"17 versions of the same game?"
Even if Club Football doesn't sell in a rapid fashion it is already one of the most unique games on the market. Releasing in seventeen different versions from day one was a risk for Codemasters but even so they have crafted a fairly adequate football simulation together with some extra special features for the passionate fans.
Club Football is designed around passionate fans and a love for their chosen club. The clubs include the big names of Europe such as Inter Milan, AC Milan and Real Madrid just to name a few. For this review we checked out the Manchester United edition, who just happen to be the champions of the English Premiership at the moment. If you're not a fan of one of the clubs featured, then it is likely you won't find much to like about Club Football in comparison to the other football games on the market.
Club Football features two primary game modes; domestic league and super league. Domestic league, in the case of Manchester United and other English Clubs, replicates the English Premier league. Although Codemasters don't have the licence for the actual premiership, the clubs and player names all feature. Other titles in the series such as Real Madrid feature the Spanish Primera League. Domestic league tasks you with taking your team to the championship across the entire season. A cup structure is also included, and although its not the actual F.A. Cup it does follow the same knockout pattern of games. The super league is almost a direct replication of the UEFA Champions League, however again without the official licence.
The one major problem people may have with Club Football is the fact that the game forces you to use your chosen club. So for instance in the case of the title we reviewed, we were forced to use Manchester United for both the Domestic and Super League seasons. Obviously if you're buying Club Football, then it is likely you are a fan of that club. It still would have been nice to have the option. The option to play as other clubs from the premiership and other European leagues is made available in the exhibition mode.
The transfer market was quite busy over the European summer and all transfers have been reflected in Manchester United Club Football. Players such as Eric Djemba Djemba and Cristiano Ronaldo (two of Uniteds summer transfers) now appear in the squad. However unlike in other football games a transfer market does not exist and you have to make do with the squad you have. Again this heralds back to the fact Codemasters is trying to completely replicate the club structure for the passionate fans, but again it would have been nice to be able to build upon your squad by bringing in new superstars from across Europe.
However it's not all negative from the lack of transfer markets. As Codemasters knew exactly which players would be playing at your chosen club, they have been able to craft some incredible player likeness. In other games such as Pro Evolution Soccer 3, from a distance the players look incredible but zoomed in aren't so impressive. Not so in Club Football, Manchester United stalwarts such as Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes look incredibly lifelike. As do the entire squad. Not only this but this impressive level of detail is replicated across the entire game. Even for teams which don't have an official game in the Club Football series such as Newcastle United.
You can also create yourself in the game and put yourself in your desired club. Whilst this is nothing new the level of detail that can be assigned to a character is. Details such as name, age, height, build, skin tone etc. The list goes on and on, its highly detailed, something you would expect to find in a Sims game from EA. You also select which skills you are proficient at via a points system.
The teams not featured in the series do not feature their official stadium or team logo but Codemasters have been able to replicate the player kits and names, a definite leg up on Pro Evolution Soccer 3. The teams which do feature elsewhere in the Club Football series can play in their official stadiums and feature their official team logo. Because of this it's hard to recommend Club Football to a fan of a team not featured in the seventeen game series.
One area which was quite impressive was the player animations. The players show emotions such as when arguing with the referee over a booking or just missing an easy goal. The best animations featured are shown when the players come together. The don't just come together, they tumble into each other often resulting in some brutal tackles. Other animations such as headers towards goal, and ball control are again fantastic and are almost on the level of established franchises such as Pro Evolution Soccer. Manager (in this case Sir Alex Ferguson) reactions and instructions from the sideline are also shown to add to the level of atmosphere. A credit to the work Codemasters surely put in with long hours in the motion capture studio.
The game moves at quite a slow place and many soccer purists will be happy that finally a developer has slowed down the game to a realistic level. It lends itself to simulation play, but for those wanting a quick arcade bash you're going to have to look elsewhere. The AI is fairly competent, even on the lowest difficulty level and the minnow teams can give some of the higher teams a scare. Obviously using the Manchester United edition of the game will offer a better squad then if using say the Aston Villa edition and therefore make it easier to win trophies. Some clubs such as Villa aren't included in the super league by default.
For the fans whose club are featured the stadiums look fantastic. Old Trafford, often called the Theatre of Dreams, has been replicated by Codemasters to the nth degree. As has Highbury (Arsenal), Stamford Bridge (Chelsea) and many others. All the stadiums are available to be played in the Manchester United edition but only in exhibition games can you choose which one to use. The stadiums feature screaming fans, TV cameras, and other environmental objects you would typically see at a football match. The atmosphere created is great with crowds cheering when a home goal is scored, and an almost deafening silence if an away goal is scored. The fans featured in the game bring across the true nature of what Club Football is meant to be about, getting behind your club and taking them to the summit.
Visually, Club Football is quite impressive. With the incredible aforementioned player likeness and animations, it is one of the most impressive looking football games on the PS2. The official logos, stadiums, player kits etc for clubs featured give the game a high level of authenticity. It's just a shame Codemasters could not continue this on with teams not featured in the seventeen game series. Commentary is provided by Gary Linnekar and Barry Davies and whilst only moderately good, does work well and sounds great with some good information offered. Sound effects are great with cheering fans and a high level of atmosphere.
Codemasters made a few mistakes with Club Football (such as leaving out the transfer markets) but they also made some gem decisions. They probably would have been better off putting all the teams into one game and selling that but they took a risk, and a risk which fans of the clubs featured will most likely appreciate. If you're a fan of one of the seventeen clubs featured then do check your clubs game out, but if not then Pro Evolution Soccer 3 is probably your best alternative.