Sociable Soccer

Sociable Soccer - Early Access Kickabout

We've been hoofing the ball like it's 1994.

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Sociable Soccer is a throwback to early soccer simulators where lifelike graphics, intelligent AI, and complex physics were not considered much of an issue. Instead, these games aimed to be an enjoyable experience that somewhat resembled a real sport. Sociable Soccer takes inspiration from Sensible Soccer and like that game, it's not very sensible.

Dribbling is awkward as making tight turns results in losing the ball. Curve can be manipulated after a kick which leads to some spectacular-looking shots and passes, but also moments where the ball curls out of play when you try to have another player chase it. Slide tackling players skid several yards across the pitch, and the difference between a foul and a tackle seems arbitrary. Shots from the halfway line are a legitimate tactic and blazing the ball wide or hitting the crossbar when it's easier to score happens all the time. These may sound like complaints but it's actually a very fun part of Sociable Soccer's identity.

The game boasts more than 1,000 teams and 30,000 players, but don't expect to be lining up as Real Madrid with Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema. Lacking any official licensing, Sociable Soccer has you playing as 'Madrid Blancos' and scoring goals with 'Ronelbo' and 'Banzena'. Such unrealistic names may irritate some but football fans will probably appreciate that the names are similar enough to know which real-world footballer each name represents.

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There are a few different ways to play: friendly matches, leagues, tournaments, and a boss mode. In boss mode, you earn credits that are used to unlock teams to play as and harder modes to offer more challenge. This is a good way to motivate players and we're interested to see how it will work when the full product hits the market.

Sociable Soccer

Before each match you can make tactical changes such as overloading on attackers or setting up more defensively. At one point, we tinkered with tactics between games only for our tweaks to be forgotten. Fortunately, tactics customisation is intuitive and easy to use, so despite this frustration, it only took moments to correct and our tactics stuck so long as they were made immediately before a game.

Each match is very quick and involves constant end-to-end goal-mouth action. There are four control buttons: 'pass', 'shoot', 'chip', and 'hoof', each with variable power depending on how long the button is held down. We mostly only needed to use pass and shoot but we appreciate that the devs have included variety in the control system. There's also a sprint button and a button which allows a quick change of formation without pausing. The game can be played with controller or keyboard but the keyboard mapping is not very intuitive (left-ctrl, a, z, x are the kicking buttons). We would have liked the option to map the buttons ourselves.

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The AI is quite weak. This was epitomised when we played as Newport and beat Madrid Blancos (Real Madrid). We didn't lose a game against the AI during our entire experience and this lack of challenge limited replay value. Also, there aren't any match stats and we would like to have seen how many shots we had and how many passes were successful. We're also not sure if injuries are possible. We played a game with the intention of injuring the opponent. We weren't recreating the Vinnie Jones Wimbledon team, we just wanted to see if injuries could happen. We did collect a number of bookings and a red card but the stretcher bearers were never required.

The presentation is a notch up from Sensible Soccer's pixel graphics. Menus are clear and easy to navigate, with a pleasant art style that is consistent throughout. In matches, players look the part. We think the visuals are on-par with Football Manager's matchday simulator, so not bad but not jaw-dropping either. There's a couple of camera choices: '3D' or '2D'. In truth, these are really 'top-down' similar to Sensible Soccer or 'pitch-side' like the default cameras in FIFA or PES.

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On the technical side, we did notice some issues. On lower-end machines turning shadows on caused significant slow-down. Another time, a bug occurred where our players were frozen in place momentarily. These issues weren't persistent. We just turned shadows off and the freezing issue only happened a couple of times and fixed itself in seconds. Another bug involved our players celebrating during the replay of their goal. While it was funny to watch them arm pumping as they played a couple of passes and shot past the goalkeeper, it's an example of animation issues that need to be improved before Sociable Soccer's full release.

We don't mind the referee being off the pitch but we would like to see some animation when bookings or red cards occur rather than the simple coloured box that appears above a players head. Goalkeepers barely move, so the feeling of triumph that should come with scoring a goal is marred by the feeling that the goalkeeper forgot what he was supposed to do. Goalkeepers also seem reluctant to use their hands, which is a bit odd. Hopefully, the final product will include some diving and handling animations.

Sociable Soccer

At the moment Sociable Soccer is still in early access, and it's fair to say that there is still some work needed before the final product is released. It does look and feel like sensible soccer, so it achieves what it aims to, but it could be argued that it lacks the nuance and depth of the best of the Sensi series - Sensible World of Soccer - which featured customisable player-created teams, a challenging world league, and a full player-transfer system.

Where Sociable Soccer might distinguish itself is in online multiplayer, which wasn't ready at the time of our preview. It is possible that the pick-up and play nature and simple controls could result in situations where newcomers and pros get equal enjoyment from the experience. We have seen this type of gameplay work to phenomenal effect in Rocket League, which has remained in the Steam top sales list for an impressive 28 months. Only time will tell if the same could be said about Sociable Soccer, but given that sociable is in the name, we expect this is something the developers intend to put some effort into.

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