Review: Red Card Soccer

'Red Card'. A football game whose slogan is "Same Game, Different Rules". Not your orthodox footy sim then. With such trusted brands out on the market right now such as the 'FIFA' series and 'ISS' series (or, if you'd rather, the 'PES' series), the makers of 'Red Card' – Midway – really had to try and pull something very special off, especially as they're launching a new title onto a market already dominated by the aforementioned brands. To give Midway credit, it's a reasonable first outing, albeit far from the standard that has been set by the 'PES' series. But then again, Midway never set out to create a serious football sim. If you think the rules of football suck, then this could be just the game for you…

Graphics:

The first thing that will really strike you about 'Red Card' is the stadia. Well detailed and designed, they really build the game's atmosphere. However, the crowd doesn't compliment the effort that was put into them. Flat, blurry and lifeless, it really is somewhat of a let down, looking more like small coloured circles rather than human shaped cardboard cut outs, unless the camera has zoomed in unusually close. Score a goal though, and they magically come to life; confetti, fireworks, whooping and trumpet fanfare all ensue, although there is little actual crowd movement. And the closest thing you'll get to support is flags waving back and forth, seemingly unaided. The pitch is something of a visual treat as well, looking like it's been keeping a groundsman excessively busy. And if you're dedicated enough to play through the grueling 'World Conquest' mode, you will unlock fantasy stadia, all of which are based upon the stereotypical aspects of one of the cultures on the continent you unlock them on. All of them are quite special to look at.

The menu layout is easy to understand and navigate, which makes getting started a very short affair. Once you begin, you get a long-winded introduction to the match – something that could have been cut a lot shorter. Sure, it shows off the stadium and players some, but it's not necessary in the slightest. Once you get into a match, you will notice fluid movement of both ball and player, all kept at a steady rate of 60fps. This is due to motion capture, although they certainly didn't use any kind of facial capture; the players look far from their real-life counterparts, with the most accurate possibly being Zinedine Zidane.

As with the Blitz and Hitz series of American Football and Ice Hockey games respectively, there is a special features which allows you to fire off super shots, run faster than normal for a short period of time, or 'tackle' with extreme force, resulting usually in an injury to the poor guy on the other end of it. When using the 'boost' function to shoot, you are treated to a Matrix-style 'bullet time' animation, in which your player does anything from leaping 6-foot in the air and rifling the ball home to doing a cartwheel and smashing it goal-bound whilst upside down. Not a patch, however, on the animations you get in the Hitz series.

Unfortunately, and quite unavoidably, there are many glitches, most of which will be evident in replays, or when the camera zooms in on a player after a foul. Plenty of clipping, and in the case of replays, some players are apparently holograms, as they can just run straight through people when celebrating. However, a lot of the glitches are aided by the extremely dodgy camera, which swoops and zooms every which way.

Sound:

Like most, if not all sports games, 'Red Card' is best played a) with no commentary, or b) muted. There are a few contributing factors towards these two quite inextricable options. Firstly there is the soundtrack that accompanies the menu screens. 'Bangin' Choons' you might call them if you like dance music, but to me it sounds particularly awful, perhaps even more awful than Girls Aloud. Or any other pop band for that matter.

Secondly, and most importantly, there is the commentary. Although better than past attempts (namely the previous 'ISS' games on the N64 and PSX), it's still pretty repetitive and, in the end, ultimately monotonous and boring. 'Simon' is the main commentator (you never hear his surname) and, with all footy games, he has a co-commentator. The 'FIFA' series, at it's best commentary-wise, has Alan Hansen in the other chair; 'Red Card' has Chris Kamara, the ex-Swindon and Luton 'legend'. That's one big leap in quality there…Since 'Red Card' doesn't feature a full FIFPRO license, no player names are ever mentioned, so as you may have guessed, lines such as 'won back in midfield' and, 'oh, he's given that away' are spawned regularly, so much so in fact that you'll be using the latter at any given opportunity. Commentary is best turned off…

Thirdly, and this isn't such a big issue but still annoying nonetheless, there is the matter of the 'player voices'. Yes, Midway went to such lengths as to actually add the voices of player's in game, regional accents and all. Lines such as 'over here' and, 'down the line' are clearly audible in accents ranging from Slough to Sidney.

