Retro Rated: Olympic Soccer

Factfile
Developed by:US Gold / Silicon Dreams
Released:1996
Format played:PS1

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Ruminations

Released ahead of the 1996 Olympic Games, players get the chance to take on the best of the, er, average as the world descends on Atlanta for a feast of football.

Choose from such Olympic luminaries as USA, Russia, Brazil and England apparently, flouting several international sporting boundaries and no doubt coming as quite the surprise to Lord Coe et al. There’s none of that tedious real player nonsense here either, we’re in made up name territory here, the mark of any wannabe budget footie title.

Now at this point I’m going to let you into a little secret, a spoiler if you will. I wouldn’t normally do this, I usually like to encourage people to read the whole review before I reach any sort of conclusion. Okay, you ready?

This game is crap.

Wait, come back! Let me rephrase that.

This game is crap. But it’s gloriously crap!

Confused? Read on…

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Second Impressions

We start with a little video, some ugly kid kicking the ball around the street and who dreams of making it to the bright lights of the Olympic football final (what, that wasn’t your dream too?).

The menu screens bear more than a passing resemblance to Tomb Raider, utilising the same dial mechanic to spin your way to your desired choice. There is nothing particularly flash about the front end but it’s perfectly serviceable.

As we get into an actual match, things take a turn for the ugly. Players blob around the pitch looking like rejects from a Muppets remake. Bodies are a hodge-podge of crude polygons, arms appearing to end in random sized stumps, shirt numbers seemingly painted on by a local nursery class. The crowd meanwhile is flat and lifeless. I don’t mean in a vocal sense, I mean in a literal sense. Fire a shot at goal and it looks like you’re playing in front of that weird murial that Arsenal used when they were doing up Highbury. Player movement is a little suspect too, an attempt at a headed clearance looking rather more like your defender has tripped over running for the bus.

There are a couple of nice touches. There is an optional scanner on the pitch to show you where your players are whilst the player selected has a big arrow underneath him, helpfully pointing in the direction you are shooting.

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Gameplay

Okay so it looks awful but then this thing is almost 20 years old. But how does it play?

Let’s start with the options. Based on the Olympics as this is, the tournament is obviously the main part of the game. Aside from that you can set up your own league, an arcade mode or just a one off friendly. Games can be played single player or one-on-one whilst the more sociable among you can opt to team up on the same side. Got a multi-tap? Even better. Plug that bad boy in for some four player fun.

Technically, this is a duffer but it’s fun to play. You have a reasonable array of options with buttons to pass, chip and shoot, as well as options to cross, backheal and overhead kick. You can also add a wicked amount of after touch which lets you unleash some brutal shots on goal.

Player selection leaves a little to be desired. You will often find yourself running an off-screen player harmlessly away from play as the opposition midfielder merrily saunters through your defence. Passing is a little ragged too, more often than not over shooting your static winger or rolling listlessly out of play. You have the option of the scanner but it is difficult to find the time to actually look at it mid-match, the game fizzes by at such a pace.

Dead ball situations are all handled with the same mechanic, a target box popping up to show you roughly where the ball will drop, allowing you to move either the box or a player towards it depending if it’s an offensive or defensive kick. Tackling options are limited to a slide or the rather more clumsy run-into-the-guy-and-hope-for-the-best technique.

Let’s be clear, this is no FIFA or Sensi but it is great knockabout fun. It isn’t pretty or fluid but it is fast and responsive. Shooting is really satisfying, you can let out some absolute screamers from outside the box whilst the crossing mechanic is a welcome addition.

It’s unpretentious, uncomplicated and undemanding. But to be honest, the game itself is only half the fun…

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Sound

It’s not often that sound makes a game but then this isn’t a normal game.

Eschewing the glamour names of broadcasting, the game instead employs the voice of Radio 5 Live’s Alan Green who has an absolute field day. There is no stilted, half-arsed phone-in job here, Green goes to town in a blistering rampage of commentary gold.

Witness as Brazil bound forward on the attack, their star striker bearing down on goal as Green bellows out, ‘GUSMAO,’ only for him to be thwarted by the lightening quick reflexes of the goalie, punctuated with a shout of, ‘Palfreman, a great save!’

But this is just the warm up act. Any punt at goal is accompanied by an enthusiastic, ‘Whack!’ whilst Green even delves into the personal lives of the players, declaring after a meaty challenge, ‘I don’t think they’re bosom buddies,’ or, ‘I can’t see them having dinner tonight,’ or even, ‘They certainly won’t be exchanging Christmas cards.’

Clatter your man too hard and you might go in the book, Green imploring the ref, ‘Show him the yellow card, referee!’

But our man isn’t just about the superlatives. Hit a tame shot towards goal and slink away in disgrace as Green opines, ‘That was more like a pass back,’ or if it was really awful, he might chime in with the withering, ‘He could have had his eyes closed, put his hands behind his back and still saved it.’

Blasted one wide of the mark? Feel the sharp edge of his tongue as he rebukes you with a claim that, ‘That was woeful.’ Got caught by the offside trap? The commentator sees all as he calls out, ‘Offside? Oh yes you were.’ He even keeps tabs on the subs, informing you, ‘By the way the subs are warming up beneath me…no, not literally!’

And finally, as the half time whistle goes, our man asks, ‘Where’s my cup of tea?’ And who can blame him.

It is sublimely glorious, a gift that keeps on giving long after the final whistle.

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Bottom Line

By all the laws of videogame football, this should be awful but somehow conspires to be an absolute riot.

Grab a couple of mates, some spare controllers, a case of beer and a sense of humour and you might just find one of the most wonderfully naff multiplayer games around.

Whack!

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