Actua Soccer 2
Windows - 1997
Also available on: Mac
Description of Actua Soccer 2 Windows
1996: EA Sports and Gremlin Interactive both come out with PC arcade soccer games. The former introduces the world to Fifa 96, which includes Virtual Stadium, at the time an amazing achievement in 3D technology. The latter presents us with Actua Soccer, the British alternative, naturally promising a truer point of view towards the most popular sport on earth. Both games sell extremely well, and open the door to a flood of new soccer games in years to come.
1997: EA Sports go the realism way, forgetting all about gameplay and concentrating on blitz. Fifa 97 fails in the fans' eyes, although it keeps selling like Cantona's shirt. Gremlin keep on developing the successor to the original game for another year, in the meantime "renewing" the original with games such as Actua Soccer: Club Edition, and keeping the Gremlin name in the market slowly taken over by the US PC sports giant.
1998: Fifa 98 hits the shelves, and is immediately recognized as the best in the field. The game brings back all that made the Fifa series the legend they are, while throwing out all that made Fifa 97 such a huge disappointment. The game looks fabulous, too.
At about the same time, Fifa 's traditional rival comes out, all ready for the yearly derby. I present to you Actua Soccer 2, the game that... no, wait, let me keep that for the review.
I wish I had a camera
Personally, I never liked Actua Soccer, nor any of it's offspring's. Yes, they had that frantic pace that always managed to keep you on the edge, but after all, this isn't Quake. I am a firm believer in gameplay, and Actua 's main problem was that it was, at least to me, completely unplayable. No camera angle was truly comfortable, and the pace only made that problem more extreme. The controls never felt "right", with combined actions seeming somewhat unnatural in execution. Compared with the beautiful simplicity that was Fifa 96 , the way it felt right at home from the opening whistle, Actua looked like the younger, adrenaline-crazed brother.
Ever since I started playing Fifa 98, I was hoping that Gremlin had got theirs right, too. They only had to fix some basic gameplay errors in the original Actua to make it a truly great game, even when compared to its EA Sports' present-day competitor. I got it one morning on my way to work, and my mind kept wondering back to it all day. Will it be good enough to actually have fun with this time? Will it draw me into it's make-believe pitch with the same strength as Fifa 98?
I got home that evening, and...
...And I could not install. No, I don't mean I had a computer-related technical problem with it. Not at all. The problem was that in this supposedly 1998 computer game, the developers had decided to adhere to the current retro fashion, and return us to the dark ages of DirectX2. Remember that one? It would install itself without asking, almost always transforming your machine into a big, cold, hunk of metal that couldn't boot out of safe mode. Well then. Actua Soccer 2 does the same, only now it's DirectX5, which means that it knows so much more about how to ruin your carefully set up Win95. And it uses the knowledge, too.
You see, Actua 2 installs itself effortlessly, munching up a precious 180MB of your hard drive space. You see that bar that says 100% complete, and you pick up your favorite game control device, only to look back in horror at a screen telling you that DirectX5 is being installed. It never asks if you really want to do it. It most arrogantly does so itself, using Microsoft's handily provided command line options. And the worst part is that the game comes only with one version of DirectX5- the US version, and does not recognize any other type of DirectX5, like my core installation. This means that a poor soul like myself, who lives and works in a non-English environment, will have to either reinstall a pure English Win95 on their computer, or call tech support angrily. It also reminds me of Sony's technique of annoying buyers, with their "country based" cartridges.
Tech support was helpful, I have to say that. They gave me a handy solution- to press the Ctrl-Alt-Del combo while DX5 is being installed, then ending its task from the task bar. This works well, except that it ruins the uninstall file and kills any chance of the executable appearing under the desired folder in the startup menu. But what really got to me was Gremlin's reply that Microsoft demanded that the developers do this automatic install for them to get the " Win95 approved" logo on their box. I looked, I searched, and I found no trace of proof that this was true. And there is overwhelming evidence against this claim- just look at every other game released to the market today! They all bear that Win95 logo proudly, and I have not seen such rude behavior (i.e. not asking whether to install DirectX) in a game for over two years now.
This whole procedure took me three weeks, three precious weeks of play time. But the game did eventually enter a reasonable state of operation.
