It's known as the most prestigious of footballing tournaments. The competition to end all competitions. The silverware that every professional club aspires to. The league of champions. The glory and the glitz, the making or breaking of a football team's season. I give you .. the UEFA Champions League!
Up until recently the competition played host to the champions of all the various European leagues. In more recent times, however, it includes the second placed sides, and sometimes third also. Not so much a champions league, more the 'elite' of European football.
Now Silicon Dreams has taken all aspects of the real-life tournament and tried to capture the thrills and spills there-in. Can you be the one to give Arsenal success? Or maybe be responsible for kicking Manchester United out at an early stage?
Before The Match
Installation is a doddle, with the game only installing 3Mb's worth of necessary files. The rest of the game is run entirely off the CD, console style.
After a short, and rather poor quality, video capture from ITV's introduction sequence, a crisp and concise menu greets you. From here you can go straight into the action with the 'Quick Match' option. This will select two teams at random to play out a friendly - a good place to start, mainly to get to grips with the controls.
Once you are ready, hit the 'Play Game' option. This will take you through to the 'Tournament Menu'. This is where you select the team or teams you wish to take control of for the main tournament. You can also create a custom tournament with its own set of rules and teams.
You can also customise the game's default settings from the 'Options' button in the main menu. Here is where you can change video resolution, controls, audio, etc. The main option to note though is the game mode. This can either be 'Arcade' or 'Simulation', the latter obviously giving you a harder game.
Also featured are match scenarios from 1960 through to last year's dramatic final between Manchester Utd and Bayern Munich. These drop you into the game at a set time, and you have to try to recreate the final result.
Now you have your desired team its time to take to the field. After a short load-time the players spill on to the pitch, filing out in two parallel lines, then lining up as if to receive a national anthem. The camera, as in real-life, pans along the line of players, before they break up to begin the game.
I recommend playing with a Sidewinder or equivalent controller pad - it just isn't practical to play on a keyboard. Controlling the players is then fairly trouble free - an arrow with a star in it sits underneath the player currently under your control. From here you can do a number of things.
You can pass the ball to the nearest available player, which can also be converted into a 'one-two' with a quick press of the passing button. You can choose to run with the ball too, which can be a slow trot, or a full paced sprint. While you are running you can perform a shimmy or a pass ahead with relative ease. Of course, if the computer nicks the ball off you fouls are also easy to perform!
Set pieces are nicely catered for, with corners, throw-ins, penalties and free kicks all easy to accomplish. In 'Simulation' mode, players will tire if asked to sprint too much. Defences becoming noticeably drained towards the end of matches, which can make for some really interesting climaxes.
Sound and Vision
Unfortunately I can't report on what the menu music sounds like, as on my system it just made a crackling noise and I had to disable it! The rest of the sound within the game is pretty average though.
Crowd noise is a big factor in a footy game for me. The sound provided in UEFA Champions League is nice, but it isn't anywhere near varied enough, or as responsive to situations as it should be.
Commentary comes from Bob Wilson, Clive Tyldesley, and Kevin Keegan, but is a big disappointment. Both Keegan and Wilson sound like they're reading off cards, making them both sound false and disinterested. Tyldesley is the one saving grace, with some of his excitable squawks providing great amusement!
The graphical trend with football games is to out-do the last good-looking one. UEFA Champions League looks absolutely gorgeous - the stadiums in particular are some of the best I've seen, with floodlights dazzling and stands looking superb with their three-dimensional crowds waving merrily. They've even put in the fire exits! How considerate.
Player animations are also very good, with some excellent facial expressions and convincing limb movement. With the stunning stadia surrounding the players, it makes the whole environment look solid and life-like.
Yellow or Red Card?
So the game's great you would think? It looks great, yes, but sadly that's where the only greatness is, making way for average everything else!
For a start it is far too easy to get from one end of the pitch to the other virtually unchallenged, even on the hardest skill. Being able to do this one time out of ten would be fine, but most of the time? I don't think so. The goalkeepers also have a terrible habit of ignoring a back pass or header, letting it go for a corner instead. Infuriating.
Another really quite unbelievable problem is in the commentary. You will quite often find that Bob Wilson is still harping on about the game about to happen a good half-minute after it has started. It doesn't detect you skipping the introduction ceremony, and hence loses itself totally. Also, you can score and be ready for kick off while Keegan or Tyldesley still waffle on about how you shouldn't have gotten away with that last foul!
There are a lot of occasions where the commentary is inappropriate too, like being 2:0 ahead and having Keegan tell me that there's still time for there to be a goal in the game. Hmmm!
UEFA Champions League is a waste of a rather smart graphics engine, truth be told. It's entertaining enough, but the game is just far too easy to beat. Either that or I'm just a total footballing genius!
I also feel that there could have been more put into the game. A practice option would have been useful, rather than simply offering you a friendly match. Some of the moves would have been great to practice without a computer opponent getting in the way.
The lack of any real challenge and the poorly implemented commentary make this game nothing but mediocre. A real shame.