That's not to say that it's not an entertaining game for the lone player. Far from it. The CPU AI is, for the most part, ideally pitched to cater for every skill level in as seamless fashion as possible. Rather than confuse players with numerous difficulty and speed settings, the game just works as you'd expect it to. If you're playing against a five-star team with a lesser outfit, then you'll get as stern a test as possible, if it's some ropey Scots first division no-marks and you're Chelski then it'll be a breeze, naturally.
The other thing to note about the single-player game is the sheer volume of silly unlockables available for winning the numerous preset competitions in the game. Whether you go for something easy like the Charity Shield or attempt to play an entire Premier League season or win the FA Cup, you'll find there's some minor reward at the end of it, such as a custom comedy hairstyle, new boots, shirts and shorts, or even new balls and pitches. To be fair, gathering all of them is one hell of an achievement with eight leagues (and all their various cup competitions) up for grabs.
Elsewhere you can also create your own custom team and attempt to rise up to the top of the rankings from the depths of 300th place to the top of the pecking order. In what amounts to the game's career mode, you start off with a limited number of skill points with which to allocate to a squad of 16, choose from various basic playing styles and then attempt to bolster you squad's overall skills by winning matches and competitions (and therefore more skill points). As with the preset competitions, it's no mean feat to plough through and works as a decent means of honing your skills for the main two player event, not to mention a good time filler.
You say 'captain', I say 'Wot?'
Having spent ages evangelising, it's fair to say it's by no means perfect in every sense - not that we expected that on the team's first attempt. The first question everyone asks is "Is it Sensible?" We'd be lying if we thought it felt just like SWOS and the others, because it clearly doesn't. As swift as it is, there's no way you'd say Sensible Soccer 2006 is as fast and furious as the old days. That, in itself, might put off a few die-hards just looking for the same thing again, but like any evolution or re-invention, it takes time to adapt and get used to. Reassuringly, once you do, it feels as fun and instinctive as any of the old classics we fondly recall. (For those that do just want the old Sensible re-issued, maybe Codemasters should issue it on Live and give people the best of both worlds. Demand is bound to be huge. Come on Codies, sort it out.)
There are a few other niggly things we wish had been improved. The front end, for example, is functional at best and has barely moved on from the perfunctory style employed back in '92, while some of the sloppy issues crop up that should have been avoided. None of them are particularly game-breaking, but silly things like both teams being able to wear clashing kits is annoying (and no way to change them other than quitting the match), while not being able to save replays (or replay goals once you've kicked off) and having no half-time game stats are just basics that should be in any footy game. For next time, the inclusion of FIFA-style in-game tactical changes would be useful, as would a game speed toggle for those that demand to play supercharged or glacially-paced matches. And, we say it every time, why the hell is there no widescreen support? In this era it's maddening for developers to ignore this (especially for a game like this that would benefit massively from being able to see more of the pitch).
Perhaps the most fundamental issue we'd like fixed next time is the issue of tackling. By mapping the tackle button to the same one used for 'lunge' and headers, you're effectively encouraged to use this as by far the most effective method of getting the ball back. But, of course, if you do this in the box you're more often than not going to concede a penalty, and outside the box you'll get players sent off all the time. As much as we admire the simplicity of the two button controls, the tendency for any lunges and attempted headers to be read as sliding tackles is likely to get players into all sorts of trouble unnecessarily. There needs to be a PES-style middle ground of being able to 'press' and jostle for possession, rather than always having to dive in studs first. It's something you may learn to work around, but we can't help but feel the game could have been improved by offering a safer means of nabbing back possession. Having said that, this same tackling issue has been present since the day Sensible first appeared, so old hands will take it on board a lot easier than those that are coming to it fresh. It's always the same with something you know so well; you'll look at it under a microscope and pick holes in it. But then you'll take a step back and realise that you love it all the same
Sensible Soccer has always been one of the all-time greats of the gaming scene and never deserved to be relegated to the basement leagues of nostalgia in the first place - and this sympathetic reworking proves that more than ever. For the 2006 edition to land on our laps just in time for the World Cup is fantastic news, and gives the football gaming scene a much-needed injection of fun without lacking depth or resorting to being wacky.
The best compliment we can pay Sensible Soccer 2006 is that you don't need to be a fan of football games or even a footy fan to enjoy having a quick kickabout. In fact, for those of you disillusioned with the quest for realism or just fancy a game that takes a different approach, this arrives like a stunning volley in extra time after a tense 90 minutes. It's fast, flowing and exciting. It's instantly intuitive, it's rewarding and above all, relentlessly entertaining - it's the best football action game by some distance. If Sensible Soccer 2006 was a football team, it'd be getting an open top bus ride for its long overdue return to gaming's Premiership.