The long awaited rebirth of classic British football franchise Sensible Soccer is coming in a perhaps unexpected form. While the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC editions of spiritual successor Sociable Soccer are traditional avenues for a videogame franchise born on early console and gaming PC platforms, the virtual reality (VR) editions are a truly modern rendition. With any luck, Sociable Soccer will arrive in time to be the first football videogame made available for VR.
Demonstrated at this week’s PG Connects, Helsinki, Sociable Soccer plays exactly as any fans of the franchise will expect. It’s a lightweight control system with depth in the player’s ability to maneuver opposed to a wealth of complex inputs. Only one button was used to execute that most crucial of abilities: kicking the ball. A light tap for a short pass, a firm press for a hard punt or shot on goal. A re-tap and pull of the left analog stick allows for curls and altered levitation mid-flight, with this being the trickiest aspect of control to nail down.
Tackling, changing control of players and sprint commands are equally simple. Sociable Soccer is a videogame of simplicity, but with that comes a level playing field. There’s no excuses for being beaten by a rival player who has learned the depth of variable inputs; if you lose, they are simply better at the videogame than you. And with only three minutes per half, Sociable Soccer forces you to get to grips with the basics very quickly to avoid defeat.
In VR, two perspectives are offered. The first was clearly the best: a side-on-view with a static camera. It’s entirely up to the player to ensure that the position of the ball is kept in their field-of-view when necessary and that they remain aware of the locations of their opponents and team mates when pushing forward or defending. The second perspective is an end-to-end variation, automatically following the player in a similar fashion to the original Sensible Soccer. Although a welcome addition, it’s more than likely that most players will opt for the side-on-view as this second, moving camera will take a considerable amount of conditioning to become accustomed with.
The visual design of Sociable Soccer, much like that of its gameplay, is inherently simple. There’s less concern with hair movement, accumulating dirt on player kits and visible damage then there is making positioning and direction of intended action obviously signposted. Sociable Soccer is never going to win any awards for graphical fidelity, but it’s likely to win itself a fervent fanbase through opting for distinction over flair.
The speed at which Sociable Soccer plays may be considered by many to be too demanding for VR, and while it may look like that could be the case on a 2D video of the gameplay, when in VR it strikes the perfect balance between headlook movement and player reaction time. Sociable Soccer is a simple, unique and aggressive multiplayer football videogame that has been finely tuned to work in VR, and with that it deserves to be highlighted as one of the most interesting sports titles in the medium’s future.