May 11, 2012
Gameloft have made a very successful business by glancing admiringly across at the big console franchises and then shrinking them down to mobile devices, with touch screen controls. To avoid being contentious, I’ll generously call them homages: you’ve got a homage to Zelda (Sacred Odyssey), Call of Duty (Modern Combat), Everybody’s Golf (Let’s Golf), and plenty more. Their Real Football series is probably the least directly recognisable, partly because you could argue that FIFA is already a rip off of a real life sport, but crucially also because, goodness me, this is nowhere near as playable as EA’s polished console kick about.
Early impressions and the screenshots below are really promising. It looks polished, detailed and deep. Play it for a little while though, and there’s a realization that it plays more like decade old arcade cabinet football â€“ and that’s an era that sports games fans should be glad to leave behind. Players are sluggish to respond and awkward in their movements, the AI is a bit clueless, and it doesn’t really resemble the way real life football matches plays out.
It doesn’t help that touch screen controls are also frustratingly inconsistent. There’s a virtual stick and buttons on the screen, alongside some more advanced touch screen fiddling for player switching and dribbling tricks, making it simultaneously overly simple and unnecessarily complex. The stick itself is often unresponsive, leading to players running the ball off the pitch, rather than turning on the ball as the player intends.
Despite this, the game does manage to occasionally capture the pleasure of the sport. A well-worked move can lead to a memorable goal, but even then it doesn’t feel like football. Sure, it follows the same rules, but the headless-chicken players, unchallenged dribbling, magnetic ball and pinball passing ensures you never get lost in the moment. And that’s not even mentioning the commentary, which occasionally spurts odd lines with all the enthusiasm of a supermarket self service checkout machine.
Worse, it follows the all-too-familiar freemium model. Essentially, while the app is free, unless the player stumps up significant cash (as in, far more than a standard non-freemium app would cost) they’re going to enjoy (or not) a stunted experience. Players can only compete in two consecutive matches before their lazy, overpaid athletes are too tired to carry on, and need an unbranded energy drink to continue. That or the player can wait until they’re recovered â€“ around a day as far as I can tell.
It’s a shame, because there’s a lot of decent ideas around the game itself. As well as a decent number of licenced teams and leagues, both international and domestic, the game has some interesting concepts. You get in game currency for goals and wins, as well as answering football trivia questions correctly. There’s also an innovative scenario mode where players can choose everything from the teams, their form, their line-ups â€“ even the weather â€“ and share them with others to play, allowing enthusiasts to recreate classic matches from history, or upcoming fixtures.
Ultimately these fall flat because the basics aren’t in place, and the search for a decent full mobile football sim continues. The best game apps hook players on the go, and keep them off the console or computer when they’re home: think Cut the Rope or Angry Birds. Despite some nice presentational touches, Real Football 2012 won’t keep any football fans away from big screen Pro Evolution Soccer or FIFA.