Sociable Soccer preview (PC)

After the releases of AAA powerhouses FIFA 18 and Pro Evolution Soccer 2018, an alternative by one of the minds behind the classic Sensible Soccer franchise popped up on Steam earlier this month. Sociable Soccer is now in Early Access and we spent a couple of hours playing the latest version.

What we know

Backed and developed by football videogame legend Jon Hare, along with his studio Tower Studios and Finnish studio Combo Breaker, Sociable Soccer has been a long time coming. It was first launched as a Kickstarter project back in 2015, but it didn’t come to fruition as the Kickstarter failed to meet its target.

Development continued, and after seeing the game in action this last summer we heard about the early access release not soon after that. The game promises an arcade-like, fast-paced experience with simple controls that’s fun to play – echoing the classic gameplay of the soccer games of nineties that came before it. And since Sociable Soccer doesn’t have FIFA-like budgets for licensing, you get to play with the likes of Ibrehimovic again – for those who grew up playing Kick Off and Sensible Soccer, that alone is a retro experience.

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What we saw

We met with Jon Hare at this year’s Gamescom to get some hands on time with the then-latest builds of the game, playing it on a conventional screen as well as in VR. While VR is not included in the current Steam build, it was interesting to see the flexibility of the code base – running on Gear VR as you watched the game from a spectator’s position in the stadium.

Our session with Jon was mostly focused on player versus player gameplay – playing against Jon as well as other journalists. When we switched to the early access version, most of the testing was done playing AI opponents.

What we thought

Sociable Soccer is instantly playable, with easy to use controls and a heavy emphasis on tackling in between the passing and shooting. Not surprisingly, it plays quite a bit like Sensible Soccer does. The game feels like it sits in between Sensible Soccer and Kick Off when you look at how fast the action unfolds, but its pace isn’t so fast that newcomers become discouraged – which tends to happen when people play Kick Off after never having played the original games.

After a game or three, you’ll have the basics right and start figuring out what works well in terms of racking up the goals. The early access version doesn’t have difficulty settings yet, so pretty soon I was winning games 8-0 and never conceded a goal after my first game. The best way to score? Apply a little aftertouch (swerve) to your shots and the goalkeeper will often see the ball fly right past him into the back of the net. Goalkeepers are generally poor, especially on diagonal shots with a bit of aftertouch, but the developers have already mentioned that it’s one of the key areas that will be improved.

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The easy wins put a damper on the “versus AI” gameplay after a while, but I’ll certainly go back to see how things improve over time. That also applies to the referee AI, which currently feels a bit inconsistent. Horrendous tackles can go unpunished, while seemingly correct ones can be met with a yellow or even red card. These feel like random events rather than skill-based tackling, and improving that will make the game more enjoyable as well.

A few other issues I found are technical in nature, and will no doubt be fixed. Shots into the outside of the net fly through as if there’s no net there at all and replays don’t work as you just see the goalie standing there at the end of what would have been a replay, to name two. It would also be nice to trigger a replay at any time or save your best goals – but these are features I could see being added down the line. More animation has already been promised – which will be especially useful when playing the game in 3D (or side view/TV) mode.

I can’t wait to see this game evolve over the next few months, as the list of potential improvements is currently quite long. Besides what was mentioned already, I also haven’t seen my opponents form a wall when I’m about to take a free kick and I haven’t seen my teammates make smart runs into space either. What I have seen is a fun foundation for what could be a great little soccer game with an accessible learning curve, so it’s an Early Access title to watch.

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