Football Live! is a fast paced, twitchy soccer game for one player. It’s launching itself into an indie market with a plethora of competitors, including the excellent New Star Soccer franchise and the engaging Awesome Soccer World 2010. If you’re going to go head to head with games of this calibre and come out on top, then you really need to either bring something unique and fresh to the table, or simply just do things better than your competition. Unfortunately, Football Live! shoots wide of the posts on both these criteria.
The player takes control of a team in either a full season career mode or in a pre-defined tournament. For beginners, there is also a free play exhibition mode and a training session mode which both quickly become redundant once the user becomes familiar with the very simple controls. Whether you’re using the keyboard or gamepad to control the play, aside from player movement only five buttons are required. Although this has the effect of keeping the gameplay simple and accessible, it also limits strategy to a very basic level and gives the game a tabletop soccer feel. It’s very much geared towards the action end of the scale rather than the simulation end. Many other games pull this off quite well; the likes of Sensible Soccer are well loved by fans, but Football Live is a bit disappointing in many respects.
The career mode is nothing compared to the core gameplay of New Star Soccer. In fact, here, the term “career” is simply used to define a series of matches played with the same team against varying opponents. The fans and press simply express their expectations of team performance in terms of a numeric value, and the player needs to live up to those expectations on the field. Presumably, if the performance is bad enough over a certain number of matches, the player is dumped as coach of the team, although admittedly, I never played a career long enough to find out. The game’s problems go far deeper than that.
The game just seems to have too many bugs to make it very playable in the first instance, let alone be very enjoyable for me. The game speed is ridiculously fast, and although this is assumedly intentional (and luckily customisable), only on the very slowest setting (still many times faster paced than real football) was the game bearable for me. The basic controls leave many player actions like tackle and pass mapped to the same key. With the low resolution graphics, and a strange bloom effect that is enabled by default, it was often very difficult to know which player was in possession of the ball. An attempted tackle would often see my players pass the ball to no-one, or worse yet over the sidelines or into open space for my opposition. The AI support players are terrible, and run bad lines without much consideration of field position or situation. I’ve observed them running a charge up the wing a few yards outside the field of play! They will often stand offside for kick offs too, although the ref never penalises them for this.
The user annoyingly has little to no input over which player they control on defence. The AI goals usually come about by a manic and frustrating auto-switch of defenders that rapidly re-targets the closest defender to the ball. The end result is that neither is controllable, and the attacker is free to run the ball up in to the penalty box and hammer one in from close range. This happens annoyingly often! Once the player is comfortable with the after-touch system, goals are easy to score, but many are conceded. A typical scoreline from my league matches was usually around 9-8, or something equally unrealistic. While many North American readers might be thinking, “Hey, they’ve just fixed all that was wrong with that silly round ball game!”, football fans are probably going to be disappointed.
The game runs in full screen or windowed mode, but the resolution is not configurable, so users with widescreen monitors that prefer full screen mode will have ugly black areas at each side of the display or have to stretch it in an ugly fashion right across their 16:9 or 16:10 monitors. Textures, animations and environments are pretty basic. There’s just one stadium and no weather effects. The perspective on the ball coupled with what looks like a strange shadow makes it nigh impossible to judge where a high ball will land. At the top end of the pitch, the ball can be observed to roll a long way out of bounds before the ref calls a goal kick or corner. There are some crowd sound, but surprisingly no effects for kicks, tackles or player banter. Each match feels much like the last because of all of this, and the gameplay becomes monotonous quite quickly.
The options to control game difficulty and speed seem to reset every time I fire the game up, although once I turned off the annoying bloom effect it did stay off in subsequent play sessions. Also, the game uses a fake or “fudged” database for player and team names. This is reasonably common in small budget indie titles (presumably for legal reasons), but at least the developers have included a database editor so that fans can change “Laverpool” and “Wast Hem” back to something more familiar. To do this for every team and player in the league would require quite an investment of time and energy though. In all, teams from four European leagues and sixteen select World Cup squads are available. This is far fewer teams and leagues than what is offered by other, similar games.
The name “Football Live!” might give an impression that multiplayer game modes were available, but there is no online component to the game, nor any local network or hotseat gameplay.
I think that I’m probably spoiled a little bit by the high quality of other football games that are available, but even allowing for that, Football Live! seems unfinished in its current state. There are just a few too many annoyances for the game to even approach a level of acceptable playability for me, let alone be a game that keeps drawing me back time and time again. It offers absolutely nothing that we haven’t seen before, and the features that it does sport are done better by other games out there.
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