Appearing on shop shelves a mere six years ago with its somewhat haunting image of Steven Gerrard looking more than a bit peaky, Pure Football may be the newest game I ever get to write about on this blog if I don’t ever touch upon mobile and indie stuff. It currently stands as the last real attempt to steal at least a small part of the market away from EA and Konami, even if it wasn’t really trying to compete with them. Unless you count FIFA Street, that is. Yes, this is strictly five-a-side in urban environs only.
A large part of that “last real attempt” thing has to do with its critical reception. Metacritic currently has it at 38%. I think that’s a shame as although I agree it is flawed, it does have something to offer especially as you can get it for less than a quid just about anywhere that still sells last-gen games.
Let me explain.
Yes, this is an arcade-styled game. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s pick up and play and you’ll be master of all you survey within five minutes. Bloody hell… there’s a lot to take in – it’s UEFA Dream Soccer with a degree in maths.
That red bar you can make out under the scoreboard? That’s your foul meter – let that fill up and you give away a penalty NO MATTER WHERE YOU ARE. Master the arts of pressing and the shoulder barge as without them, you’re pretty much fucked.
Top left are your Pure Points. Clean tackles, stringing passes together, shots on target and of course them there goal thingies – you know the drill here. Keep doing the good stuff and you’ll build up a multiplier. These points aren’t just there for show – they’ll allow you to improve players you’ve created yourself or buy them from the Player Market (whether this is still up or not, I can’t tell you as I keep forgetting to renew my Xbox Live subscription – I highly doubt it is, though).
The crescent around your currently controlled player acts as both your sprint and shot meters. The latter acts not unlike those in old-school golf games – the closer you get the marker to the optimal zone, the better your shot will be. Button combinations also allow you to prioritise either skill or power as you wait to pull the trigger. This also adds a nice risk vs. reward mechanic as these have to be timed absolutely perfectly, otherwise you’ll look like an arse.
If you get shots on target that don’t go in, they will help fill your Pure Shot meter. Fill this and your next shot will be a perfectly struck thunderbastard even if you cock up the timing. This does tend to lend itself to a shoot-on-sight policy not unlike the one employed by its cover star for a few years before this title’s release.
Those arrows act in lieu of a radar, by the way.
Unusual for me to go with gameplay first, isn’t it? Right then – the other stuff.
Let’s go with game modes as there’s only really one worth gabbing on about and that’s the campaign. Start by creating your captain – if you’re as deluded a fantasist as yours truly, this will be in your own graven image. Only in my case, not so fat and hairy just to carry on with the general theme of delusion.
Your task is to get your rag-tag bunch of nobodies and one “star” up amongst the top eight teams in the world in a cripplingly short timespan to ensure you qualify for the final tournament. You may as well call this the Chris Coleman mode.
Thankfully you can get rid of the dead wood pretty sharpish if you just keep winning and meeting certain criteria in matches. Likewise, those Pure Points I mentioned can be used to give your skipper suspiciously large boosts to his attributes. And when I say “suspiciously large”, I mean “East German Olympic team doctors would say you’re overdoing it”.
Carry on with this palaver and if you’re in one of those octet of spots.. well, I won’t spoil it. Mind you, Ubisoft do that for you with the first match you play in a flash-forward moment.
Graphics hold up pretty well as you’d expect for one so relatively recent. The aesthetic is somewhat stylised and in my opinion in a good way – players are all long and lean but still incredibly ripped in a way that suggests that Peter Crouch has been on one too many protein shakes. Odd but as I said, fitting.
Audio is no great shakes – menu music is… um… THERE, I suppose and in game it takes a diegetic, almost ambient approach as you’ll barely hear anything other than shouts for the ball. That is, until there’s a goal. Then you get all the pomp and bombast of a military tattoo.
So then? I touched on flaws and they’re certainly there – a painful lack of content (there’s only 17 teams to start with!) and a lack of replay value once you’ve successfully navigated the campaign, but what is here certainly deserves reassessment from somebody who hasn’t dismissed it out of hand after playing a handful of matches.
Everything is tight – passing, shooting, tackling all feel as they should. Good moves finished off with a smart shot are satisfying as hell. The campaign – brief as it is undoubtedly is – offers a genuine sense of achievement. Multiplayer – REAL multiplayer with other people in the room – is a bloody good laugh.
With a bit of refinement, we could have had the finest “alternative” football game since Red Card. As it is, it’s still worth a punt for the price of a grab bag of crisps. The tragedy is due to its undeserved kicking, this may very well be the last of the breed. The last to take that risk.