Sociable Soccer First Gameplay Preview at Play Blackpool

By Rebecca Smith, 5 months ago
Back in 1992, a football game called Sensible Soccer was released on Amiga, Atari ST and DOS. From a top-down view, players used a simple control scheme to play fast-paced end to end football. As well as featuring editable teams from national and club levels, something unusual for a game released around this period, players could also add swerve to the ball once it had left their feet. The game was eventually ported to many handhelds and consoles, amongst which was my beloved bright yellow Gameboy. Many a night was spent trying to beat my record score, a 26-0 victory against GNK Dinamo Zagreb. I never managed it.

Two years later, Sensible World of Soccer was released. It was the first game to try to include every professional football club in the world. Over 20 seasons, players could take part in a career where they could manage any of 1,500 different clubs and choose from over 23,000 players. It had an astonishing level of detail about every club, including obscure division clubs in India, Argentina and El Salvador. Each player even had the correct hair colour and skin colour, something that gamers now take for granted. It is this title that is considered to be the franchise's hey-day.

This may seem familiar to some.This may seem familiar to some.

In 2007, the final Sensible Soccer title made its way to Xbox LIVE Arcade, also called Sensible World of Soccer. After this release, though, the franchise fell by the wayside. The game's producer, Jon Hare, moved on to other things, mainly consultancy work for other studios, so the announcement that Sensible Soccer would be getting a reboot came as a surprise. With Jon Hare taking the role of designer and creator once again, development duties fell to a new Finnish team known as Combo Breaker, made up of experienced people who have worked on titles like Max Payne, Alan Wake and Quantum Break.

As Codemasters still owned the licence for Sensible Soccer, the upcoming title was dubbed Sociable Soccer. A Kickstarter campaign was launched. Despite gathering over £30,000 in funding in the first two weeks of the campaign, it became clear that the lofty £300,000 target was not going to be met. As every cloud has a silver lining, the campaign attracted the interest of several publishers instead, meaning that the game's development continues onwards with a release targeted for the end of 2016 through "traditional publishing channels".

Splash Screen

At the start of this month, Play Blackpool was the setting for the game's public debut. It didn't take anybody long to realise that this game is not FIFA, nor is it anything like PES. There are no realistically rendered footballers placed in beautifully recreated stadiums, with huge crowds to cheer them on as they play a tactical match from a 3D viewpoint. Instead, the action takes place from a bird's-eye view as the comical and rather podgy footballers take part in fast-paced end-to-end matches. Realism is not a concern and there is no licensing anywhere to be found in the game -- fun is at the top of the agenda as Tower Studios aims less for a football simulation and more for an arcade experience that encapsulates the legacy left behind by Sensible Soccer.

Matches lasted for three minutes per half and players could either take on the game's AI in a single player match, or face a human opponent in local multiplayer. While the controls are not quite as simple as one button to pass the ball and one button to belt it, the controls aren't much more complicated. cn_LSc is used to move the player and to add swerve to the ball once it has left the player's feet. cn_RT causes the player to sprint. The game will automatically focus on the player that is nearest the ball, although cn_LB can be used to switch that focus to another player on the field. Either cn_A or cn_X can be used to intercept the ball both in the air and on the ground while not in possession. While in possession of the ball, cn_A is used to pass, cn_B is used to shoot, and I guess this means that cn_X is your "belt it" button. If this control layout doesn't seem appealing to you, the finished product will feature the ability to configure the controls to your own preferences.

This build of the game was only around 50% complete, so there are a lot of things still to be finished and a lot of features still to be written. At the moment, for example, referees don't exist. As such, there were no fouls, so scything a player's legs from underneath him was a perfectly legitimate tactic. There are also no offsides so it wasn't unusual to find the majority of your players in the opposition's half, although this did have the unfortunate side effect of leaving your defence wide open. The resulting match was a mix of tight dribbling skills, controlled passing, flattened players and hopeful punting of the ball towards the opposition's goal. With very few rules in place, this gave the game the feel of a typical Sunday kickabout with your friends. Whilst obviously unfinished, the overwhelming feeling felt by the majority of players that weekend, and not just myself, was that the game was a lot of fun. It is also completely accessible to players like myself who have little experience or interest in the football simulations that currently dominate console platforms.

Below is footage from an even earlier build of the game than that experienced at Blackpool. As can be seen in the video, the game does have a 3D mode, something on which the team has been working recently. For FIFA and PES fans, this viewpoint may be more preferable to the bird's-eye view, but for casual players it seems like a more difficult viewpoint in which to play the game. This will be just one of the many things that will be customisable within the game, including the aforementioned controls, tournaments, match settings and player avatars.

If you want something a bit more current, check out this off-screen footage that was captured during the game's debut weekend. With many more features to be added to the game, including online multiplayer, the title still has a fairly long road ahead and it remains to be seen whether the game hits its release target of this year. Despite this, fans of Sensible Soccer need not worry; your game is in safe hands. If you're not a fan of the franchise, this would be a great place to start. The Xbox One needs a decent casual football title and this game stands every chance of scratching that itch.
Rebecca Smith
Written by Rebecca Smith
Rebecca is the Newshound Manager at TrueGaming Network. She has been contributing articles since 2010, especially those that involve intimidatingly long lists. When not writing news, she works in an independent game shop so that she can spend all day talking about games too. She'll occasionally go outside.