Actua Soccer 2 was designed with the help of Alan Shearer. Gremlin go out of their way to let you know about it, from the background pictures to the "Shearer... Shearer.. Shearer!" opening. It actually becomes a little sickening after a while, but I can understand their wish to, err, milk the franchise. Contrary to Fifa 98 's slick, beautiful, and most importantly, natural front end, Actua 2 makes do with a subpar, uncomfortable menu system, one that is more or less a duplicate of the one from the original Actua . There is no opening video to talk about, and though you may say that this has nothing to do with the game, and I will even agree with you, it still made me feel all that worse than when I started Fifa 98 for the first time, what with its included Blur song, which I will take over Barry and Trevor anyday... Actua 2 's front end is also crude, graphically, using little colors and blocky letters. Am I picking on details? Of course I am. But that's only because it has a tremendous competitor, one that gets all those little details RIGHT.
So the front end's alienating. What else? The music is also quite boring, never annoying, but never exciting. I turned it's volume down quite quickly, partly so I will actually be able to understand the commentators and partly because I did not enjoy it, again contrary to Fifa 98. And yes, this is true in the game itself too. To be honest, there really isn't much to say in the audio department about this game, so let me state right here and now that we again have Barry Davies at the mike, with the incessant Trevor Brooking by his side. To the good side, Trevor's commentary is much more varied and deep than Fifa 98 's Andy Gray, but they both get on your nerves after a while, Trevor's deeper wisdom offset by his constant drivel. As for Barry, well, his part is well done, on par with Motson in the competition.
Then there are the problems with the controls. Try to change the keyboard buttons, and it will work- sometimes. After a while I understood the reason- if a button is already defined somewhere else, the change will simply not take place. Since you get no visual clues whatsoever as to what you are doing, you never know if the problem is with yourself, your keyboard, or the game. Also, I never managed to get my GRiP to work with Actua 2, the first game for a long time where I encountered such a difficulty. And playing with the keyboard is no fun at all, not only because I am used to my pad, but also because some buttons simply refuse to be configured, like the Alt buttons.
As for options, Actua 2 offers you international competition only, in the form of league, cup, or friendly games. An interesting option is the scenario option, where you are dumped into the middle of a supposedly real life game, during an important event, like a corner 5 minutes towards the end, trailing by one goal. Of course, important events include things like "England 3-0 down, 74th minutes, Shearer comes in", which is ridiculous but expected. An important option is the editor, which allows you to play with all sorts of things, and enabling the creation of, for example, the Premiership if you feel like it. Lastly, training helps you get used to the game, as much as is possible, and in a nice touch, the training grounds is actually a park, with trees around the pitch. And of course, in gameplay there are all the usual options, from ref strictness to weather conditions. Multiplayer support is excellent, adding TCP/IP (Internet) play via Directplay to the usual bunch of network, modem/serial possibilities. My main complaint in this depratment is that the audio/video settings were not saved automatically when I went out of the game.
So its not a professional yet, but does it have the talent?
Assuming that you do go through what's needed to actually play, there are two issues to consider: firstly, does the game look great, and secondly, does it play great? The answer to both questions, I am afraid, is no. Not a resounding "No!", mind you, just a humble, silently muttered "no".
Graphics first. Actua 2 looks pretty cool, certainly on par with big arcade machines. Actually, with a 3dfx card, it's better than they are, because it is so blindingly fast. I am amazed at what Gremlin's engine manages to do, but thinking about it, this may be the reason for the missing camera angles. Had they used Fifa 98 's very comfortable point of view, they would have had to show so much more on the screen at once, because Fifa 's camera is a little farther away than Actua 's "action" cameras, and a little closer than Actua 's top-view cameras. Instead of putting the camera where the most action can be seen at once without losing detail, Actua Soccer 2 's cameras are either too close, not needing to show as many players, or too far, not showing as much detail.
Players move around more or less realistically, but again Actua 2 pales when compared to Fifa 98. Had I seen the former before the latter, I would have been unduly impressed. As it is, I simply shrugged it off as second best, and far behind. But it does have some neat tricks up its sleeve, mostly when it comes to weather conditions. Rain and snow affect the pitch gradually, with the former creating more and more mud puddles as the game progresses. Actua 2 also has a great effect where sliding players create marks on the field, mostly noticeable in snow (which also covers them gradually). The ball is also in the right, orange-red color during snow play.
