Windows - 2001
Description of UEFA Challenge
Ever wanted to see how your beloved team would do against the greats of Europe and are starting to lose hope that this might not happen in your lifetime? If so, or if you have long been searching for a football game that combines both playability and durability along with a good dose of realism, then switch off the TV, take the phone off the hook and boot up UEFA Challenge.
As the game installs you are presented with graphics and video footage of a handful of well-known and talented players; Figo, Del Piero, Simeone, Dwight Yorke, and somewhat strangely, Kevin Phillips. Unarguably a great finisher in his own right, but not someone you would necessarily hold in the same regard as these other greats of football. Even more strangely, he seems to be wearing an England shirt, which brings you to one of only two conclusions - either one of the game's creators is a die-hard Sunderland fan, or a long lost relation of Mr. Phillips himself.
Where to now?
Once the game has loaded you are presented with most of the usual array of options that you would expect of a football game, plus some extras: Quick Start, Friendly, Season, Tournament, Practice, then there's also the Club Challenge and Preset Competitions.
In Club Challenge, you pick a team and try to advance through the leagues in an attempt to become the champions. Starting in the lowest division you must avoid relegation and fight for promotion. You have the ability to enter as many player-controlled teams as desired and success here will open bonus tournaments for you to enter in the Preset Competitions section.
The Preset Competitions presents you with an initial choice of three cup competitions to enter with an additional three available when you win the Club Challenge. Match duration cannot be altered in this section and up to four player teams can be entered into a tournament. The first three tournaments are:
European Club Cup - 16 teams in a straight knockout tournament; European Trophy - 16 teams in four mini-leagues playing home and away legs, the top two teams from each group progress into a single leg knockout stage; European Mini Leagues - 20 teams in five mini-leagues with matches being played over two legs, the top two teams from each league qualify for a final single legged master league.
There's also the now standard Editor - Here you can change team and player names and create all kinds of strange looking football greats by altering skin colour, hair colour, hair style and amount of facial hair. One drawback here is the fact that you can't actually alter an individual's assortment of skill attributes.
Start your training
With more options than you could shake a linesman's flag at, it is at this point that you are left wondering whether or not the gameplay might be lacking. Obviously the temptation is to jump straight into the Club Challenge mode and see just how good the opposition really is, but taking a little time to hone your skills on the training ground is a good idea before you hit the turf proper.
Once inside the Practice Mode, you can choose from one of three venues to train at, each with differing capacities. The Metropolitan Stadium in England (cap 21000), the Mediterranean Stadium in Spain (cap 25000) or Green Meadows in England (cap 3600). The latter of these venues gives you the feel of a Premiership side out for their morning stretch in somewhat brisk conditions. A fair crowd of onlookers huddle together in the hope they might see some glimpses of their golden boy's magical skill, and possibly even corner him for an autograph afterwards.
The choice of teams throughout the game is not as comprehensive as you might hope, perhaps it was decided that only those considered worthy of Europe should be listed initially. The collection of English sides on offer are Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Man Utd, Villa, Everton, Leeds, Newcastle, Spurs and West Ham, of which only the first four actually contain their teams' real life players. That said, it wouldn't take too long to create a custom team that had all your favourite players included; the only drawback here being you can't attribute any skills to match their real life counterparts.
Back to the training ground and you can see whether the time you took creating the custom side of your dreams was time well spent or whether the cash you handed over to make the purchase only hours ago was not.
In the free practice, 11 of your men go against a CPU keeper, you have at your disposal a vast array of passes and moves on which to practice. Straight passes, deft lobs, through balls, lobbed through balls, low crosses, one-two's, delayed one-two's and chipped one-two's are all ways of putting your team mate through onto goal. If this wasn't enough you can practice all sorts of clever tricks in the hope that later on you'll be able to guide one of your players on a solo run through the heart of the opponent's defence. Step overs, faints, knock on and runs, 360-degree spins, rainbow kicks and the fabulous drag back and 90-degree turn mean an awful lot of controls to remember, but if well practiced they can look devastating on the pitch.
