Mission Implausible

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Now… I understand that this blog is meant to be about football video games so what am I doing writing about a game where you take out cyborgs as part of a heist? Well, the cover should give you a bit of a hint.

Yes, that is Edgar Davids essentially playing keepy-uppy in a badly Photoshopped laser security system. Yes, that is Lilian Thuram wearing that headset. Yes, this game was a bad idea.

For a start, it’s based on an advert. A good advert but still…

Someone at Nike had obviously seen one too many movies as a crack team try to capture the new Geo Merlin ball from some kind of industrial complex that is being protected by a squadron of robotic kendoka. As well as the aforementioned Davids and Thuram, the cast almost reads like a Ballon D’Or shortlist for the year 2000 – Totti, Guardiola, Nakata, Figo, Bierhoff, Yorke and Cole. Presiding over them – one Louis van Gaal. Obviously his later Man Utd “philosophy” hadn’t really been thought up by then as this actually ends up being pretty entertaining for something that had to have been thought up in a cocaine-induced haze. This is the advertising industry we’re talking about after all.

Then everything explodes at the end. I cannot confirm whether this was directed by Michael Bay or not.

Aren’t we supposed to be discussing a video game?

Hang on, do you want some background or not?

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I knew I was never going to be in for a good time as soon as I saw the Microids logo. Even then, I wasn’t prepared for just how “not good”.

I already said this game was a bad idea. Bad ideas can occasionally work if the execution is on point.

Right then, execution…

The graphics are a disgrace to the word “shambles”. Taking into account most of the environments are meant to be some kind of bizarre warehouse-meets-museum, they’re still far too sparse and grey. Just looking at them could put you into a catatonic state that would be hard to snap out of. The players run like they’ve just shat their tracksuit bottoms whereas their upper bodies appear to be in full-on mince like they’re auditioning for some dreadful 1970s sitcom. Or indeed, Mrs. Fucking Brown’s Fucking Boys.

They also greet a successful mission with dance moves that look like they’re having a seizure in a way that almost makes me feel sorry for handsome multi-millionaire athletes.

The soundtrack is ripped directly from the commercial – whether this is a good or bad thing is dependent on your opinion of dramatic-sounding but instantly forgettable electronica. SFX are your bog-standard alarm whoop-whoops and metallic clanks and therefore reasonably appropriate.

Now for the real shitstorm… playability.

The set-up is that it’s always two players on each mission – this means that if you’re playing on your own, you struggle to gain control of one star while the other does absolutely bloody nothing with no semblance of AI taking over to at least attempt to help you.

Meanwhile, there you are trying to take out targets and enemies with your freestyling skills. Unfortunately, it seems you have a level of ball control akin to that of Stephen Hawking as more often than not it’ll just trickle forward with all the force of gently blowing away a bit of fluff from a coffee table.

Alternatively you can try and slide tackle the bad guys. This actually works quite well but I can’t help feeling that this was yet another missed opportunity – if Paul Scholes had been on board, his badly-timed scything could have taken out about seventeen foes at once and meant less time suffering through this absolute garbage.

And that’s pretty much it. I don’t know whether that’s because that’s all the game has to offer or that’s all I could tolerate.

So then… as a video game it fails. As an advertising campaign it fails. As an exercise in making the poor sod holding the controller want to kill himself it very much succeeds.

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In a Class of its own?

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I like the Atari Lynx. There, I said it.

Indeed I own a third of all the games ever officially released for it in the UK. I do only have 24 though which kind of makes that statistic less impressive. A powerful piece of hardware for the time, what with its in-built sprite scaling and handling of audio samples, its relatively large amount of superb arcade conversions made it the handheld of choice for the more discerning (and indeed wealthy) gamer. Mind you, mine cost me a tenner brand new and sealed.

One of my personal two dozen is – of course, if you have any clue what this blog is about – World Class Soccer or as the boxart would have it World Class Fussball/Soccer. Quite the curveball you threw there, Atari – two names for the sport and neither of them is what most of the potential buyers for this game would call it.

First impressions are good – the intro screen making good use of the system with its decently animated goalkeeper and title logo zooming into view. Options are simple but effective – game difficulty and length, whether or not your player switches automatically and either a dry or muddy pitch.

Choosing your team is nicely done as well – moving left and right highlights the various continents and up and down scrolls through the countries. This was 1992 so Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia are still just about in one piece, the CIS is a thing that existed yet you can select Kampuchea which already hadn’t been around under that name for thirteen years. Somebody on the development staff was obviously a fan of the Khmer Rouge.

Being a vaguely patriotic sort, I chose to play as Wales. I should have taken the fact that it’s the Union Flag that looms down onto the match-up screen rather than Y Ddraig Goch as some kind of portent of doom. As it was, I just took it as ignorance.

Then again, it doesn’t really matter who you choose as every team is exactly the same in terms of ability.

Yes, it only gets worse from here

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I could have taken that screengrab from a match between any two teams, you know.

You always control the blue side and play against the red side. If you are familiar with the concept of oni from Japanese folklore (or colour therapy in general for that matter), you’ll know that blue represents calmness, rationality, control and serenity. Red meanwhile is passionate, wildness, spontaneous and unpredictable. A few minutes of playing this and you’ll realise that this game laughs at those concepts in the face.

The graphics look pretty nice in that shot, don’t they? Well for a handheld that was originally released when Milli Vanilli were still being taken seriously, that is. Just you wait…

The frame rate is bloody abysmal – you’ll be lucky if it gets up to 5fps. Couple this with the fact that the camera is being controlled by someone on the piss, what with its constant zooming in and out (definitely a case of the programmers going “LOOK WHAT WE CAN DO!”) and sudden changes in direction that often bear little or no resemblance to actually following the path of the ball. I don’t tend to suffer from motion sickness but this did make me feel thoroughly queasy.

The gameplay though. That takes the absolute fucking biscuit. In fact, it takes the entire McVities factory.

Your only choice is to lump it and hope one of your players can run onto it. Running with the ball is even more awkward than it is in Kick Off (in my opinion, the most over-rated football game ever made) and passing is laughable. You’ll just prod it forward like a toddler’s toe poke.

Shooting somehow is even more pathetic. You have to be lined up perfectly in the direction of the goal – no automatic shot direction or aftertouch here, I’m afraid. And even if you do get one on target, the keeper will gather it up without even having to try.

Even then, this game still finds ways to get worse.

Your keepers are manually controlled. I shuddered and felt a chill just typing that. As any fule kno, this has never been made to work in any football game ever made, not even the good ones. So how would you expect it to go in a piece of shit like this? No prizes for guessing… 12-0. To San Marino.

Says it all.