace, Actua offer little more than an aggressive walk.

But a comparison is about more than isolated features, other games may be faster and prettier compared with Actua Soccer's ugly slowness but pick up any other football game of the time and watch the goals fly in. On default difficulty levels it would be considered a bad performance in some games if only five goals were registered. Clumsy Actua might be, but it certainly makes you work hard for a victory. Yes, the movements are a little deliberate and yes play does seem to bounce around the pitch like it did in Kick Off and Sensible Soccer, but Actua feels more like football than some of its football-flavoured-Pinball competitors.

Actua Soccer Club Edition is a difficult game to review. Its positive points it can be argued are inherited from its predecessor. Its negative points remain unresolved since its predecessor. Other than the replacement of National teams with club teams, this game adds nothing to the original title. But with a cut-price release and a title that leaves no doubt to what this title really is, you have to admit that Gremlin told us so. And in doing so we can be free to appreciate Actua Soccer Club Edition for what it really was; a chance to play the best 32-bit football of its time with a Premier league team of your choice.

Rating:   3.0 - Fair

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