Football can be a funny old game, especially when it comes to the video game variety. The majority favour the realism of FIFA or the more arcade brand of realism that the Pro Evolution franchise brings to the table, but in days gone by there existed a third option: Sensible Soccer. In 1992 this top-down football game was incredibly pacey and not in the least bit realistic, instead focusing on a purely fun experience and one that emphasised customisation and multiplayer. It didn’t even have real names, instead skirting the licensing issues by changing the vowels in player names (Paul Ince would become Peul Once, for example) and some branded team names would become something much simpler, such as Manchester Reds and Manchester Blues.
In 1994 Sensible Software released Sensible World of Soccer (SWOS), which included hundreds of teams from all over the world, including national teams and a full-fledged career mode that rivalled today’s Football Manager series. You may be wondering what this has to do with Active Soccer 2 DX, and the answer is simple: it attempts to recreate Sensible World of Soccer on the Xbox One. Right from the start, the menu layouts are almost identical and the bizarre theme song clearly pays homage to the “goal scoring superstar hero” theme of SWOS, and the player names use the same vowel-changing technique to avoid the need for those pesky and expensive licenses. Customisation is also a big part of this game, down to the way the pitch is mowed, the weather and even the colour of the ball. These are in addition to the usual difficulty settings and changing the kits to ensure they don’t clash.
Getting into your first match, the top down viewpoint and the tiny players will be instantly familiar. After players spill out onto the pitch in speedy fashion, kicking off the game is a matter of a simple press of the pass button. Controls are simple and mostly intuitive, with A being pass, B being long pass, X being shoot and, probably the only unintuitive part, pressing Y gives the selected player a quick burst of speed – this would have been better suited to a press of a trigger. A brief sprint is great when making a run up the wing, though it’s never assured that the defender won’t make the tackle or push you over.
This highlights an unfortunate issue with Active Soccer 2 DX’s AI and penalty system. Running into other players can often knock them over or stagger them, an obvious foul but almost never punished, leading to some infuriating moments when the stakes are high. The decision making seems random too, with sliding tackles sometimes punished even when the ball is won legally, though some would argue that’s realistic given today’s refereeing standards. Red and yellow cards are also seemingly distributed at random too, with innocuous challenges sometimes resulting in an unfairly harsh red card, and obvious fouls ‘off the ball’ going either unpunished or no cards given. As stated a moment ago, this is realistic in many ways, but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating when it inevitably happens.
Basic rules as a whole aren’t exactly followed to the letter, either. Sometimes the same team will kick off at the beginning of both halves instead of switching, or, in one baffling case playing as Manchester Reds in the cup, Liverpool were the opponents in every single round. Then the cup would end after five rounds instead of reaching the final.
Luckily this kind of bizarre glitch doesn’t seem to affect the incredibly in-depth career mode, in which you choose a team and manage them throughout all competitions. This detailed mode is akin to Football Manager (much like SWOS) as you manage your squad through injuries and suspensions, adding new players where necessary via the transfer market, and attempt to keep your popularity up with match wins. Depending on your difficulty level and team choice, these match wins won’t be easy to come by, as things can get pretty brutal. Easy difficulty will see four goal cushions a regular occurrence, but the jump to normal will see one-nil victories (and realistic scores in general) becoming the norm, but it does provide a good challenge for most players.
Playing matches is a fast-paced affair, even with game speed turned down to ‘slow’, and the frantic movement means that things never get boring. This makes things strangely realistic as you’re encouraged to pass the ball around in a constant attempt to find a way through to the goal. There’s almost no way to run through the other team as in most football games, though sometimes the AI can avoid tackles way too easily, giving them direct access to your goal without you having much say in the matter. Scoring is no easy feat either (except on easy), but the crazy swerve that can be applied to shots is almost essential at times, again channelling SWOS.
All in all, Active Soccer 2 DX is a solid port of a mobile game, despite its obvious bugs and glitches. It’s a fun alternative to the po-faced AAA football games, but never comes close to the quality and sometimes humorous approach of its inspiration, Sensible World of Soccer. However, until the Xbox 360 Arcade version of SWOS is available on Xbox One via backwards compatibility, Active Soccer 2 DX provides a surprisingly fun, if buggy, footballing distraction.
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