Like all beautiful things (Sheryl Cole, anyone?) Football Superstars is dead simple. Everyone loves football, right? And MMOs are an increasingly compelling alternative to the humdrum of real world considerations such as the price of a pint and the question: 'will my wife mind if I turn the lounge into a Pro Evo gaming shrine'? So why not combine the two?
Football Superstars is the result of just such a 'it's so obvious it has to be done' meeting of ideas down the pub. The game casts you as a fledgling footy star, good enough at 16 to be a professional with all the potential to become a global icon. You play all your matches, hooking up with team-mates for real-time footy games that will help you develop your skills, gain notoriety and - above all, perhaps - wealth.
Yup, money makes Football Superstars' world go round. Dosh you acquire can be offloaded on luxury items and all manner of other goodies in the 'lifestyle world', a sprawling series of cities where you can live the life of a football icon. Hang on, was that a greased pole we spotted in the basement nightclub they just showed us?...
The First Half
If it sounds a bit schizophrenic, we have to admit that FS did strike us as being a bit mental -in a good way. The challenge of creating both a compelling football action game and a satisfying second life environment where you can forge relationships with other players (and NPC barmaids, by the looks of it) is, well.. Monumental.
We suspect that during the course of development Monumental will have to prioritise one aspect of the game over the other, but for now we're absolutely hooked on the possibilities this fully fledged alternative football universe presents. As we discovered when we visited Monumental's new Nottingham HQ, the football side of things is at the moment the less developed area of the game, but as CEO Rik Alexander points out there's a lot less to do here than in a traditional action game such as FIFA or PES.
For starters your opponents are all human, so there's no need for complex AI programming. What's more, because all players are individuals, it's up to gamers, formed into squads of our own, to make the action on the pitch realistic.Ultimately the better players, according Rik, will be those who work with their team-mates that will enjoy big wins.
Right now the dev team is in the throes of motion capture, so the small sided match they showed us required the use of our not inconsiderable imaginations. Stiff sliding tackles and ballooned shots did little to distract us from the potentially enengaging prospect of human-controlled teams going full tilt in pretty stadia. At the moment, all controls are mapped onto a single button, which will be totally alien to modern day football action gamers
The Monumental guys are confident that the controls will work, however, with on-screen prompts designed to give you a sense of the movement of the ball. The developers are also promising that the system will be intuitive, yet deep enough to offer more experienced players a challenge of improving. Just as soon as we get our hands on them, we'll let you know if the controls live up to the billing.
The Second Half
Football Superstars really looks the business off the pitch, where the possibilities of a dynamic world with player-managed clubs are just endless. If you think of FS in the context of a traditional RPG, matches become the equivalent of quests, with your successes duly rewarded in the form of attribute points, fame points and money.
The fame goodies you'll earn with success on the pitch become the currency that will fuel your attempts to live the life of a football superstar in the vibrant lifestyle world that Monumental is creating. Improving your own skills will enable you to build an in-game legend that will be rewarded with endorsements and could see your face on billboards in the towns and cities that form the social networking sideline to the meat of football action.
In this bustling alternate reality you can invest in shops, eateries and nightspots, using your hard-earned cash to reap even greater financial rewards and increase your stature in the game world.
Certainly, as with real footballers, status is a prime consideration. And prestige will be a thread running throughout your life when you peel off your sweaty shinpads. We spied jetties and highways, which we're told will be great spots to harbour your boats and motors, acquired with your hard-earned cash. There were apartments and mansions too -again they'll be accessible to those with enough spending power.
And it sounds like there's plenty of opportunity to piss your fame away, just like a real-life precocious talent. The team wouldn't be drawn on the details yet, but it's absolutely certain Monumental will represent the scandalous elements of the sometimes less than beautiful game. It seems certain that spending your time in nightclubs, eyeing the curves on 'sexy' barmaids will have an at least temporarily detrimental effect on your stats,. One thing's for sure, it won't be as good for your chances in-game as a few hours down the local gym...
There are plenty of positive activities to engage with off-field too. Fame points, for instance, can be used to purchase air time and interview slots that will also enhance your reputation, which will not only allow you to access more exclusive bars and clubs so you can rub shoulders with top players, but will get you noticed by scouts.
Because of the prospect of clans forming around clubs as squads of players work together to build their abilities we got lost in speculation with the Monumental guys. Scouting missions to see other players, calling in ringers and using club funds to land big name players are all distinct possibilities as you benefit from a living economy where football prowess is an extremely lucrative commodity. Web 2.0 features mean prospective team-mates will be able to scour the lists of players and judge them by key stats such as attributes, form and goals, choosing to submit an offer if they like what they see, or move on if they don't come up to scratch.
In truth, it's still early to decide whether the whole concept behind Football Superstars will prove to be a winner, whether it can prove to be as immersive as management games such as Football Manager, or the forthcoming Football Manager Live. But if the jury is out on many of the aspects of the game, two things have got us genuinely excited about a game of undoubted ambition. On the one hand, the possibilities of Football Superstars are enormous, with the social networking aspect of thousands of rival players vying for fame, fortune and a place in the best sides are mouth-watering. On the other, FS will be free-to-play. And who can argue with a price point like that?