Boot up for the best in the world

The World Cup kicks off in just four days; football fever has finally hit. Developers are unveiling their skills to the nation, and now we can see what separates the Brazils from the San Marinos of the footie sims. Despite the vast number of games released in the run up to the World Cup, only three real contenders have emerged for the No 1 spot in the charts - Three Lions, World League Soccer 98 and World Cup 98. David Gordon rates each of these favourites, and looks at rivals, old and new
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THREE LIONS (Take Two) HH

Though this is the official game of the England 1998 World Cup Squad, it falls well short of the mark. The graphics are blocky and very slow, the gameplay is very hard to get accustomed to and intricate manoeuvres rarely work; the best option is the up 'n' under pass, followed by a large dash to the goal. Continental football it's not.

There are some plusses. It has an original targeting system which uses a bull's-eye-style target in the centre of the goal. When the shoot button is depressed, you can move the target to the spot you want to try to hit.

The other interesting aspect of Three Lions is that there is no real commentary, only advice shouted at you from the sidelines. Depending which teach team you choose to be, the voice will be in the appropriate language.

Sadly though, the game is not a winner. Three Lions has about as much chance as being a best-seller as Tunisia have of getting to the World Cup final.

Realism 6 Graphics 6 Commentary 6 Playability 6

On release pounds 44.99 (Playstation)

WORLD LEAGUE SOCCER (Eidos) HHHH

Despite a refreshing lack of pre-release hype, World League Soccer's graphics and textual background are extremely impressive, with the players looking very convincing, and the backdrops of towns and starry skies giving the game a very realistic feel. You will find the game most satisfying on the PlayStation as the action is much easier to control with the Sony pads.

As in real life, one-touch passing is a tactic that you'll really have to work on if you want to use it to greatest effect. When you are defending free-kicks, you not only set how many people to place in a wall and where to position it, but also whether your players jump or not. And that's not all. Eidos have added the kind of shooting found in Olympic Soccer, which means you can pull off two- or even three-way curl.

One problem - the incoherent commentary is likely to drive you mad. But if football realism is your main concern when choosing a football game, then look no further.

Realism 4 Graphics 4 Commentary 6 Playability 4

On release pounds 44.99 (Playstation)

WORLD CUP 98 (EA) HHHH

Ever since the release of FIFA Soccer back in the Megadrive days, EA has been regarded as the Pele of football simulations. Now, with their latest release, the boys have played yet another blinder.

The magic of World Cup 98 hits as soon as you start playing. The graphics are by far the best of all the football games that have been released: from the expressions on the players' faces, to the advertising on the edge of the pitch, every aspect has been covered. As to commentary, well, EA can't be touched. Chris "Round The World" Waddle, Gary "Broken Toe" Lineker, John "Motty" Motson, Des Lynam - they're all there.

Better still, once you have won the World Cup, the special Classics option becomes accessible. In this, you can re-enact some of the greatest World Cup finals ever, including, yes, 1966.

World Cup 98 is available on PlayStation and N64, as well as PC, but it is most enjoyable on the PC as the graphics are clearest, and the loading time is very short. Hot stuff all round.

Realism 4 Graphics 4 Commentary 4 Playability 4

On release pounds 39.99 (Playstation, N64 & PC)

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