Entering into this review, I’m in something of a quandary about how to approach it. “Why?” you might wonder. Well, simply put, I’ve been told many times that I must review each game based on its own merit, and not draw too many comparisons with similar games. Unfortunately for me, Active Soccer 2 DX is such a direct clone of the classic Sensible Soccer games that this review could probably start and end with that statement alone.
With that single comparison made, I’m also acutely aware that aside from a few quiet re-releases on newer consoles like the Xbox 360, Sensible Soccer is a series which hasn’t been relevant for almost twenty years. Active Soccer 2 DX is clearly a labour of not just love, but absolute adoration for this classic series, and it is all the better for it. Like the series that inspired it, this is a game which looks rough and simplistic outside of actual matches (despite the inclusion of a staggering range of options) but delivers where it really matters – on the pitch.
Here’s what I liked:
More than just 4-4-2 — The range of options provided by Active Soccer 2 DX is simply astonishing, both on and off the pitch. There is a huge range of modes and competitions available including simulated cups, tournaments and leagues. A career mode that replicates the domestic leagues across multiple countries and standards is a particular highlight. There’s also the unexpected bonuses of a basic but functional transfer system, confidence rating and financial management structure. When it comes to team selection, you’ll find everything you could want in terms of formations and tactical options, and real thought has been given to what football (soccer) fans expect in that respect.
More than just a name — It may seem odd to list this as a positive, but Active Soccer 2 DX features literally hundreds of teams, including those made up of club legends, comprising of players with fake, yet recognisable names. This is obviously due to licensing, but for me, it also provided a hit of nostalgia that sent me searching for a Team Edit function. Lo and behold, there is one, meaning that I was rapidly able to restore my Leeds United Classics team to their former glory, replacing the amusingly named Ettie Glai with the name of his true life counterpart, Eddie Gray. Guessing which player is supposed to be who is half the fun, but it’s also nice to see that both the current and classic squads for my favourite team are included and that the players (assuming you guess the name correctly) reflect their correct hair and skin colour, position and approximate skill level. Leeds United is my personal example, but clubs from lower leagues all over the world are also represented, which is something fans might not have expected from an indie game like this.
Match fitness — As with any football game, most of what really matters when determining if it’s any good or not can be decided on the pitch. Active Soccer 2 DX is mostly very competent in this regard, with a match engine that is quick, responsive and very fluid, delivering fast-paced arcade fun with the potential for lots of shots, and as a result, lots of goals. In single player, it’s a decent game which is good fun but rarely serves as more than practice for the main event, delivered via the multiplayer mode. The simple controls and a high degree of accessibility make this the perfect game for a kickabout following a few beers, or alternatively, one of the fully fledged tournament modes allows players to team up (or not) to guide a chosen team through several matches to achieve victory. Leagues and longer tournaments can also be saved and resumed at any time, with players dropping in and out whilst the AI plays out matches on their behalf, which is another great idea.
Here’s what I didn’t like:
It’s not FIFA — Active Soccer DX 2 may be incredibly feature rich for an indie game, but it still lacks the comprehensive, fully licensed features and gameplay modes of FIFA or the intricate, realistic football of Pro Evolution Soccer. What it offers instead is the accessible, no frills look and gameplay of its 20-year-old inspiration, and whilst I do enjoy that, it will undoubtedly be too simple for some.
Rough around the edges — Outside matches, Active Soccer 2 DX has a look that is kind of endearing if you do remember Sensible Soccer, but it’s downright basic and probably quite jarring if you don’t. There are lots of quirks in navigation which could have been ironed out through more comprehensive playtesting, and some of the localisation into English is less than perfect. On the pitch, glitches are few and far between, but there are some oddities that occur outside of open play, and like all football games, the goalkeepers can be dodgy from time to time.
I’m enjoying Active Soccer 2 DX, and I have no doubt that with a European Championship coming up, I’ll be aiming to replicate a few tournament scenarios with my friends over the coming months. With that said, my friends and I are all of a certain age, and I’m acutely aware that what I consider to be warming nostalgia might simply be hideously dated for others. Active Soccer 2 DX plays a simpler game of football than its modern peers, making it less entertaining for solo players, but I think the opposite could be said for when you want a quick match with pals – especially when there are lots of them.
Score: Reader’s Choice
Active Soccer 2 DX was developed and published by The Fox Software on Xbox One. It was released on March 30 2016 for $14.99. A copy was provided for review purposes. Click here for information on XBLA Fans’ new scoring system.