Seeing red?

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It’s unusual for me to start with an unequivocal and unconditional recommendation. Mind you, it’s unusual for me to recommend anything at any moment what with some of the absolute dogshit I’ve covered so far. Red Card however is one of those rare games that is both fun to play and fun to talk about… hopefully for me.

Before getting to the game itself, let’s study that cover. An obvious homage to THAT photo of Vinnie Jones committing testicular assault on Paul Gascoigne, transporting that image to a Sunday League setting with the perpretator looking like a dead spit for Martin Skrtel.

Note that this is only the boxart for the European release – the Americans got an action shot of Brian McBride in a Photoshopped landscape that makes it seem like he’s farting fire, which I will freely admit has its own strange charm and makes me think he ended up getting the same anal probe as Eric Cartman.

Even by my own “standards”, that was a strange tangent to go off on.

The point I suppose I was trying to make is that the cover is a perfect fit for the game – it shows that there is a strange beauty in indiscriminate violence.

Released for the PS2, GameCube and Xbox in 2002, Red Card was part of the Midway Sports series that also included the likes of NFL Blitz and NHL Hitz. What all of these had in common was a hyper-stylised approach to their respective sports – fast-flowing arcade action with simplified rules and an aggressive edge.

The intro is exactly what you’d expect – dramatic zooms into stadia, hyper-exaggerated skills and the kind of bone-crunching challenges that make the Battle of Santiago look like a pacifists’ convention. The key words I believe are “get”, “you” and “FUCKIN’ PUMPED!!!!!!!!!!!” Yes, this was developed in America (San Diego, to be precise) – however did you guess?

Into the main menu and you’ll notice the usual friendly, customise team, options yadda yadda yadda… the advanced mode may throw you a tad, though. It’s just a rather odd way of referring to its competitions: finals (initially locked out) and tournament are pretty straightforward, being analogues to World Cup and knockout respectively. World Conquest is the crux of the game, acting as a qualifier for the finals and allowing you to start unlocking extra stuff. I won’t spoil the unlockables for you – Google can do that and it also gives me a bit of wiggle room for a list article I’ve got in mind. You lucky people…

Actually getting to the meat of the game – I have to say that one of my few criticisms of this title are the graphics. I mean, the stadia look nice enough and the animation is OK (even if it does make the players look like they’re running on a cushion of air sometimes) – it’s the player models. Even for the officially licensed squads, likenesses are piss-poor and all the body proportions are off. I know they’ve gone for a certain look but it just seems like they’ve taken a Remington to a silverback and then put him in the body scanner.

Commentary comes from the unlikely combination of Simon Brotherton (who actually seems better known these days for being the BBC’s voice of cycling even though he still does Match of the Day and the like) and Chris Kamara. As you’d expect, Brotherton remains authoratitive and level-headed throughout the increasingly psychotic proceedings, whereas Kammy gets giddier more quickly than a 3-year-old on a merry-go-round.

Erm… gameplay?

The basics are your standard stuff and work reasonably well, although it’s appropriate to note that for a game of this nature that when you’re defending, three out of four of the face buttons perform some kind of challenge. By challenge of course, I mean GBH.

What really sets this apart are the variables opened up to you by judicious use of the shoulder buttons/triggers/bumpers/what have you. The right is for your turbo – each player has his own individual supply of this and unlike most run buttons in other football games, subtlety be damned! You can actually see yourself leaving a trench in your wake as you make Billy Whizz look like a tortoise on diazepam.

Left is the REALLY good shit – this is your boost, shared amongst the team and its effects are multiplied. The manual itself says “over the top” and who am I to disagree? Shots become full-on Matrix bullet-time acrobatics full of turns, flicks and kicks of the bicycle, scissor and rainbow varieties.

Tackles, which could already be aptly described as “robust”, “agricultural” or “murderous” turn into the kind of unhinged lunges, barges and stamps that defined the likes of Harald Schumacher or Benjamin Massing. It’s almost a shame that this came around too early to incorporate some kind of tribute to Zidane’s denouement that summer night in Berlin. Almost.

In summary, then: “TOTAL CARNAGE… I LOVE IT!”

Pure and simple every time

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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.

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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.

Welcome

First of all, let’s get the basics out of the way.

I’m Liam, 34, 5′ 9″, Welsh, Leo, GSOH. Yourself?

I have set this blog up as a refuge from the constant barrage of most football video game stuff you’ll find online, the corporate behemoths of FIFA and PES that between them have destroyed the competition. Although I have to confess I’ve been on the Konami side since the days of ISS Deluxe on the Mega Drive.

The intention here is to bring attention to those lesser-known or fondly remembered but long since abandoned titles.

Whether it be once promising but now long since derelict franchises like Actua Soccer or  This is Football, arcade favourites like Virtua Striker or Football Champ, the just plain bonkers such as UEFA Dream Soccer or Red Card and of course the just plain crap. European Super League, anyone? Anyone?

I’ll try and avoid clickbait but if I do have a good idea for a top 10 list, ULTIMATE BEST or SHOCKINGLY WORST, I won’t be afraid to go with it. Maybe I won’t actually use those words for titles, though.

Thank you, spread the word and hopefully I won’t get too stuck with blogger’s block!