System Requirements - Pentium 150 or equivalent 32Mb RAM 200Mb Hard Drive space
Of all the game style fusions I've wanted to see happen, Euro League Football could perhaps have been just the thing I have been waiting for. Combining football management with raw arcade play, it seemed like the dream ticket.
If you had read my preview back in January, you will have read of my fears regarding this marrying of styles though. My primary fear was for the balance between the two to be just right - something that I think is virtually impossible to achieve.
At the time I only had screenshots to go by, and for sure things certainly looked impressive. Crisp in-game graphics, along with a neat looking menuing system, promised to make the game a joy to play. The proof is always in the playing though. Can ELF see through the full 90 minutes, or will it be substituted at half time? Read on...
What Do I Do Then?
I don't know whether I've just been unlucky, but there doesn't appear to be a manual with the game. You get the English league handbook, which shows squad details for all Premier and First Division clubs .. but that's it.
This would be fine, but the menu system is a little confusing to begin with, and some pointers would have been rather nice. Anyway, it doesn't take too long to get to grips with how it all works. The menu system is very neatly presented, but you can easily become lost amongst all the windows. I also found the transitions from screen to screen to get very annoying after a while. Thankfully these can be disabled though, so that each screen simply flips into view rather than fading in and out.
The game begins with a short video introduction, and then drops you at the main menu. There is a whole range of options to choose here - you can opt for 'Virtual Competition', which allows you to set up any match of your choosing, or you can head straight for 'EuroManager', the main game itself.
You also have other features like 'History', showing you all the winners of all the cup competitions since their conception, and 'Database', which is a comprehensive list of all teams in the English divisions, along with their players. Finally 'Football Quiz' gives you a pub style A, B or C game.
Your first task in the 'EuroManager' option is to select the team you are going to represent, and your name. Once this is done you must ensure you check through your entire squad first. This is important so that you can ascertain early on who is in need of extra training, who is unhappy, and who looks good to keep.
You will almost certainly find that your squad could do with two or three extra players, particularly in the lower division teams. Head on over to the transfers section and put your name down for some players. It can't hurt, and who knows, you may just snap up the bargain of the season. After all, part of the game is keeping the board and, more importantly, the fans happy. Sadly the transfers section is fairly weak, and I found it really easy to get the players I wanted. In the real world there is nearly always a tussle for a player's signature, but pretty much any player I wanted, I got.
You must also visit the staff roster - I found I had three or four key roles missing, including training staff. Training is an essential ingredient in the development of your players.
Before and after each match you should always check the manager screen for any messages from members of staff. The person you will have most dealings with is your personal assistant, who lets you know the gossip from the dressing room first hand. You also have frequent reports from the training staff, the club psychologist, and medical expert. If a player is injured, the medical consultant will inform you accurately of how long you can expect to be without your precious players.
Taking To The Field
You can opt to play the entire match from the dugout, playing the game as a football management simulation only. This isn't really the point of ELF though, so get your boots on and play!
Annoyingly I couldn't get my Microsoft Sidewinder to operate, so was confined to keyboard play. Grumble. When the game has loaded in its various elements, you are greeted with a panoramic view of the stadium and an introduction from Dominik Diamond.
Kick off! The player you are currently controlling has a circle underneath him, and you can tap the selection key to change to the next nearest player at will. Slide tackles can be performed, along with short or long passes, but that is it - there are no special moves from what I can tell.
I would have loved to have tried the game on a pad, as I found the keyboard controlling to be awkward and imprecise. Far too often you will intercept the ball, run past it, and experience a tedious couple of seconds to stop and run back the way you came. Directional co-ordination is also difficult sometimes, with it being nigh on impossible to get your player to run in a diagonal direction.
The dreadful player AI further compounds your annoyance. Computer controlled players will quite often lose the plot and kick the ball straight into touch. In close scraps for the ball they very often end up facing completely the wrong way, understandably looking quite puzzled.
Worst of all though are the goalkeepers. Many times a ball has gone astray into the penalty box, with the keeper walking back to his line, before he actually turns back to pick the ball up! As you can imagine, scoring goals from this situation is quite easy. My worst fear is confirmed - it's just too easy to beat. Running in on goal, I have three guaranteed ways of scoring, and I can't even bring myself to mention the terrible off-side rule implementation...
Graphics and Sound
Player graphics are actually not too bad, with some great facial expressions in there. There are also a fair amount of recognisable faces of footballing stars too, which is a nice feature. The pitch itself is nicely done, from the plush greens of premiership grounds right down to the mudbaths of the lower divisions.
The further out you go though, the less care seems to have been taken. Stadiums look really bland, with the crowds consisting of a mixture of badly drawn cardboard cutouts and a pasted bitmap. It's the backgrounds that ruin the otherwise nice look of the game - they look completely out of place, and are blocky and badly focused. It makes the whole game look like it's being played within a seriously poor bitmap.
The sound department follows almost the same path as the graphics. Things start off well, with nice menu and video music, and your staff telling you the latest information about the club. Once in the game, things also sound promising with some really well done crowd sound. There isn't a vast array of crowd singing and chanting, but it's all well sampled and sounds convincing.
The killer blow though... Who chose Dominik Diamond to do all of the match commentary? There is just no enthusiasm in his voice whatsoever - a commentator is supposed to carry the game along, and spark your enthusiasm to do better. Half the time he sounds bored with it all, and at other times like he is actually falling asleep. Mind you, to have to read off virtually every single player, ground and football team name must be a gruelling experience. But, if you were going to all that effort, wouldn't you make sure the results were worthwhile?
Not only do you have to put up with this, but the commentary also lags badly behind. After you score it can be a good five or six seconds before this is acknowledged. There are far too many times where lines are used in totally the wrong places too. Very shoddy. You could argue that you can turn the commentary off, but for me it's one of the key elements to a good footballing game.
The idea is one that I have had in my head for years, and it's a beautiful one. Sadly, Dinamix have failed to deliver anything close to realising this simplistic idea.
A game with a balanced management system behind it simply has to be tough to beat. Even when you do win regularly, you still need the computer to have that extra bit of intelligence to up the skill factor, or perhaps injure one of your key players. None of this is in ELF. After an initial learning curve, you will be smashing the computer teams by silly margins every game.
If you were to play ELF as purely a management game, you actually wouldn't have too bad a game on your hands. The menu systems could do with being a little less cluttered up, and the transfer option is far too easy to get players from, but in the main it's an accurate sim.
There are some beautiful features to discover as well, like the ability to create your club's own merchandise, hiring and firing your staff as you see fit .. you can even select your own set of advertising banners which will gain that little extra capital.
However, the game has been advertised as a merging of both worlds, whereas in reality an average management game has been bolted on to a rather poor arcade game. Steer clear, unless you really are curious.
Download The Demo
Try before you buy! Download the Euro League Football manager demo (58Mb).
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