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Codemasters try again to fill the small gap left in the football market as they release their 2005 updates of Club Football…
Twelve months ago, Codemasters tried to break into the competitive world of domestic, non-management (i.e., real) football games, and released their first set of Club Football titles. The game stood out because 15 versions were released, all tailored to some of the biggest clubs in the UK and Europe â?“ and Aston Villa. The game enabled you to play in stadiums that were near identical virtual copies of the real things, with the actual sponsors, team kits, and actual club chants from the crowd all included in the final game. The game showed real promise, as it seemed to have the style and presentation to match FIFA, so it was a real shame then when it played like a dogâ?¦with a bad limp. Football Widows 1, Football Fans 0.
So after last yearâ??s initial foray, Codemasters return with Club Football 2005, just weeks into the new season. With 21 teams for fans to choose from, and the promise of more soon, Codemasters have tried to appeal to ardent supporters of the relevant clubs; the sort of people who paint their living rooms in their clubâ??s livery.
We reviewed the Club Football 2005: Manchester United version, and the first thing that grabbed our attention was the fact that the introduction to the game was full-on Man U. Clips of Old Trafford were shown inter-cut with Utd fans on their way to and from another glorious game at the Theatre of Dreams, with shots of the late, great Sir Matt Busbyâ??s statue guarding the gates of Heaven that is the Old Trafford ground; and if that wasnâ??t enough to help you figure out which version of the game you were playing, Codemasters scroll MANCHESTER UNITED across the screen in white text on a red background. It goes without saying that the other versions of the Club Football game all feature their own similar â??Call to Warâ? introductions. Widows 1, Fans 1.
After the intro gets the almost tribal blood flowing through the veins, the menu system appears, with a random player from the team showing off their ball skills. This year, as well as offering the usual options of Exhibition and Tournament modes, Codemasters have included a Careers mode where you can create your own player (lets face it weâ??re all going to try and make ourselves) and try and make it in the first team â?“ something that will appeal to those who missed out on trials and are now relegated to playing Sunday League in the park. Itâ??s the equivalent of those â??Your Name Hereâ? photos that you can buy, with your team shirt hanging in the changing room next to the actual shirts of the first teamers.
We built our own Utd player, and went through a large variety of options from height and build, to eye colour and hairstyle (even highlights) â?“ guess somebody at the Codemasters offices is a Sims fan. After you are happy with your playerâ??s features, you can then attribute various skills from passing to stamina to heading to him. There is a limit of 1000 points at this initial stage, but the beauty of the Career Mode is that as your player gets more match experience, you can add and develop his skills until he essentially becomes world class. Widows 1, Fans 2.
The down side of this is that when you add your player to the team, you can only play as your career player in the matches. This means that you can forget about being in control of the team through the game, because now you have to become a team player. The game does have a â??call-for-the-ballâ? button which is nice, but for the most part youâ??ll find yourself running around aimlessly out of shot and pressing the â??callâ? button until your finger bleeds. We know that it would be pointless having a Career Mode is the player was controlled by the computerâ??s AI but at the end of the day (excuse the old football cliché), due to the fact that for the most part the AI is useless, the career mode quickly becomes frustrating and the matches, boring. Widows 2, Fans 2.
The developers have included an option that helps relive our youth; the game features a sticker book section, where you can spend the credits that you earn throughout the game on buying stickers to fill a virtual sticker album. Itâ??s a nice little gimmick, and reinforces the bond that fans and clubs have. Each version of the game also comes with a complete history of the club, as well as featuring a few of the historical greats that have played in the team.
Codemasters have brought in the LMA and BBC football team of Gary Lineker and Barry Davies to provide pre/post match overviews and commentaries, and this again reinforces the style and presentation of the game. Club Football has kept in touch with the latest football transfers, so Mr Wayne â??Hat-trick on my Euro debutâ? Rooney makes the Red Devilâ??s line-up, together with Alan â??Smithyâ? Smith. The other variants also feature the latest transfers from Drogba at Chelsea, to Owen and Woodgate at Real.
