It seems we're in a bit of a grump here in the YS Shed this month. Matt's been getting all peeved with the rather suspect plot of NARC (see page 25), and now it's my turn with Empire's Gazza II. Talk about starting the new year off on a good foot, eh?
Actually, it's not the game itself that's annoyed me (that's really rather good), it's more the packaging you buy it in. You see, very basically there are two versions of Gazza II - one for the Speccy and Amstrad (a straightforward soccer sim) and another for the posher jobs (our game plus some management stuff). Nothing to get too flustered about there (we're used to this kind of thing) but still a pretty big difference, wouldn't you say? So imagine my amazement when I got my review copy and read on the box that it included the following features - 'The 40 Top Teams in Europe! Each Player with unique Characteristics! Full Match Statistics! Injuries and Bookings!' (and much, much more).
It's all total crap! Obviously the packaging across all formats has pretty much the same information on and they haven't bothered to change it for the Spec. Which means, sure as eggs is eggs, there are going to be people popping into their local John Menzies and buying this game on the strength of its back-cover blurb. Outrageous!
Now, I do have to mention that printed in tichty little lettering down one side it says "features may vary depending on format", and no doubt Empire would let themselves off the hook by pointing to this. But even that's a bit of a fib. It's not that they "may vary" at all - it's that they "blimmin' well no-question-about-it absolutely do vary, matey"! Nope, it's all extremely misleading and a bit of a Del-Boy con so far as I can see. (Lumme, I sound like that mad woman on Watchdog, don't I?)
But anyway, enough of that, just thought I'd let you know - what about the actual game itself? Well, for all my grumbling, I must admit that this is the kind of footie sim we've been waiting for on the Spec for quite some time. Yes, Spec-chums, after a year of World Cup rip-offs, here, finally, is a fast (fast! Fast!) game to really put us through our paces.
It's an overhead-view two-player jobbie of course, but instead of scootling the ball up and down the 'astroturf' (as in Kick Off) the action moves from left to right (and vice versa). The good thing about this is that you see a lot more of where the ball's going when it's been kicked because of the width of the screen. (It's also easier to play - as spectators, we're used to having sports presented 'horizontally', like, say, on the telly.)
What else have we got? Well, there are eight directions to move your players in (a couple more if you include the slightly different ones when they're standing still), there's a big scanner view of things when your bird's-eye view goes up a couple more hundred feet and you get to see all the pitch (you can play a whole match with this on if you want to), and you can change the length of your games any time you like.
None of which would be all that exciting if there wasn't a humdinger of a playable game lurking underneath. And that brings us back to the speed. I reckon it's safe to say Gazza has about as much pace as Kick Off II did on the 16-bits - and you know how stomping that was! "But how did the programmers manage it?" you cry. A-ha!
Basically, by producing a monochrome (green for a change) game with extremely simple graphics. For example, there's no point having lots of spanky-coloured team tops if they're going to gobble up lots of K, is it? The result? One team dressed in black, the other in a sort of half-tone that makes them look like ghosts. (Yes, I know it sounds crap but once you start playing it works a treat.) There are no refs either which makes for more continuous play (and juicy fouls!). Heck, they've even gone so far as to exclude any digitised piccies and witty 'quotes' from the Geordie New Man himself! (Thank heaven for small mercies.)
What else? Well, the scrolling's smooth as a baby's bottom, darting off at all eight points of the compass, everything's crispy clear to look at and the ball sticks to your feet quite elegantly once you've gained possession. But I do have one big complaint. (No, I'm sorry, I do - I know I'm being a kill-joy here but it really is for your own good.) It's the one-player option. There's just no real challenge to it. You're given a list of nine international teams to play against whose technique and ability obviously vary from 'ever so slightly amateurish' to 'top of the class and we're going to win the cup', but instead of having any kind of competition to work through (ie beat Albania before you get to play Germany, or whatever) you can have a go at anyone you fancy. What's more, although I wasn't amazingly good at it I reckon the difficulty level isn't pitched quite high enough in 'single mode' - after a while you might begin to question Gazza's value for money.
And that's it. I'm still miffed about the very misleading packaging, but that oughtn't prejudice my feeling about the game itself. There's no doubt that as a two-player Gazza is a wizard soccer sim - play it with a mate and you're in for a brilliant time. But the weakness of the one-player mode does notch the score down a peg or two I'm afraid.
At last a really fast soccer sim for the Speccy. Brilliant as a two-player, a let-down if you're on your own.