Back in the days when I actually had time to play computer games, I was a fan of three main genres: RPG, strategy, and FPS. The sports genre never really captured my interest, with maybe a couple of notable exceptions. One of these was Sensible World of Soccer.
This week I treated myself to playing Sensible World of Soccer ’96/97, which I had bought off GOG.com. Although this is not the classic I grew up playing (which was Sensible World of Soccer ’95/’96 European Championship Edition), it’s practically identical to it: the only noticeable difference is that some players have moved between teams.
Sensible World of Soccer (SWOS) is a game where you can both manage a football team and play football. It offers a great deal of flexibility. If you just want to play football, you can choose all sorts of friendly matches or tournaments to play. On the other hand, if you just want to manage your team, you can do that, and see only the game results. You can both manage the team and control it while playing football games. And you can even do neither: watch a game played by computer-controlled teams.
The management aspect is menu-driven. When you start a career (which lasts a maximum of four seasons), you are given control of every aspect of your team, including organising and training your team, buying and selling players, keeping track of the match schedule, watching the club’s profit/loss, goal statistics, and even watching the progress of various tournaments in the world.
Managing your team alone is complex enough to give the game a great deal of replayability. Each player has a position in which he’s comfortable (e.g. defence, attack, etc). Each player also has a financial value and a set of top skills (e.g. speed, shot power, ball control, etc) denoted by the yellow letters in the screenshot above. It’s not all as easy as it looks, however. A player may thrive or stagnate depending on his position, and his value may change accordingly. Financial value also does not always accurately reflect a player’s skill. So trying out different players in different position is key to forming a functional team.
Other than that, before and during each match, you can refine your team’s formation, allowing you to try different strategies to adapt to demanding situations.
The gameplay itself is incredible fun. You control one player at a time while all the rest move automatically. This is where the player skills pose a challenge: depending on whether your player is good at speed, ball control, passing, or whatever, you may opt to pass the ball, dribble past your opponents, or shoot the ball into the goal. Controlling the ball when shooting is a skill in itself; you usually use the arrows to indicate a direction (e.g. top-right), but you can actually use different key combinations after shooting to give the ball a curved effect or elevation, allowing you to score some pretty spectacular goals.
Once you go beyond the basic skills, you can get creative and have loads of fun, scoring in incredible ways and posing different challenges. For example, instead of just shooting into the goal, you can cross to another player and score with a tackle or header. You can score from a distance, or pass your way around the goalkeeper, and just run in with the ball. Or my personal favourite: get the goalkeeper and defenders to follow you, run the train around for a bit, and then just deposit the ball at the back of the net.
You might want to start with a pretty good team, such as Manchester United or Bayern Munich. But as you get more familiar with the game, it’s a fun challenge to start with a crappy team and buy better players. That allows you to pretty much dominate a league, and give your opponents a beating. For example, the above 12-0 in a typical 3-minute (real time) career game is a pretty nice feat, and a challenge to achieve.
SWOS is a simple game but gives you a world of opportunities to try out. Career games last 3 minutes of real time, but friendlies may be 3, 5, 7 or 10 minutes (you choose the setting). This means you can play the game for just a few minutes, or spend several hours at a time.
If you’re not put off by the dated graphics, and love some genuinely fantastic gameplay, give this game a go.