UEFA Euro 96 England
We Have A Love-Hate relationship with Actua Soccer. It drives us right round the bend. It could be extremely good, but there are so many things wrong with the game that there is a compulsory counselling session held every morning in the PC in which we sit around holding hands and drinking herb tea. Once we've all had a go at standing up and Jr introducing ourselves, we then talk through the distressing things that happened the last time we played it. Despite this, we play it nearly every day.
The story so far
The first pc version was very attractive, boasting fancy, swirly camerawork and motion-captured players, and so on. But beneath this attractiveness lay a dark soul. Much debate arose in the office when it came down to scoring the review: opinions differed, because while it was clearly the best pc football game available (which wasn't actually a massive endorsement), it still had problems. In the end it was awarded 92, but we did try and highlight what was wrong with it. (The alternative was to give it say, 80: it depends on whether you score things according to genre, or with some kind of absolute across all genres in mind. Unfortunately we went for the former approach.)
Then came the slightly improved psx version: you could now select the player nearest the ball yourself, rather than have the computer switch control just as you were trying to make a tackle. There was a new 'speed burst' button so that you could overtake and tackle the ball-carrier by pushing him out of the way instead of chopping his legs off at the knee. But while the goalkeepers had also benefited from some tweaks, they still showed a worrying lack of concern for keeping a clean sheet, and often contributed to their own downfall (suspicions still abound about the involvement of a Far Eastern betting syndicate) and many of the basic gameplay elements remained flawed. This latest pc version is now the third version of the game.
Now read on...
In essence, Euro 96 is the same game as Actua Soccer. The goalkeepers are now more likely to save a low shot (whereas previously they were so busy being beautifully animated that the ball hit the net before they finished their stylish dive), but they still let soft goals in (see Artificial Stupidity). True, the game runs a lot better, but you'll need a fast Pentium for a satisfactory result in hi-res mode. The speed burst button has been carried over from the psx version, along with a new feature (lifted from Striker) for dead-ball kicks which offers more control over the ball. In terms of sound, you now get a greater helping of sampled commentary, but it seems that the sound effects have been taking some weird pills - for example, don't be surprised by a slide tackle sounding like a minor firework display. Generally though, too many faults have been ignored. (See Things that make you go "Aaargh!!!".)
Style over content?
Unfortunately more attention has been paid to superficial graphical elements than to basic gameplay. For example, it's crying out for a way to control the goalkeeper's distribution after he's made a save. But instead of introducing helpful features, the producers presumably reckon it's more important to add extra bits of animation: player stretching routines, and more referee animations. But who the hell cares what the refs doing? Gorgeous referees don't make you feel any better when your goalkeeper rolls the ball out straight to the opposing forward when you're hanging on to a 1-0 lead with seconds to go. You only have to look at the new "injured" feature (see A horse, a horse...) to realise that game features are fitted to available motion-capturing rather than the other way around. I suppose we shouldn't really be that surprised take a butcher's at the average contemporary adventure with its hours of fmv footage and little or no actual game, and you can only assume that most computer games developers concentrate on using whatever fancy tricks the latest technology provides first, while putting gameplay a distant second.
This is the officially licensed game of the European Championships, but as far as teams for your money goes, the only newcomers are Croatia and Turkey (both of which were inexplicably left out of the original), and there are only 16 teams in total. In terms of ways to play, you can choose the proper Euro Championships, with games taking place in the proper grounds on the proper dates. Should you get bored with that, you can redraw the groups and play it with different ones; alternatively there's also the Wireplay option for playing over a phone line.
As far as the PC score goes, there are two factors - the game plays slightly better than it did previously, and while some problems have been fixed, there are still many others that haven't. The shame of it is that it could be stunning. If you gave these graphics to the people who made ISS Deluxe on the snes, for example, they'd probably blow your mind. But whenever you sit down to play this, there's always something to irritate the hell out of you. You keep going back to it because it has moments where you think it's absolutely brilliant - but then it drives you berserk again and you have to buy another joystick.
