Early Access review: Sociable Soccer

Goal-scoring sociable heroes, stand up.

Ok, so I've had a good few days to get the measure of Sociable Soccer, which has been out on Steam Early Access for the past few days. It's the new game by Jon Hare, the one that's touted as being the true follow-up to the legendary Sensible Soccer -- the greatest football game of the 16-bit era, and lord of all it surveyed on the Amiga. It's a game that's close to my heart, and before playing the game for the first time I didn't know what to expect exactly...in all honesty, I didn't think it could match up to the legend.

So...does it? Not yet -- but it most certainly could. This game has not been in early access for long, of course -- it's still very early days, and this should not be taken in any way as a definitive review of the game, more what you can currently expect and a look at what's potentially to come. In many ways, however, it is off to a decent start. The big aim here was always to recreate the fast-paced arcade feel of the original that made it so good -- calling back to the inspiration that Jon Hare got from games such as Subbuteo, or foosball.

The action is certainly fast -- you can load this up and be locked into a game almost instantly. The matches are currently set to 3 minutes per half, a lot tends to happen in those 6 minutes, and with the press of one button you can go straight into another game against two random but roughly comparable teams from a different league. This is great design, especially for multiplayer games -- which is naturally where the game shines the best. With two humans playing each other, this game feels so close to the original -- the slide tackling, spectacular goals and end-to-end action feels just right. Playing this game with another person absolutely made me a believer.

Of course, that's just one side of it -- there's the CPU action to boot...and being so early on, there's still a fair bit of work needed here -- at present the A.I doesn't put up much of a fight. I've played quite a few matches against the A.I by this stage, and they've just about all ended with me scoring a ton and the computer scoring nothing. The goalkeeper in particular is very weak, and lets in plenty of shots that he really should be saving...still, I imagine that this will all be fixed in time. There's still a few bugs to iron out too, and animations to add in.

What about modes? Sociable Soccer is promising more than just friendlies, naturally -- at the moment we have a simple execution of the "Boss Mode", a single-player affair where you gradually take on better league and cup competitions, earning points and appeasing your chairman...there is of course the promise of something more detailed along the way, along with a mode where you can build your own squad from the extensive player database (there are already thousands of teams in the game) and take on other people's teams -- almost like the game's take on FIFA's Ultimate Team. And of course, there is the online still to come -- which is perhaps the true measure of the title...if the game works out online? Then it's onto an absolute winner. This has the quickfire, casual appeal of something like 8 Ball Pool without sacrificing gameplay in any way when played against another human.

Is the game currently worth spending fifteen quid, or bucks or what have you, on? It depends. If you have an interested friend who's willing to play, then it most certainly is -- it's already a fantastic multiplayer experience, even if it's only local right now. For some others it might be recommended to wait a little while longer until more features come into play, in particular the online -- the team have already been pretty busy with updates all around, so hopefully that will not be too far away. The full game itself is expected to arrive before the end of the year, and it may well work out brilliantly...as someone who is a diehard Sensi fan and has been for over 20 years, in the end it really didn't take an awful lot for this game to make me a believer. It could end up being something very special indeed.