Sunday, 3 July 2016

Revisited: Sensible Soccer 2006 (Playstation 2)

With all the apocalyptic doom 'n gloom on UK television in this post-Brexit period, I really fancied playing something that was just pure fun. Something easy to get into, easy to play and easy to enjoy. The Euro 2016 football tournament is also happening right now and while I don't usually follow regular football, the major tournaments tend to wake a secret footie fan from deep within (where it can stay for the rest of the year to be fair) so it only seemed fitting that I get back into one of favourite non-serious football games: Sensible Soccer 2006. As far as football games go, Sensi 2006 is not well-loved or even well-known. That 9/10 review score on the box? I heard it was a "paid for" review...no idea if that is actually true though. Additionally, fans of the original Sensible Soccer classics don't rate this game and brand it as a weak follow-up. I openly admit that I haven't played the originals so my views on the 2006 version may well be skewed but look: a fun game is a fun game, even if only one person thinks so. As long as that person (me) is the person playing the game then that's fine.

Before I had first played Sensi 2006 though, I had completely forgotten that it existed until getting my copy in a bundle of PS2 games. I gave it a go for curiosity's' sake (and because it was a football game that wasn't FIFA or Pro Evo - a depressing rarity in modern gaming) and was instantly hooked. Here was a football game that was so very simple to play with minimal buttons involved and a welcome lack of overbearing depth, menus and all that crap. I played it a lot and concluded that while it was undeniably flawed in numerous ways (more on that in a bit), it was just good old-fashioned fun not trying to pass itself off as the next "big thing" or looking to revolutionise football.

And my recent revisit has only re-affirmed this. The game is just so easy to pick up and play: 'X' is used for passing and low level balls while 'O' shoots or smacks the ball high and far. The shoot button is also used for slide-tackling while the only other buttons required are triangle (for substitutions/formation changes) and R1 (sprinting). See? Easy. The ace up the sleeve however is the employment of aftertouch, allowing the player to bend, dip or swerve the ball with the analogue stick right after it has been played. As you can imagine, this allows for some crazy goals and long-range shots but because aftertouch has to be applied more or less immediately, it also means that neither player can just go and play God with physics.

A nicely-placed free kick. Could it go in? Better use the aftertouch...

This means that you can just get on with the game and focus on playing well and experimenting with the aftertouch mechanic rather than having a million and one button combos or tricks available like in some other, more realistic football games. Sensi 2006 is all about amazing goals and you can score them from quite a way out, keepers being susceptible to mistakes and occasionally allowing themselves to be beaten by missiles from the midfield or shots taken from shallow angles.

The 'Custom Team' mode is where I tend to spend my time though. This is where you can create your own team from scratch, name the players, customise their appearance and so on. All players come with star ratings to show how good they are and as you would expect, a brand new team of custom players will consist mostly of 1 or 2 star players. Lower ranked players run out of stamina faster, are slower, more easily tackled and less precise with their shooting so the best thing to do is jump straight into the various leagues and start winning to upgrade player ratings. There are a many, many tournaments and leagues based on the real things at both international and domestic levels with tougher competitions offering bigger boosts to a specific player's stats should you win. Gradually ticking off all the different competitions and seeing your personalised team's abilities grow is really satisfying and quite addictive. I began by boosting my players equally then going for the tournaments that favoured ratings upgrades for my defenders but it's down to the individual with regards to what order they decide to tackle the tournaments.

'Croz' celebrates a goal. Love those re-jigged names!

As I mentioned earlier though, there are several notable problems with the game. The most obvious is the painfully slow load times with frequent delays when selecting something from a menu, lots of constant memory card load/save progress bars to (not) enjoy and much loading before a match can kick off. I can't quite tell if I've been spoilt by modern gaming or if this is really just that bad. In any case, it pisses me off and is easily one of the slower-loading PS2 games I can recall.

Secondly, something very strange and irritating takes place when a player on the move collects/receives a ball that wasn't an intentional pass. You will be able to move the player as normal but the direction indicator for where the ball will be played should you choose to pass or shoot becomes momentarily 'locked' in the direction that said player was originally moving in. It remains locked for around 2-3 seconds and is very annoying when things get frantic in the opponent's half and you are looking to volley the ball or intercept a clearance and immediately play the ball. The only solution is to run about for a few seconds until the direction indicator unlocks and once again allows you to simultaneously run and adjust aiming. It's crap and weird and I'm not sure if there is a genuine reason for this happening or whether it's just an ugly quirk of an otherwise fluid game.

So it's certainly not perfect, probably not as easy to love as the originals and not a classic in the critical sense but I find that I just can't care about those things when the game is so much fun. Sometimes you can acknowledge a game's flaws but look past them and this is definitely the case for me and Sensible Soccer 2006. Would I hold a different opinion if I'd been around to play the originals back in their prime? Possibly but it's a pretty irrelevant line of enquiry truth be told. The game is worthless today however so I would heartily recommend it as a random punt to anybody who likes a football title where fun and instant accessibility are of a greater importance than licensed players, photorealistic turf and sponsors.

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