Gameplay judgements aside though, there's also the additional cost factor to consider. If you already have a copy of the original and decide to go out and splurge on this, you'll have spent 90 quid - which is a lot of money for a game which is still in development. And you'll be getting a game that offers you fewer teams and features which should have been included in the first version anyway. If Euro 96 had been a data disk I'd have overlooked some of the continuing problems and awarded a higher score, because at least they are trying to improve things. But at the end of the day Euro 96 isn't a data disk - it's a full-priced game. Maybe they'll manage to get the fourth version right. Until then we live in hope.
A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse.
There's a new bit of animation for when players are tired or injured. Being young professional sportsmen at peak fitness, this naturally occurs after two slide tackles or 20 minutes of play - whichever comes first. After that, they hobble around like a synchronised dance team doing a mass Richard III impression. They can hardly walk, never mind run. It's stupid - an example of a game being dictated to by the graphics. It hasn't even been thought through properly; the only way to find out who's injured is to give them the ball so that you can hear their name - you certainly won't see it in the substitution screen. (And you still have the absurd situation from the first game where you can't make a substitution when the ball's out of play; you have to wait for play to start, select it during play, then make the substitution when play stops again.) Even worse, when I did substitute someone in the first game of a tournament, an injured replacement came shuffling on.
The research, oh! the research
Much has been made of the way the teams have been thoroughly researched and players scrupulously graded in ability. Unfortunately, this extensive research must have been commissioned to someone from another dimension, because players are out of position and teams' default formations bear little resemblance to the way they play in real life. Look at the Dutch side - there's been a lot of talk about how they now play in Ajax's 3-4-3 formation, but that's certainly not what they're playing here -not to mention the fact that 3-4-3 doesn't even exist! Those available are mostly garbage (4-0-6, anyone?), the formations depicted graphically often bear little resemblance to their numerical notation, and a lot of the players don't even appear on the pitch in the position chosen in the formation screen: full backs appear at centre-half, centre-backs in midfield, and so on - a complete mess.
One quick glance at the French side reveals the extent of the 'research': both Cantona and Ginola are in the starting line-up, yet at the time of writing the French coach is still saying he has no intention of picking them. Papin, who hasn't played for France for some time and isn't even expected to feature in the squad, is the default centre-forward; Youri Djorkaeff and Christophe Dugarry are substitutes, both rated below him in ability. Christian Karembeu appears as a central defender and Nicolas Ouedec is conspicuous by his absence. Hmm... nice research. Some players aren't even the right skin colour. I mean, if you're going to bother making some players black, why not make it the right ones?
Things that make you go "Aaargh!!!!!!!!!"
These are some of the more common problems we've experienced with Euro 96 and Actua Soccer...
It's late in the game. You're playing the computer. You're one-nil up. Your goalkeeper gets the ball. You have no control over what he does. You hope he will boot it downfield. He rolls it out directly to an opposition forward, who hammers it into the net. N-o-o-o-o!!!
You run through on goal. You shake off two tackles and shoot. Your forward runs across in front of the shot and neatly blocks it... again. You spend more time trying to throw them off than the bloody' defenders.
Normal (as opposed to slide) tackles are shite: they're so slow that the other players have finished the game and gone home before you've even lifted your motion-captured leg.
You try to pass to a nearby team-mate, but your player thinks it would be more stylish to elaborately backheel the ball in another direction entirely - like into the path of an onrushing opponent (who scores).
And there's more: computer teams who still run to the by-line and score from ridiculous angles (except they take a half-pace back inside to make it seem all right); players who still develop a sudden overwhelming interest in cloud-gazing when you pass to them, leading to gentle passes bouncing away off their head, calf or arse; goalkeepers who run out to the halfway line, chasing whoever has the ball like something out of a Benny Hill sketch... and so on.
Download UEFA Euro 96 England
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP