Written by  :  -Chris (7565)
Written on  :  Aug 28, 2005
Platform  :  Atari ST
Rating  :  1.5 Stars1.5 Stars1.5 Stars1.5 Stars1.5 Stars

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Wow, it’s a mediocre Kick Off rip-off endorsed by a mediocre national team!

The Good

Now England’s national football squad doesn’t exactly rank among the World’s Finest. So one thing that’s interesting about England Championship Special is how painfully accurately it recreates the experience of losing to superior teams, i.e. most of them. Never mind the humiliation (on top of having bought the game, that is), there are those moments of thrilled exhilaration when breathless turbo passes make the ball whiz across the field at goal approach velocity, and then there’s this tiny chest-swelling boost to the atmosphere when you realize that the player clone you just sprint with is actually Gary Lineker, and over there’s Paul Gascoigne and looks the same. Brilliant! Even if it's not the team that sucked so badly at Euro 92.

The Bad

It’s always a mysterious, certainly difficult decision-making process that has developers analyze games they find worthy of plagiarism, then come up with something indefinitely worse.

While England Championship Special may be stripped down to the bare action-football basics, they probably shouldn’t have stripped it of such things as, say, the ability to pass the ball to the next player. Passes are blind hope-and-pray shots in the general direction of where a team member might be standing, which is difficult to judge because the camera is so close to the field that most of it remains obscure. Instead we learn that football players have big heads.

While the AI is fundamentally primitive, it has two quirks that make it a bitch to play, especially since top teams such as Italy outskill most of England’s crew. True, the computer knows no tactics other than passing the ball towards the goal in straight lines, but it does know where its team members stand. In addition, and much more unnerving, it doesn’t dribble. It sends the ball goalwards in lightning-quick pass relays, with little to no time for even the quickest of England’s players to tackle. On the other hand, your players' shot power depends on how long you press the action key, which means that in critical pursuits and tight situations, by the time your player swings his leg for the saving pass across the field, there’ll be nothing but air to hit. Coincidentally, the AI doesn’t seem to suffer from this impediment.

There’s still the weak teams to take on in single matches, and Stuart Pearce as the top scorer in a 10:0 solo run frenzy against Austria is a sight to behold. Also there’s the two-player mode, and tournaments suddenly become a challenge if both players suffer from the same handicaps. But then again, there’s also Kick Off. And the English national squad, well... it isn’t that good anyway.

The Bottom Line

A Kick Off clone messed up badly and patched up with a fig-leaf license -- that’s as unappetizing as it is ultimately superfluous.