However, the sound side of the game does have its good points, and that comes in way of effects. Foot to ball contact sounds just as it would if you were kicking a ball yourself, crowd uproar sounds like it was recorded at a real match, and bone on bone contact sounds so terrifyingly realistic that you may find yourself wincing at times. Over all, a mediocre library of clips, but for a football game, it will suffice. Dolby Pro-Logic won't help you here…

Gameplay:

As has been mentioned before, there is such a mode as 'World Conquest', quite possibly one of the longest game options you'll ever have to sit through. Select a team, and then beat every other team in the game, and then the hidden ones. I'll say it now; you cannot complete this mode in one sit, no way, never, not even with three-minute halves. Starting in Oceania, you must go from continent to continent defeating every nation in that continent that is featured in the game, eventually winding up in Europe. You may not want to, but playing through 'World Conquest' is necessary if you want to unlock the 'Finals Mode', which is basically The World Cup.

What's so good, and also not so good, about 'Finals Mode' is that all the groups are preset to the groups featured in the 2002 FIFA World Cup. Select England, and you're automatically placed in a group with Sweden, Nigeria and Argentina. If you select a team that didn't make it to the 2002 World Cup, such as Holland or Australia, you replace a randomly selected team from a randomly selected group. Good or bad cop? Well, both really. Good because you can re-enact the 2002 World Cup, but bad because that's all you can do. This means no random tournaments that could end up being a future World Cup.

There's also the option of starting a knockout tournament, the tournament of choice when playing with friends. This is a great mode that you can just pick up and play, with totally random teams competing other than the one to four that you selected. And you don't have to play through 'World Conquest' to access it, which is a relief. Up to 16 teams can compete, but unfortunately, you can only control a maximum of four.

What's strange about 'Red Card' is that it features a FIFPRO license, yet it isn't a full one. By this, I mean that most teams feature the real names of players, such as England, Germany and France, yet other nations, such as Saudi Arabia, Latvia, Costa Rica and, surprisingly, Croatia are made up entirely of people named 'Player'. However, as with other footy games that don't feature the FIFPRO license, there is the option of changing player's names, but with everyone on the team called 'player' you'll have to know the national squad inside out to get it right. There's nobody called 'Kowen' or 'Duckham' here…

Coming back to the player editor, this is something that really lets 'Red Card' down. Unlike 'ISS', there isn't the ability to build a player from scratch, something that is really needed in this game. However, as I mentioned in the paragraph above, there is the ability to rename players, so if you want to update your nation's team then you're just a few clicks away from doing so. You can also mess about with a side's attributes, although you can only gain attributes by removing them from one field, which is annoying as this nullifies the ability to build a 'super team'.

When you take to the pitch there are many annoying things. First of all, the referee. You can have three of your players kicked in the face and watch as the other team gets away with it, and then perform a perfectly legal challenge and have a player sent off. There is absolutely no system that decides whether a challenge is 'fair' or foul; it's completely random. Thankfully, Midway have included the option to meddle with the referee's strictness. Turning the strictness off is usually the best option.

Another blot on the paper of realism is the complete inability to perform substitutions. It's not actually necessary to sub players because they never fatigue, and when they're injured (which is only brought about by using a powered-up hard tackle) they're down on the ground for about 30 seconds and then leap back up again as though nothing had happened. Still, some people may find it disappointing.

The default camera can be a bit awry at times, especially when you're running down the far end of the pitch and you reach the by-line. The camera will zoom out and your player will be extremely hard to see, sometimes resulting in you running over the line and conceding either a goal kick or a throw-in. It would be wise to change the camera angle, unless you're not too bothered by the default setting. To be honest, it's not as bad as it could be, and it shouldn't pose much of a problem.

