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Empire of Sports • Page 2

It's got a sporting chance.

As entry points for single-player, co-operative and competitive gaming, ski, bobsleigh and tennis all work very well - especially the superb tennis, which despite a few minor lag issues, easily rivals conventional, full-priced console games. The training mini-games, however, we're more concerned about. F4 has suggested that these will be the "grinding" element of the game in later stages as it becomes more necessary to build your character's strength outside of playing the sports themselves - but grinding by hammering keys is taking literalism to an unpleasant extreme.

The target-shooting that improves your aim, and the typing-test that simulates boxing, are both fast-paced and fun enough to pass muster, but weight-lifting and the treadmill are simply arduous. We haven't had a chance to spend long with track and field events, but their close similarity to the training games makes us very sceptical about their longevity.

What's harder to judge at this early stage is Empire of Sports general structure and progression. It's clear that you'll make the fastest progress, and have the most fun, by simply jumping into games with others; and even with the low population at the moment, it's easy to get a game at any reasonable hour. But solo play is vital to any MMO, and Empire of Spots missions - its alternative to questing - are a more uneven proposition.

basketball

Basketball will use the same point-and-click control system as tennis - a good thing.

Tennis missions are quick-fire training games with very specific objectives that aren't really deep enough to satisfy, and the initial lack of AI opposition makes it harder than it should be to pick up the general flow of play. The simpler ski and bobsleigh missions work better, but in all cases, the rewards - simple experience and cash - don't give anything like enough satisfaction in the early stages. New stat-boosting equipment and attractive clothing, the ultimate carrots for virtually any MMO player, are too slow in coming, with only the new tricks providing serious motivation.

Of course, whether you'll discover this depends very much on whether Empire of Sports' cheesy presentation is to your taste. By F4's own admission, it's very kitsch: the 'UK' town is a bizarre combination of day-glo 1970s futurism and cartoon versions of London landmarks, while the squeaky-clean (and rather too similar-looking) avatars jog around and emote with ridiculous pep. We actually rather liked it, if only for the bracing contrast to every other MMO environment available. But it wasn't long before we turned off the synthesised anthems and session-man rock instrumentals of the soundtrack, and put the radio on instead.

julian

Out of shot: double-decker bus, Beefeater, Julian Clary and Antione de Caunes taking tea.

It's impossible to judge Empire of Sports' long-term potential without getting a feel for the team games, basketball and football, which will necessarily be its major selling point and the focal point of social activity in its world. It's also hard to judge it fully without knowing what the game's business model will be: we know it will be free to download (definitely a good thing), and judging by the two currency systems in place it seems highly likely there will be micro-transactions of some kind, but few people will want to pay more than a nominal subscription for this kind of game.

However, Empire of Sports is a genuinely light, throwaway, quick-fire and accessible sports MMO, and that makes it quite unique. The best of its sports are simple, addictive, and offer satisfying progression. It has a very, very long way to go before it's polished enough to be unleashed on the general public - but we remain optimistic that Empire of Sports can bring a much-needed dash of Eurotrash to the po-faced world of MMOs. And remember, if you don't believe us, you can see for yourself.

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