Of course, some concerns continue to linger. Visuals and ball physics were underwhelming, player tussling lacked the robustness of FIFA 09, and some sporadic lag hindered match fluidity. Goalkeepers were also hit and miss, either pulling off stunning point-blank saves, or loitering on their goal line while strikers ran up to them and tapped in a simple goal. What's more, we didn't see any evidence of a system to regulate or reward proper positional play, but CyberSports again assured us it's working on a solution.
When you've finished a match, you're transported back to the clubhouse and rewarded with experience points and Football Superstar Dollars (FSD) that you can spend at the gym to hone your skills (fitness, strength, speed, spatial awareness), or at a bar. The more time you spend knocking back shots of grandpa's cough medicine at an upmarket establishment, the more Fame Points you'll gain.
Fame points can also be earned by spending your FSDs on journalist exposure, though this currently feels rather underdeveloped, with virtually no interaction between you and the hack. Once you have enough Fame Points you can use them to access exclusive bars and clubs. If your superstardom rises high enough, you'll even be given rewards, such as natty football boots that enhance your on-field performance. The clubhouse is also the place where you can socialise with your team mates, find matches against rival sides, or get involved in friendly kickabouts.
In true MMO fashion, you must choose where you want to spend your time and focus your attention. There are scores of new skills (anticipation, ball control, diving header, kicking accuracy, one-two bonus, set piece and sprinting to name but a few) that your player can learn, but conversely there are also dozens of nightclubs in which to socialise as you bid to transform yourself from a Z-list celeb to an international superstar who advertises pens on TV. So the question you need to ask yourself is: do I want to be a speedy goal-poacher who spends his evenings pounding the treadmill, or a prima donna seduced by the flash of paparazzi bulbs? The choice is ultimately yours, but the game's impressive scope for specialisation ensures you can't have it both ways.
Just like the matches, the potential of the lifestyle features was clear, though plenty of work is still needed to flesh them out (CyberSports could do worse than taking inspiration from indie gem New Star Soccer 3). Compelling and deep lifestyle features are essential to Football Superstars' chances of success, especially now that FIFA 09 offers 10-versus-10 matches with far superior visuals. Monumental would also do well to tie in the lifestyle features more convincingly with on-pitch performance, because let's face it, who's ever heard of an A-list celebrity who plays for Kettering Town?
Football Superstars is certainly shaping up nicely. It still has some issues to resolve before release (CyberSports is aiming for early November, though before Christmas may be a more accurate estimate), but after two weeks of play, the potential is clear - and the more populated the game becomes, the more fun it will be. But don't just take our word for it, try it out for yourself. After all, you can never be fully sure of a game's potential until you get unrestricted access to it.