With free kicks, you can choose to blast it with varying degrees of power, and may actually place it through a gap in the wall, but as the game offers no apparent ability to put any curl on a shot, it is almost impossible to score direct. A trick here is to move one of your players into a scoring position and then either loft a ball over the wall for him to volley or play a quick pass along the ground so he can hit a first time shot. This gives a realistic feel to taking a free kick and you'll soon find yourself bulging the net from every angle, while scoring from dead balls in other games is rare. A nice touch in the practice mode is that your chosen team's attackers are pitted against their own defenders, as you would expect in a normal training ground situation.
Practicing defence involves defending against five attacking players, switching between your defenders, putting in block and sliding tackles and bringing your keeper out whenever required.
Another practice mode is speed challenge - complete five goal-scoring challenges as fast as possible and try to beat your best time to date. This is good clean fun and is great practice for the challenges that lie ahead, your team (which is always Arsenal for some reason) play in brightly coloured bibs with their names on the back, this is one of those extra features that make the game all the more enjoyable.
Before you can kick a ball in competition, you are once again confronted with a whole host of options to fine tune your team and consolidate upon your opposition's weaknesses. You can take a look at your starting eleven and compare their ratings with your substitutes and reserves, swapping any players around where necessary. You can then select your kick takers before going on to the more complicated issue of deciding upon team formation and assigning any man-to-man markers etc.
As expected, the matches take a little bit of time to load, but they are certainly worth the wait. The array of different stadiums is spectacular, as the sun shines down and creates a shadow on one side of the pitch. Brian Moore and Graeme Souness launch into their pre-match banter as the camera pans around the players and stadium before finally coming to rest on one of the strikers doing 'keepie-uppies' on the centre spot.
Into the action and the game is quite difficult to get the hang of at first as you try to master switching between your defensive players and work out the best way to break down the opposition's defence. As you slowly start to master the controls, you will find that losses soon become draws, and draws become victories and the game becomes very enjoyable indeed. The three level settings (easy, medium and hard) can keep your interest going if things become a bit too easy. Sometimes the matches can seem to be over a little bit quickly, with the action going from end to end, but the game duration settings prevent any silly score lines which you can often experience with games of the same ilk.
The commentary itself is very good, with clear pronunciation of player names and nothing too repetitive or mistimed. There is nothing more annoying than hearing the commentator announce "Oh what a dreadful challenge!" for the umpteenth time in the same match, or to hear him babble on about a shooting opportunity that occurred twenty minutes earlier.
One on one's with the keepers are very realistic, and it is seemingly easier to score than with other footy games as you often get a second bite of the cherry as the ball rebounds back to you off the keepers' legs. The through balls are fantastic and can really cause defences trouble, giving you the ideal opportunity to carve out a decent striking chance on goal. One slight quirk was that sometimes the players would shoot/score while actually looking away from goal at an oncoming defender, and sometimes the play can briefly slowdown when shooting, which results in one or two missed chances if the ball rebounds.
Some further highlights are seeing the player's breath in cold weather and the sliding tackles are great, leaving a player flat on the deck after a strong but fair challenge. It is possible to score some great solo goals too, with a few 360 degree turns and an added burst of speed, followed by a quick shimmie to fool the defence and to give you that required extra yard of space. The action replay utility is also pretty cool, with the usual customized angles and zoom settings.
All in all this is a pretty impressive football game, with plenty of good points outweighing only one or two downfalls, and there are certainly more than enough tournaments to keep your interest going for quite some time. The gameplay is fast and frenetic at times, but one thing you will notice is that it is possible to create space for your players, allowing you a little more time to consider your next defence splitting pass, deft trick or thirty yard strike.
Oh, and if you're still wondering about Kevin Phillips, he does appear in the game after all, playing upfront amongst a host of unknowns, wearing the No.10 shirt for the mighty England.
Review By GamesDomain
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