Silicon Dreams are rather like an also-ran EA Sports these days, providing new incarnations of the same stuff every year. At first it was a Michael Owen sponsorship, which lasted a couple of years, but then the price tag for that probably went through the roof, so now it's a UEFA deal that adorns the package. As soon as things kick off, there's a distinct feeling of mediocrity, rather like the visual element of ITV's Champions' League coverage! The short introductory video is of a low visual quality - it's not even as impressive as last year's EA Sports intros. The NHL '99 video with David's Bowie's accompaniment wowed me when I first bought the console, and even watching it a year on it I'm more inspired by it than I am by UEFA's. In-game, UEFA CL is nothing to get all that worked up about either; it's fairly average Playstation fare, and nothing on a par with the likes of Virtua Striker 2 on the Dreamcast. You can put up with it though, and if you haven't been pleasured with the Dreamcast's sumptuous visuals, you probably won't mind. The player animations are the graphical saving grace for UEFA. Facial expressions are indiscernible, but on the whole the players have an air of realism. The menu options on offer to you include "Play Game", "Quick Match", "Options" and "Load Game". The first presents you with a sub-menu allowing you to select what sort of game you'd like to take part in; either a Competition, a Scenario match, a Friendly or some other games types. The "Quick Match" option takes you straight to the Controller Assign screen, where you can pick one of the two randomly assigned teams. My favourite option is to pick the Scenario option, which allows you to take part in classic European encounters from 1960 right through to the present day, including the dramatic century-concluding Manchester United versus Bayern Munich clash.
Once you've selected the teams, you hit Play and after a pause for loading, your players pour out of the tunnel and onto the pitch. The classical Champions' League tune oozes out of the tinny Television speaker and the game begins. The game is handled via a simple Pass, High Pass, Kick, Power Shot control system and from the usual sideline TV camera. Of the players on the field, the one currently under your control is denoted by a Star beneath his feet. From here you have several options. Simple passing one-twos are completed by a pass then a knock on from the second player involved, and you can accelerate away with the ball by depressing the Sprint button (L1). You can also perform shimmies, drag balls, chip returns and other interesting moves, which add to the fluidity of the game play. The thing which makes football so watchable these days is the quality of the flowing moves performed by some of the bigger International teams. Anyone who witnessed Real Madrid's despatching of Bayern Munich last night will know exactly what I'm talking about. True to form, that sort of European talent can be replicated on your humble Playstation. Due to the fantastic boost that sprinting gives you, Silicon Dreams have also provided a Simulation mode option, which levels the playing field a bit by making the players tire after a lot of exertion. This is similar to the Simulation mode present in most EA Sports football titles, so there's another similarity…
Is UEFA Champions' League best described simply as a poor man's FIFA 2000, though? It takes a lot of the best and most popular options from EA's franchise and collates them into a fairly complete football title. Even the Scenario mode is rather akin to the classic Cup matches that were available to the player upon completion of EA's ancient World Cup '98 game. The commentary comes courtesy of Bob Wilson, Clive Tyldesley, and Kevin Keegan, but it's not that impressive. Keegan and Wilson sound stitched together and unrealistic, and Clive Tyldesley's screeching is just plain funny, especially since most of his exclamations are repeated often enough to make them boring. As everyone knows, while ITV may have scooped Des Lynam for their Champions' League coverage, for it to be worth listening to they really need the complementary vocals of John Motson.
Unlike the gorgeous PC incarnation, UEFA Champions League PSX cannot be saved by its visual flair, since it hasn't any to boast about! While a fun and fairly complete conversion of the ambitious PC version, it slips into mediocrity by not offering anything particularly new since last year. Perhaps next year Silicon Dreams may actually introduce their own innovations to the genre, instead of relying on EA Sports to set the trend.
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