The game allows you to choose the length of a tournament, whether itâ??s a half or full season, the length of the matches and the general difficulty of the opposition â?“ so pretty much standard fare so far; then its time to start the match.
Mr Lineker provides information of both of teamâ??s line-ups, and the formation that they will use in the match, before passing the baton over to match commentator Barry Davies. This is all happening whilst the team emerges from the tunnel and onto the pitch. Switching to the correct in-game camera view, the first thing that we noticed was that the players seemed to be vertically stretched; itâ??s as if they were all about 8 inches wide and 7 foot tall. OK, so itâ??s not exactly the end of the world or anything, but it is a slight irritation, especially since the game purports to have the most realistic player captures in a football game. The control system is virtually the same as UEFA 2004 from EA, so if you are used to playing that title, then you should have no problems with muddling up your crosses from your shots. For the Pro Evo gamers, the controls are virtually the mirror image of the Konami title. The developers have added their own little detail to the control system though; called Precision Control, this enables you to perform shimmies and step-overs. It sounds cool, but it lacks the panache of similar attempts from the FIFA and Pro Evo teams.
The whistle blows, the game begins and you settle down to play the match. After playing the delights that is Pro Evo 4 (review coming soon), and spending a lot of the summer playing UEFA Euro 2004 (not to mention getting a quick go at FIFA 2005), we have been pretty used to playing the odd bit of footy on our consoles. We can feel the progress that has been made in both Konamiâ??s and EAâ??s football behemoths, and this is where Codemasterâ??s attempt has fallen flatter than tyre with a puncture.
For the past few years, we have watched as the Pro Evo series has gone from strength to strength, creating the feel and flow of football. The movement of the players, the physics of the ball, and the computer AI has now been developed to the extent that it has been THE football to get. FIFA is now playing catch-up, and EA seemed to have hit the nail on the head with the 2005 incarnation of the franchise. So it was a real knock playing Club Football, where the game feels like a football title of yesteryear. The ball physics just feel wrong, and computer AI is disastrous. There are occasions, mostly noticeable when you play long passes or crosses, where the ball seems to leave the playersâ?? feet at around the speed of sound and hurtle aimlessly at the recipient, who deftly and skilfully either misses the ball, or has the worst first touch ever and returns the ball to the opposition. Widows 3, Fans 2.
The AI is so bad in this game that at times, the illusion of playing as part of an 11-man team is comprehensively obliterated. For instance, when you switch to defence, you can be left gawping at the screen as the other three defenders just retreat at the sight of a striker belting down the pitch. I wouldnâ??t might so much if this was Club Football 2005: Manchester City, but this is Utd for goodness sake!
The game has some nasty glitches in it too. The main example was when Ruud van Nistlerooy had his back to goal and the ball was passed to him. First of all, he did score, however, his leg action was to kick the ball forward, but the ball was sent flying BACKWARDS into the goal. Now Ruud is a very skilled striker, but even he canâ??t break the rules of physics, so itâ??s a horrible glitch to experience, especially when they are enhanced when viewing the Action Replay after goals.
Physics defying Ruud was on top form in another match too. When he went to head a ball that was being crossed to him, the ball didnâ??t even strike his head before it accelerated towards the goal. Weâ??re not sure whether force-fields have been banned by FIFA yet, we think that it should be looked into.
Another of the glitches, which happens frequently, is when you tackle a player and the gamer controlled player just stands around, completely ignoring the increasingly frustrated button bashing until the tackled player gets back up again and takes possession of the ball!
So between the bad computer AI, the glitches, and the general â??this doesnâ??t feel like Iâ??m playing footballâ? feel of the game, we can only hope that Codemasters will go back to the drawing board, and start concentrating on gameplay, rather than just working on producing very slick intros and menus. Widows 4, Fans 2.
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