10 years of hurt. It has been 10 years since we have played a proper Sensible Soccer game - that being the HD remaster of Sensible World of Soccer '96/'97 on Xbox Live Arcade. That version of that game still gets played in my flat to this day, with me starting a new managerial career about twice a year.
Legendary British developer Jon Hare is back, with a sequel to one of my favourite games of all time and I couldn't be more excited. Note I said "sequel" rather than spiritual successor; Although Codemasters may still hold the Sensible name, it is clear this game isn't shy of its origins, as it shares not only the classic style of the series, but the theme song too.
Sociable Soccer has been released in Early Access, which means that the game is not finished and should be treated as such. Not only is the game far from feature complete, the gameplay needs a lot of polish too. What we do have is a stable build with a solid framework to understand what it may become. I'm delighted and relieved to say that based on this early version, I am very excited about what it may become.
Unlike 2015's poorly received Dino Dini's Kick Off Revival, which stuck to the formula that previously gave that series success, Sociable is an evolution, with some risks taken. Risks that in my opinion, have paid off. Top of that list is the one-button gameplay has gone, in favour of the face buttons performing pass, shoot, chip and hoof duties. This gives you near unlimited control of the ball, in conjunction with the ability to apply tons of curl and dip at any point in the ball's trajectory. Analogue movement and a sprint button means a level of ball control not seen in the series before, and is a welcome addition. It all sounds very standard, but unlike FIFA and PES with their automatic assists, you are in 100% control of the game, meaning every mistake and success is on you.
The game now defaults to a TV broadcast style camera angle, which shows off the new polygonal players well and will appeal to those who are newcomers to the series. The game plays well from this perspective, but I massively appreciated the ability to switch to the "2D" vertical view which I am used to.
The familiar pace of the Sensi series is intact, with players zipping around and the ball pinging off your foot the instant you hit a button. This makes for fast end-to-end gameplay, with lots of shots on goal. Most importantly, even in this early phase, the game is damned fun to play.
Career mode and online features are promised to have huge depth, but can't be seen at this point in time. What we can see however, is "Boss Mode", where you start out as a lowly manager in the Australian league, making their way through knockout cups, getting bigger and better jobs after each trophy. Think of it as more of an arcade mode than a career, but I found it to be a lot of fun and perfect for if you want a quick match without the pressure of it negatively contributing towards your precious career save.
The downside here is that the game's AI, particularly for the goalkeepers, is far from complete. This makes matches extremely easy to win. Curling the ball away from the keeper at the last second is a near guarantee of a goal, meaning a lot of my matches concluded around the 5-0 mark. Because of this, I can't recommend buying the game in its current state if you are looking for something that feels like a complete product. That's just how Early Access works and is not a slight on the game at all.
For fans of the series who want to support the development of the game, I strongly suggest you dive in and help shape what it will become. I'm very excited about the direction the game is taking and if the netcode holds up, I can see the hardcore Sensi community flocking, along with new players looking for a fresh alternative to the FIFA and PES games.
I will be revisiting as the game progresses for a final conclusion, but I'm very happy with what I'm seeing so far, considering its stage of development.