Like em’ or hate em’ Sports games (particularly sports sims) are by and large the biggest earner for the games industry. With a reliable fan base leading to high sales year over year and the implementation of microtransactions in games like FIFA Ultimate Team, earning over $800 Million in revenue alone for that series, it can be tough for non-sim games to stand out. However, these types of games that skew reality in favor of making a more surreal experience, are often the ones I come back to playing the most. Whether it’s Super Tecmo Bowl, NFL Blitz, NBA Jam and other Midway sports titles of old; I generally find more enjoyment in these kinds of games over the realism-focus found in iterative EA Sports and 2k Games titles. Sociable Soccer, from Tower Games and Combo Breaker, aims to re-capture this same kind of arcade-focused feeling: simple controls and shorter games. And for the most part it hits those same old feelings that drew me to those games, but stumbles in a few fundamental and crucial aspects.
“You’re a goal scoring superstar herooooo..”
The game’s available modes are quite sparse at the moment. But the majority of your time in this Early Access builds will probably be spent in the “Boss Mode.” This mode functions similar to a standard fighting game ladder mode: Pick a team from an available group and beat all of the other clubs to win a trophy and some currency (it’s not quite clear what currency can be used for at this time other than moving to more advanced ladders). As you can already imagine, you start with the lower skilled leagues before making it up to the Premiere and BBVA equivalents.
Speaking of which, Sociable Soccer, like Pro Evolution Soccer, doesn’t have the licensing for these clubs or the likenesses of the players. That doesn’t stop the developer from getting as close as humanly possible to replicating the rosters of over 200+ clubs. You’ll find some clever lampooning of familiar clubs from the familiar MLS (USA’s pro soccer league), teams to the major clubs in European countries, to even the most obscure teams in Saudi Arabia or South Korea. National teams are available as well, however the amount of effort put into reproducing these club teams and their rosters is downright shocking. You’ll find Lionel “Macci” on Barcelona or “Idrehimovic” on the Manchester Reds, and 30,000+ other players. I can’t speak to all of those being faithful recreations of each player but it is still noteworthy amount of depth for a simpler soccer game.
The menu music track is also fantastic as well. I have even gone so far as to put the lyrics of this jazzy ditty in the headers for this review. Seriously, it gets super catchy after a few hours of playing. It sucks that this track isn’t in anything but the main menu however, as it would be really cool for this to play after a goal is scored. In fact, the game could use way more personality when it comes to its presentation. There is no commentary during matches, crowd noise is low and only seems to get marginally higher after a goal is scored; the in-game experience as a whole feels sterile and unengaging once it gets out of the main menu.
“And every goal, goal, goal you miss will make you mad”
Perhaps the most maddening choice is the absence of a player switching function. Anyone who plays FIFA or any other soccer game knows that auto switching is the worst way to play those games and it makes the act of playing defense a huge bummer. The AI seems inconsistent as well. The CPU will play competent defense against most strategies, but seems incapable of comprehending how to counter the 2-3-1-4 formation or any others that emphasize offense. When these formations are picked, the Keeper will lazily kick the ball in the general direction of one of your guys; allowing you to take way more shots on goal than other strategies. Penalties are also given with inconsistency; I’ve slid into the back legs of a striker without gaining a foul while other times I immediately get a red card, perhaps the developer intended to have inconsistent officiating as a touch of realism to the game. I also noticed, after receiving a few yellow cards on players in play, it is impossible to manually substitute bench players in to prevent another foul putting you a man down.
Gameplay also could use a few more implemented features such as a turbo bar and dribble moves to help modernize the game a bit. It is quite difficult to finesse pass defenders if you don’t have an open passing lane and if you move backwards you tend to lose the ball immediately. The omission of dribble moves seems diametrically opposed to the game wanting you to keep moving forward, punishing you by losing the ball when you try to move in the opposite direction. The sense of speed and flow of the game also feels more like a sim like FIFA, holding down sprint for even the highest skilled players doesn’t seem to go much faster than regular running. Hopefully, these negatives can be fixed as these would go a long way for improving the overall experience. Again this is an Early Access game so some jank is to be expected.
Sociable Soccer is a game with interesting ideas, but the execution leaves something to be desired. I love the idea of a more arcade-like soccer game, but Combo Breaker could definitely learn from some other games in the non-sim genre and lift some of their ideas to refine the gameplay so they can attract a decent online player base. A Blitz-like soccer game sounds so awesome and has huge potential in a marketplace where EA and Konami currently dominate, hopefully the day will come when a game can satisfy that audience.
Watch the Sociable Soccer Steam Early Access Trailer:
You can download Sociable Soccer for PC on Steam Early Access.