Leagues apart: Two new football video games put you in complete control. Total football or long-ball hoofing? Rupert Goodwins takes the field of play

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The Independent Culture
The true pleasure of football comes not from taking part, nor even from watching your team mash the opposition into the mud. As fanzines and publicans know, real fans like nothing more than complaining, at length, about the management, the players, the weather. Sensible Soccer and FIFA International Soccer - two sport simulations that put you in charge of the whole darn lot - exploit this.

On the pitch, FIFA International Soccer is by far the showier of the two. The players are larger and realistically animated in pseudo-3D; the Sensible version is shown on a flat plan of the ground, on which the players scurrying about like a nest of recently disturbed woodlice. FIFA's sound is a good deal better, too; the crowd gasps, cheers and even breaks into indistinct chanting during longueurs on the pitch.

Both games include the familiar delights of bad weather, fouls and instant replays. With either, the pitch can be set anywhere between baked and sodden, but Sensible also has a seasonal setting where the month of the match sets the chance of a very British quagmire.

Player and ball control is quite a skill, whatever the weather. At the easiest level of Sensible Soccer, the ball sticks to the player like England to this side of the Atlantic; harder levels demand much more dexterous dribbling. FIFA concentrates less on the running, but has special key sequences for lobbing, back-heels and one-touch passing - it's also more explicit about what sort of fouls can be committed, and whether you want the ref to notice them or not. Too much too often, and the offending player is shown the red card.

It's difficult to control 11 players with one pair of thumbs. Both games use a system of letting the human move the player on the ball while the computer moves the rest around; FIFA's androids show a lot of complexity in their movements while Sensible's players seem more predictable, but with each it's possible to learn complex positioning and passing tactics.

Action replay happens with Sensible after a goal, and is just a rerun of the final few seconds. FIFA does this too, but you can also activate the replay at any other time and watch it in slow motion, backwards or from a different position.

Although football derives its charisma from personalities, it's not easy for game writers to reflect this. FIFA avoids the issue altogether, but Sensible shows more chutzpah; each team has a glorious array of curiously- spelled stars: Chrus Hudds, Lie Doxon and Peul Gasgoigne spice up the England side.

Each game comes with a multilingual instruction booklet for upwards of 100 pages, documents of considerable educational value. Did you know that 'over the moon' is 'himmelhoch jauchzend' in Cologne? It's a good thing football's got its intellectual credibility back these days, as both games have a perplexingly complex range of league, tournament and cup matches to play through.

Put these two games side-by-side in a shop, and it'd look uncomfortably like Gillingham vs Man United. FIFA International Soccer is flashier, noisier and more immediately atmospheric. Sensible Soccer has the edge in long-term interest and in-depth team control. It's also sillier - they need only add teams from the Serious Fraud Office and the Inland Revenue to make it the perfect mirror of our national game.

Sensible Soccer (Sony Imagesoft), FIFA International Soccer (Electronic Arts), for Sega Megadrive

(Photograph omitted)

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