Developer: Ubisoft Vancouver
World Cup fever is sweeping the globe, helping to flog everything from crisps to plasma TVs to John Barnes' music 'career', what better time for a new football game. Attempting to distil and bottle the 'pure' essence of football - physicality, trickery, aggression and passion - through heated five-a-side exchanges, Ubisoft have tried to get in on the money a little bit, even pinching Liverpool's Steven Gerrard for a freezeframed cover shot that looks like a Nike or Adidas advert that's stuck on pause.
You get to pick from a roster of some 230 real life footballers and 17 legends, although not all of them from the start, as you work to construct your 5-a-side super team. From the main menu you have the option to create your own players, your own team and colours, start the refreshingly arcadey Campaign mode, or dive straight in with an Exhibition match or take the game online. Multiplayer, understandably when we played it, was still a little sparse, but the transfer options and fact that points are carried over from other modes is pretty nifty.
If you're not looking to jump online or play with a mate, then the Campaign mode is where the action is really at. You start off by creating your team captain and outfitting your team with home and away kits and a powerful moniker like The Moby Dicks or Zeus' Underpants or Team Awesome and away you go. Inserted onto the bottom rung of the ladder you have a limited time in which to travel from city to city, completing any of the four objectives you'll encounter in each, to try and raise your team's ranking from 30 all the way up to 1.
Although you start off with a handful of mediocre players who can barely tell their left from right, completing in game objectives that change and vary with each match will unlock players from the team you just faced, allowing you to recruit them for your own footballing purposes. It's actually a really nice feature and you get the pleasure of watching your squad blossom the more you progress. n top of that, each match will earn you Pure points - the better you play, the more you'll win - which can then be spent upgrading the stats of your created captain. It's an RPG element that works very nicely indeed, and one that I wish FIFA 10 had actually kept in from the previous instalment.
Matches themselves play out much more simply than a full-on 22 player game, as you'd expect. There's one button to pass, one to lob, one to sprint and one to shoot. Proximity arrows will help show you who's open to receive the ball, turning blue when you can chip in the perfect cross. In order to do this, and also score the perfect goal, you hold down the relevant button, releasing it at the right time (in the right coloured zone on the meter at your players' feet ) to strike a Pure ball that will deliver a perfect cross or shot depending on which button you hit. In other words, if you've ever played pretty much any timing-based golf game you'll be right at home here. Defending is really a matter of pressing and patience - mistime a slide tackle enough to fill the Foul Meter and you'll give away a penalty no matter what.
This isn't the first time someone has tried to give the Beautiful Game a bit of a different spin than the re-enactments perpetuated by the Pro Evo and FIFA franchises. In fact, EA themselves tried it with the footie version of NBA Street that saw you busting tricks and ratcheting your points meter ever higher until you could unleash hell with a Gamebreaker move. Nintendo have their own take on things having combined the best of Mario Kart with a kickabout for Super Mario Strikers, a move which resulted in one of my top 5 favourite Wii games to this day. For me, the best game of this sort came with the criminally overlooked Red Card Football, a title I ended up buying for my Gamecube back in the day. As the title suggests, it was a game all about crunching tackles, liberal violence and farting in the general direction of referees everywhere. But it also had a very smooth game game engine and you could pull off some fantastic gravity-defying Matrix-style shots on goal. On top of that, any game where you could pit a team of SWAT veterans against a squad of dolphins earns brownie points in my book, Red Card Football succeeded in offering a jazzed-up take on the sport that was flawed, but madcap fun.
Sadly, Ubisoft appear to have missed that last point.
You see while it has some nice ideas, Pure Football just isn't much fun to play at all. For starters, it's clunkier than Optimus Prime attempting the lead in Swan Lake. Players feel horribly heavy and unresponsive. It's clear that they've tried to make the player experience the physicality of the game but moving players about is like trying to manoeuvre large lumps of clay. Aside from the shots and byline crosses themselves, button presses are largely time-delayed as well. It's always a bit of a gamble to see if a first time pass is going to pay off or if sprinting will occur as soon as you press the button of a second later, by which time you've clattered into a defender.
The in-game presentation leaves much to be desired too. You can see what the developers were going for with the heavily stylised, chisel-jawed Johnny Bravo-esque character models, but they haven't pushed it far enough, instead it resides in a no man's land that is at best half-finished and at worst eye-wateringly ugly. It reflects the gameplay package all too successfully - simple, chunky and lacking in style or refinement.
There are other bugbears too: the through ball button is completely useless and might as well be renamed the Give The Ball To The Opposition, the tackling system is absurd considering the lack of a referee and results in tentative defending rather than aggressive play, there's no real point in the skill stick as it will never help you beat an opponent, the move list is incredibly limited and sprinting results in a navigational disaster.
Even aside from the unresponsive controls, it becomes clear within the first five minutes that unlike the previous games I've mentioned, this is a game with a striking lack of depth. No, I didn't expect this to come anywhere near touching the footie sims for gameplay dimensions, but the sport has been thinned out so utterly here that there's actually very little to get excited about. FIFA Street was all about the tricks, Red Card Football was all about the ridiculous (and all the better for it), Mario Strikers married classic Nintendo gameplay with two goals and a ball. All of these games streamlined football but added or accentuated other features of the game to compensate for this, and it's difficult to see where Pure Football has done this, if at all. In trying to provide a more accessible route into playing the Beautiful Game from the comfort of your living room, Ubisoft have gutted the sport and provided nothing in terms of gameplay to compensate for it. The nice ideas and crossover elements working behind the scenes are ultimately undone in a game that football fans will tire of quickly.
Second Opinion: I was open to something a little more arcade-like than FIFA or PES which makes this even more disappointing. Unresponsive controls will have you howling at the screen as your players refuse to shoot before getting taken out again. Skill moves are a random waste of time and the sprint button may as well be renamed ‘run into defender.’ It’s damn ugly and even the replays make good-looking goals look average with poor angles and timing. Stealing players from other teams is a nice feature, but it’s a bit obsolete when the game is such a pig to play. If this was a £10 PSN/XBLA game it would still be £5 too much. As a full retail release it’s shocking. It’s totally baffling that Ubisoft have reportedly cancelling Beyond Good & Evil 2 and are wasting money on this. 3/10 - Brendan
- Good concept with some nice ideas
- RPG elements a nice touch
- Campaign mode has some nice features like objective-based player stealing
- Fell through the ugly tree and hit every branch along the way
- Gameplay is horrifically clunky and completely lacking in depth
- Makes you want to play something else
The Short Version: Ubisoft's desire to create something different yet familiar yields the unfortunate result of a game that offers an arcade style spin on proceedings and presentation, but plays like boredom personified. Coming cross like an altogether too serious arcade game, Pure Football offers up only flaws and frustration where the fun should be.