When it comes to set pieces, your choices are extremely limited. If you aren't within range of shooting from a free-kick, the only option is to pass the ball to your teammate. That's obvious, you may think, but what's extremely irritating about it is that you can only play short passes, and you don't have the ability to select a player to pass it to. There are no arrows or height adjustments, there's a complete inability to change the camera angle and there's no option to play the long ball. It's even worse when you're in an attacking position. You can shoot left, right or straight. That's it. You can't pass it, you can't cross it, you can only shoot. And you have no choice as to where the ball goes. Basically the ball is on a wire, a set course that it will follow depending on whether you push the stick left or right. It's an absolutely terrible system that extends to include corners, penalties, goal kicks and throw-ins.

Penalties have to be the worst. Unlike 'ISS', which has the fabulous 'square region' that you control to place the ball, once you've chosen your direction and pressed the shoot button, there's no option to change direction mid run-up. When playing on a higher difficulty setting, this means that the computer will cheat. It is also impossible to save penalties. The manual claims that to make your 'keeper dive, all you must do is press left or right on the control stick. Well, no actually. The 'keeper will automatically just dive forwards like a lemming. So if you ever get to a penalty shoot-out against the computer, you may as well restart the game, because it's a lost cause. The whole set-piece system is easily one of the worst in existence.

Other than these few minor (and one major) setbacks, 'Red Card', once you're involved, is quite an enjoyable game. Oh yes, and there are plenty of sweet spots you can hit to ensure a win…but I won't ruin it for you.

Default Controls (changeable)

Control Stick- Move
C-Stick- Shoot
A - Ground Pass/Slide Tackle
B - Evade/Change Player
Y- Aggressive Tackle/Through Ball
X- Stomp/Lob Pass
L- Boost
R- Sprint
Z- Shoot
D-Pad - Nothing

Playability:

In terms of playability, 'Red Card' is absolutely great. Right from the beginning it's just a pick-up-and-play arcade style game, which everyone can get in to. The menus are easy to navigate, and you'll be playing your first match before you know it. In game, controlling your team is as easy as pie, with the players will respond to your every flick of the control stick. It's let down greatly, however, by the aforementioned set-piece malarkey.

One of the wonderful things about 'Red Card' is the ability to customise the controls as you see fit. This way you can tailor the controls to your wish, and you won't have to try and remember which button does what. This means that you won't boot the ball 6 feet over the crossbar when you meant to play it to your teammate three feet to your right. Essential.

Back on the playing field, and the action is smooth and un-broken. This is as mentioned before, due to the use of motion capture. The physics of the players and the ball are astounding and really make the game stand out from the crowd, if only for a brief moment. Commanding your player to break the legs of one of your opponents is extremely satisfying, and watching as the chump goes flying is just as pleasing.

There is one thing though that is both annoying and humorous, depending on which end of it you happen to be. When using boost shots, they can sometimes be so powerful that if the 'keeper does manage to get to it, he'll be knocked back into the net and a goal will be scored. You can see how it can be both humorous and annoying now, right?

Lastability:

Playing through the 'World Conquest' will keep you busy for days on end, that is if you're persistent enough to sit through that many matches of basically the same thing over and over. There's also the option of the friendly match, so you don't have to enter a big massive tournament to get your football kicks (no pun intended), but it'll be the knockout tournament that will keep this game alive. If you get a few friends around, 'Red Card' can be hours of fun, kicking the hell out of each other, and ending up with scorelines of 22-18. But despite all of Midway's valiant efforts, there's no escaping the fact that the game is about as repetitive as a stuck record. Once you've played through the 'World Conquest' and then the 'Finals Mode' a few times, you won't come back to it by yourself, which is a shame, because with a little bit more time and effort, 'Red Card' could have been so much more than it is.

Final Say:

All credit to Midway for trying their luck with the football market, but they should have left things up to the big boys; 'FIFA', 'ISS' and 'PES'. It's a welcome change to the common realistic sim though, and kudos must be directed towards Midway for trying something new(ish). Definitely rent it before you buy it, but if you're having the lads (or lasses, if that's your thing) over for the night, then it could go down a treat.

N-Europe Final Verdict

If rules aren't your thing, then this may be for you, but try Sega Soccer Slam as well.

  • Gameplay4
  • Playability4
  • Visuals4
  • Audio3
  • Lifespan3
Final Score

7

Pros

Motion capture animation
Custom controls
Nice graphics

Cons

Setpiece system...
Poor sound
Not enough options


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