UEFA Champions League Season 1998-99
Take a football game, marginally tweak it, attach a weighty licence, put it in a box and sell it in droves to a gullible public. It didn't work for Michael Owen's World League Soccer '99, so Eidos are hoping that it will be third time lucky for this latest incarnation of the Silicon Dreams football game.
It first saw the light of day less than a year ago as World League Soccer. It reappeared a couple of months later in the wake of Owen's freak World Cup performance and now takes a bit of a diversion with the aid of club football's most prestigious competition.
Yes, it's the same game, and only a drunkard or a liar would claim otherwise. But it's by no means a bad game, and this is where our job becomes difficult. Do we advise you to steer clear of it because it's essentially World League Soccer with different shirts, or do we heartily recommend it on the basis that it's a playable, authentic representation of an exciting, glamorous competition that's nearing its climax?
For the sake of argument, let's pretend you don't own any football games and have been following this season's Champions League with interest, spending Wednesday nights slumped in front of the telly with a selection of pastry items and cold drinks. If that sounds familiar, you'll feel at home immediately with UEFA Champions League Season 1998-99 because it is effectively an interactive version of ITVs coverage of this season's competition, right down to the evocatively warbling theme tune and the scudding clouds intro.
Thankfully, we are spared Bob Wilson's rictus grin, but he does introduce each match before handing over to the dream team of Big Ron and Brian Moore, who may have officially retired from commentating, but who seems to be carving out an alternative career in the world of video games. The banter between the two is particularly impressive. At one point, Atkinson even pleads: "Stop wittering, Moore.'' If only.
The ubiquitous Atkinson (is there anything this man won't do for money?) peppers the game with his tried and tested lines, including the classic "He scores goals for fun", along with "If in doubt, give it some altitude". The commentary actually works quite well, and certainly adds to the big-match atmosphere, as do the authentic crowd effects, making for a real continental flavour.
Clearly, immaculate presentation alone isn't worth 40 quid and, thankfully, the game itself is an extremely playable affair. The World League Soccer engine is still in use here, but it seems to have been modified slightly, which can often make all the difference between a good game and an indifferent one. The pace is fairly measured, which is well suited to European football. Plenty of time on the ball is available and some intricate moves can be put together, incorporating a number of passes. UEFA Champions League may lack the immediacy of FIFA '99, and it certainly takes some getting used to, but once a decent level of proficiency is attained, the game feels very natural. Goals certainly have to be earned and chances taken carefully - it isn't simply a case of having plenty of shots on the off-chance that one will go in.
Counter-attacking also plays a big part in the game, and some particularly realistic end-to-end encounters are possible. The headers in World League Soccer are generally considered to be the best in any football game, and this remains the case, with plenty of purchase available from a clearance - although it is still quite hard to actually score with your swede. A lot of goals come from running on to adroitly threaded-through balls on the edge of the area and burying the ball into the bottom comer. This is still a tricky manoeuvre to pull off and you have to keep your eye on players making runs off the ball while holding up play with the man in possession. The keepers are also liable to the odd spillage, and frantic goalmouth scrambles often ensue.
The Champions League competition has been recreated faithfully, starting at the actual group stages and ignoring the two qualifying rounds that took place. This at least saves Man Ittd from having to negotiate crack Polish outfit Lodz, and also ensures that noScottishorWelshteamsgeta look in, much to the distress of followers of Celtic or Barry Town. Clearly, for Arsenal and Man Utd fans, the game is a godsend, although it will be interesting to see how many copies the game sells in, say, Liverpool or Birmingham.
Football fans are, by and large, bitter men, and this may even extend into the worid of virtual reality computer games. The now defunct Philips brought out a Champions League game about three years ago and it disappeared without trace - although, in all fairness, it wasn't helped by the fact that it was absolute rubbish.
This certainly isn't the case with UEFA Champions League Season 1998-99, which is definitely the best Champions League game in the world ever.
Cynics will obviously point to the fact that FIFA '99 features a Champions League competition anyway, and they'd be well within their rights to do so. We're not forcing you to buy UEFA at gunpoint or anything, but if you do buy it you certainly won't be disappointed. Particularly if you're a Gooner or a Mane.
Download UEFA Champions League Season 1998-99
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP