The greatest football game of all time – Sensible World of Soccer 96/97 – is celebrating its 20th anniversary, and to celebrate, a group of dedicated fans has painfully edited the engine to produce a 2016 update. The kits may have changed, and promotions and relegations accounted for, but at its core, the new version of SWOS retains all of the charm of the original, from the opening strains of ‘Goal Scoring Superstar Hero’ (the intro song) through to being welcomed to your club by a suitably moustachioed, northern accented Chairman, and the ultimate glory of seeing your computer generated players lift the cup in the changing room.
In the original Sensible Soccer, first released in 1993 you could play club or international teams, and then take part in cups, leagues or friendlies. SWOS upped the ante, adding a career mode to the equation for those who wanted to manage their team. Whilst it is nothing complicated, it offered a graphical representation of your team in action a decade before Championship Manager/Football Manager belatedly enhanced their database, though it lacks the press, agent, and fan interaction of the latter.
As much as loyal players had previously enjoyed the journey of transforming the fortunes of, say, an also-ran Dutch Second Division team, and taking them all the way to a Champions League Final against George Weah, Paolo Maldini, and the rest of the AC Milan super team of the mid-1990s, the folk at sensiblesoccer.de felt that they wanted to face up against Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and they’ve done a fine job. The graphics can’t compare with FIFA, but they have a unique pixelated charm.
What SWOS has always been about is fantastic gameplay. Matches are fast and furious, and if you’re not in possession, teams will punish you. Amazing ball physics mean that you can put swerve on the ball, and measure the strength of the pass or make it a shot, while players can perform diving headers, and make last minute ditch tackles.
While managing a team on Football Manager or FIFA can take over your life, SWOS is a game for people who want an experience as simple as the game itself, its ingenuity lying in the level of quality Sensible Software were able to produce with just the direction buttons and the Ctrl button. With the fans not having access to the source code, they were unable to do anything to refine the mechanics of the game, and so historic changes in the game – particularly the increase in substitutions – the number of leagues, and the formats of the competitions.
What this fan release demonstrates however, that there is still an audience for a new Sensible Soccer title, which could refine other problems with the original, such as being sacked if you get into debt (is this really the manager’s responsibility?), being limited to the number of players you can buy in a season (regardless of your bank balance, and in particular, grading player quality.
Players are graded 0-7 on a seven different competencies, including shot power (inside and outside penalty area) strength, passing and speed. However, speed is by far the most important skill, with players of lesser value usually being slower. While this is used to discern quality within the game, it is far from being representative of real life.
Another big beef is that, though menu music, automatic replays, and match commentary (provided by a fledgling Jonathan Pearce) can be turned off, what can’t be turned off is the crowd noise, which is constant throughout the match day simulation, interspersed with “come on your whites” or “come on you reds.” It’s annoying that you have to pick between noise or silence, particularly if you are using headphones.
But these a small quibbles. If you want to a quick release from the strains of watching real football that is all over in three minutes there really has never been anything that can beat Sensible World of Soccer.