THE FOX SOFTWARE / SELF-PUBLISHED
Despite being the most popular sport in the world, there haven’t been many football games released on consoles for a while.
Indeed, outside of the annual FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer instalments (and their tournament-based spin-offs), you’d be hard pushed to think of another football game released on an Xbox or PlayStation system in the last five years.
Active Soccer 2 DX, developed by Roman studio The Fox Software, changes this for Microsoft’s console at least, offering not just a new footy game but one that harks back to the simple days of Sensible Soccer, Kick Off, or…
Well, okay, just Sensible Soccer. Let’s not piss around and pretend this is trying to be any other arcade-style football game.
This one was clearly ‘inspired’ by Sensible Software’s 1992 gem, from obvious things like the menu interface (which is more or less lifted from Sensi) to more subtle things like the way yellow cards appear above players’ heads when they commit a foul.
And hey, just to be clear, I’m not saying this is a bad thing. It’s the Star Wars: The Force Awakens syndrome at its finest – if you’re going to take heavy ‘inspiration’ from something, it may as well be one of the best examples of its kind.
And this definitely takes heavy inspiration from Sensi. Spot the difference:
What we have here, then, is a top-down arcade-style football game with a handful of basic gameplay options – a friendly game, a tournament, training or a ‘career’.
The latter is similar to the Player Manager mode found in Sensi’s legendary sequel, Sensible World Of Soccer, in which you choose a club team and try to take it to league and cup success while also dealing with transfers and the like. It’s not a lot, but it’s perfectly fine.
‘Perfectly fine’ is also the best way to describe the action on the pitch. Its four button system – ground pass, high pass, shoot and sprint – makes it slightly more complex than Sensible Soccer but it still isn’t exactly going to have you reaching for a 160-page manual.
Passing is accurate and using the brief dash to nip past players is satisfying, as is putting crosses into the box.
Dribbling is nice and tight, though if you prefer the old ‘loose ball’ Sensible Soccer style where sharp turns made the ball roll away from you, you can turn that option on too.
Defending is similarly pleasant, allowing you to either perform hefty slide tackles or, as is the Sensi way, just run into a player and slip the ball off them.
The main bugbear I have with the gameplay – and it’s a big one because it’s such an important aspect of the game – is shooting.
I’ve put eight or nine hours into the game now and I’m pretty much convinced by this point that I have absolutely no control over whether my shot will beautifully ping into the top corner or go hurtling into the crowd, blasting a poor spectator’s piping hot Bovril out of their quivering hands.
I’ve even spent some games deliberately running in a straight line towards goal so I knew there was no possible way I could have been accidentally aiming slightly off, only for my ball to ping away in a seemingly random direction each time.
If I’d to guess why this is (and that’s all it is), it’s probably because I was playing as Celtic, a fairly average team in the game. Maybe if I was playing with better players their accuracy would have been higher. But there are better ways to portray shot accuracy in a football game than what appears to be the equivalent of a random number generator.
Shooting isn’t the only problem with Active Soccer 2 DX. It suffers from numerous other niggles, ranging from fairly throwaway to frequently annoying.
The menu interface is one of the worst I’ve ever encountered in a game. The controls are hyper sensitive so your cursor pings all over the place, and there’s absolutely no logic to where it starts on each screen.
When you come out of a career match and come back to the main career menu, the cursor’s on ‘Exit’ by default, constantly leading to you accidentally going back to the main menu and having to reload your save.
(In its defence, the studio did assure me while giving me my review code that there were already efforts in place to improve the menu interface in an upcoming update.)
The camera is also often zoomed too far out. Even when you zoom it in as close as it’ll go your players are still so tiny that there’s often colour clash even when their strips are fairly different.
It’s also got its fair share of odd bugs. On one memorable occasion, captured here on video, my goalie decided to overdose on arsehole tablets and teleport over to an opponent taking a throw-in, take him out and take the throw-in himself, leaving the goal wide open.
Don’t let all of this put you off, mind. When it all works like it’s supposed to, Active Soccer 2 DX is a fun wee game that doesn’t really come close to reaching the heady heights of Sensible Soccer but is still a good laugh (especially with two players).
At £11.99 / $14.99 it’s certainly on the pricey side of the Xbox One indie game spectrum, and for that reason a lot of people may be understandably put off (especially when its mobile equivalent is only a quarter of that price and has online multiplayer).
But whether you take the plunge and go for it now or wait a while until its inevitable appearance on a weekly Xbox Deals With Gold sale, there’s some fun to be had there if you’re willing to put up with the flaws.
Active Soccer 2 DX may not exactly be standing on the shoulders of giants, but given the dearth of (non-EA and Konami) football games on consoles these days, I’m happy to settle for one that piggybacks them.
Active Soccer 2 DX is available for download now on Xbox One.
In order that I could write this review, I received a free code for the game from the developer. The content of my review and the opinions therein were in no way influenced by this.