Actua Soccer 3
With everything going pear-shaped for the national squad once more and Hod’s faith-healing grasp on his job slipping with each successive poor display against part-time potato pickers, we all need a bit of a pick-me-up.
Well, it’s almost a year to the day, but Gremlin has been fine tuning its most ambitious footie game to date and the news is… it’s flippin’ fantastic! It’s prequel, Actua Soccer 2, was more like a game of pinball and played at such a frantic pace that it would test the reactions of an insect, let alone a poor old human. The Ed loved it though, but he’s eating his words now, because Actua Soccer 3 (AS3) is in a different class. Gremlin has finally got the balance right with three speed settings (ahem, borrowed from FIFA, admittedly) and a graphics engine to die for. There’s not a hint of slowdown and running around stroking the ball from player to player has never felt so good or looked as splendid.
KEEP THE FAITH
The only other game that comes close in terms of visual excellence is EA’s durable FIFA series, but even that doesn’t match the liquid smoothness of AS3. There’s over 450 teams included plus a selection of special and custom teams – that‘s over 10,000 international players bristling in glorious hi-res. You’d expect the whole thing to slow down, but it just doesn’t happen regardless of which camera angle you play from. Amazing.
As far as we’re concerned, there are a couple of vital ingredients by which a footie game lives or dies. Firstly, the fluidity and smoothness is paramount – AS3 not only gives you full freedom and time to set up killer passes and shots, but considering the superlative levels of detail on each polygonal player (including 50 specific player heads) it’s silky smooth at all times. This is a wonderful achievement for what must be pushing the PlayStation’s humble CPU to the absolute max. Slightly less important, but crucial for keeping you coming back for more is a user-friendly front-end. Not only does AS3 deliver, but it does so in style. Flicking between the fabulous array of options is simplicity itself – there’s a comprehensive range of game types including cups, leagues and friendlies.
There are already a few default cups and leagues, but customising a comedy team and creating your own wacky cup will keep you and a few chums amused for hours. The current office line-up of miscreants call themselves the Curry All- Stars and our red-hot striker ‘Phall’ is really cooking at the moment. Everything from facial hair to kit colour can be toggled – there are literally thousands of combinations to try out.
The Practice pitch is a good place to begin and give players a grasp of the rudimentary skills needed on the pitch, where corners, set pieces and penalties can be sussed with the minimum of fuss.
Although the stadium names haven’t been officially licensed, the ten that are in there are beautifully pre-lit and fully gouraud shaded and textured. All the weather conditions are present too; sun, rain, snow, day and night and combined with snappier commentary system featuring Messrs Davis and O’Neil, makes for a truly atmospheric game of football. What can we say? Gremlin has come up trumps with arguably the definitive playing experience – both visually and technically. Areas of criticism are few – perhaps CPU defenders could react to you changing your target man for corners and free kicks, but this is knit-picking. Actua Soccer 3 is footie perfection and hoofs the competition squarely in the crown jewels.