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!”