In the world of football (soccer to
you Yanks), there are those games that are absolutely stunning to look at and
play. Then there are those games that are inherently poor attempts at rendering
the beauty of the world’s most popular game. Finally there are those games who
attempt to encompass the game in all its finesse and nuances, but stumble soon
after the opening touch.
Manchester United Soccer 2005, from
Codemasters, fits into the latter niche. The game does some things very nicely,
but there are problems up and down the field that stop this from even coming
close to the also-ran field.
The king of soccer titles remains
the Winning Eleven series. That is a game that sports intuitive gameplay,
wonderful graphics and a demanding and well-schooled AI. Manchester United lacks
the intuitive gameplay, and often the default key configuration is anything but
player-friendly. The graphics are good, and so are – for the most part – the
sound elements. But where the game really falters is in the AI. It seems that
unless you specifically tell the players to do something, they are content to
stand about and watch the action from some of the best seats in the house.
There are also holes in the
strategic element of the game. Most teams like to move the ball directly up the
middle and while one may think this a horrible idea against trained
professionals, it is relatively easy to get on a run, weave through a few
cursory attempts at defending, and then blast a shot toward the corners of the
You can control shot direction by
controlling the direction of the player movement, and passes to open players are
handled in the same manner.
But the player speed, even when
sprinting as a similar feel. No one player has that incredible breakaway speed
which changes defensive philosophy, and the rules seem to be softly enforced.
In a friendly between Arsenal and
Manchester United, an Arsenal player received the ball and skirted inside the
18. A Manchester United player coming in from the right angle, tried to slide
the ball. As he went into the slide, the Arsenal player turned away. The slide
tackle missed everything. The Arsenal player took another step, and then did a
slide on his knees. The reward was a yellow card to Manchester United and a
penalty shot. Offside traps are not worth attempting simply because of the lazy
AI, and while there are some crisp calls made in other titles, similar
situations are let go in this.
The game does have a lot of options,
and you can allocate a lot of time to each game. The set-up calls for 5-, 10-,
15- and 20-minute games. You can also select tactics and change the camera
angles. The game modes include Club Menu, with the domestic season, super
league, scenarios and a club album, as well as the Exhibition mode. You can also
practice, to get the game mechanics down pat. One thing you cannot do is play
online. The game will allow multiple players on the same machine, but no online
The game’s graphical elements, aside
from the AI animation, are reasonably sound. The ball seems to have solid
physics reaction, the pitches look good, and the cutscenes are very well done.
An errant keeper clear lands on the foot of the other team, who takes a couple
of steps, then beats the keeper to the far post for a relatively easy goal. Cut
to the cutscene and an irate keeper who seems to be blaming everyone but the one
responsible for the bad play.
The sound is also well done – for
the most part. The opening intro to the matches are sometimes garbled as though
the sound loop is skipping phrases and you end up with some silly repetition
that is tantamount to nonsense. The musical score during the main menu is
The player creation editor is a
solid feature of this game, you allocate skill points to 11 categories, as well
as manipulate the player’s looks to put together your own cast of characters.
Unfortunately, though, not even that
is good enough to keep this game in the mix when it comes to soccer titles. To
coin a phrase from the sport, ‘pass’ on this title.
The AI is sloppy and the gameplay is not as reactive or intuitive as they
otherwise should be.
The players, when they do move, look good, and the physics are solid.
The commentator mishaps aside, this game does a good job with capturing the
sounds of the game, from the dull clunk of a ball hitting a post, to the roar of
the crowd. The musical score in the main menu is also well done.
The game does have some challenge, but flaws in the tactics can make you
seriously overthink the game plan.
The ideas were there, but the game failed to begin by ensuring the game’s
fundamental mechanics were in place for an evolving experience. When you have 22
players on the field, and only three are moving (the one with the ball, a
teammate for a potential pass, and a defender) something is amiss.
A couple of players on one machine are about all you will get.
This is not the best soccer game on the market. The ideas were there but sloppy
AI really makes this game falter well before the goal. Even the bargain price of
$19.99 makes this a tough game to recommend.