And then there's gameplay. I don't know. Maybe I'm not arcade-oriented enough, or simply not smart enough. Whichever the case may be, I never could get the hang of playing Actua, and it is much worse for me in Actua 2 . The viewing angle never makes me feel comfortable, and the game advances at such crazy speed, that I never can get used to playing it. And even if I did, I never would enjoy it. After all, let's admit it, football is a rather slow sport most of the time. Players walk on the pitch. They take a breather. The ball hops in midfield now and then. What can I say? Actua 2 is simply way too fast, to the point where it becomes so unrealistic, so untrue to real life, that it doesn't generate within me any feeling of "I'm playing pro football now!". Fifa 98 excels in this regard, and is many years ahead of Gremlin's effort.
But if you like your games speedy and arcade, then Actua 2 may be your ticket. The ball travels from end to end almost instantly, and you can easily manage 10 shots on goal in 3 minutes- for each side. Actua 2 gains a lot from this speed in multiplayer games, where the adrenaline rush gets all that much bigger. Controlling your players, if you can really call it that, is accomplished via four buttons- shoot, pass, lob pass, and speed burst. Tackles are a tricky business, requiring perfect timing which, I am sad to say, is reminiscent of Fifa 97. Shooting is almost always done in direct lines, although (very) slight after-touch is possible. The game does provide a good visual clue when shooting, where a small power meter appears on the screen allowing you to judge the strength of the shot. It is a disappointment to note, then, that said bar does not appear in free kicks, except for goal kicks. Also, you can never control your keeper, except during goal kicks. And I do mean never, including in free kicks, and also, I suspect, in penalties- there were simply too many times when my keeper jumped to the other side. To the positive side, keepers do seem to behave rationally, although I have yet to see one chasing a loose ball out of the area, as they do in Fifa 98.
Now, this is plain annoying
Actua 2 is not devoid of bugs and problems, too. I especially like the way players go THROUGH the net when retrieving deadballs. Yes, that's right, and the net even moves accordingly, bending and seeming to split for a few seconds while the player takes his shortcut. Actua 2 follows Fifa 98 's example and has those dreaded deadball animations, but contrary to the latter, it doesn't even allow you to ESC through them, let alone switch them off altogether. Combine this with the fact that for some inexplicable reason, the game slows down to a crawl during those animations, and you will understand why I kept cringing every time a deadball was called.
The ref in this game is ignorant of how the game proceeds, and has no qualms about whistling for end of period during the course of a shot. This happened to me once, but it is worth noting: I just scored a 90th minute equalizer, only to find out that the damn ref whistled game-over AFTER I had kicked the ball! Twice I had the game end during a fast break, with the striker already past the defence and only had the keeper between him and the goal. Come on, Gremlin, shouldn't we be past that already? No ref in real life would do such things.
A very annoying aspect of player control is how gladly they leave the ball. Try to run for a few yards, then suddenly turn 180 degrees. No go. The player will simply leave the ball standing and run back. Why? I have no idea. This doesn't happen every time, so I suspect it has something to do with the player's dribbling ability, but it is so maddening and frustrating that, for the first couple of times, it made me remove myself from my chair in disgust.
The game also has some sound problems, and I had poor Barry stuck in saying the same sentence over and over again for quite a few times. And lastly, not technically a bug, but quite amusing, is how Trevor goes silly about basic plays. Just scoring a goal from three yards with no keeper around, I was surprised to hear a 20-second diatribe about how international level experience is so important, and how international strikers pounce on such opportunities. In truth, my mom could have scored that goal blindfolded. But the real cracker was Trevor announcing a penalty kick as the goal of the tournament...
No, no, no. Try again
So I wonder. Is this Gremlin 's best effort? Can't they make something better? I have played Fifa 98 for 25+ hours now, and I have no intention to stop. Actua Soccer 2 had me in front of the screen for about 5, and even then, at least half of that time I was forcing myself to play. No, it isn't really bad, but it isn't very good either. Of course, if you like a frantic pace, and you could handle the original Actua 's camera angles, then go ahead and buy Actua 2. It's certainly more of the same, only better presented. Actua 2 's saving grace is the way it handles itself in multiplayer games, where the terrific game speed comes into its own. Otherwise, don't hesitate for a moment, and rush out and get EA Sports' game instead, because it is so much better.
And even Shearer can do nothing about it.
Review By GamesDomain
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Screenshots from MobyGames.com
Screenshots from MobyGames.com / Platform: Windows
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