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Saturday, 13 August 2011

New Star Soccer 5 Review (PC)

As with the previous incarnations of the game, New Star Soccer 5 puts you in the place of a professional footballer, taking you from the tender age of 16 and controlling every aspect of the player’s life, from training to playing matches, keeping your social life alive, getting a girlfriend, keeping the boss happy, gaining sponsorships and pretty much anything else. New Star Soccer eschews the 3D graphics of versions 4 and 2010, instead opting for a retro top-town look reminiscent of Sensible Soccer. It also simplifies other elements of the game slightly, though there is still plenty of depth to this game.

You have various stats; pace, flair, dribbling, tackling, passing and shooting; you must complete training challenges to improve these so that you perform better in matches. The training challenges start off really easy but soon become challenging; I suspect you’ll always find some easier than others (for some reason I always had trouble with heading). Building up some stats also helps you complete other challenges - for instance gaining more Flair helps you complete Shooting challenges.

The match engine itself delivers a fast, flowing game of football. I wouldn’t say the level of realism is particularly high, but in some ways that’s for the best – tedious possession-play and back-passing are basically eliminated altogether. You’ll soon work out some tricks for getting better scores- your performance is rated at the end of each match (as long as you’ve been selected; if you’re a substitute, you can skip to the point you come on), and your performance in the game affects your relationship with your boss, team, fans and (if you have any) sponsors.

Now really the only negative about the game to me is in its difficulty levels; while having 3 different difficulty levels (that can be changed at any time) is obviously a good thing, the gap between Easy and Normal seems rather disproportionate; Easy mode is most definitely too easy once you get going, but several changes happen once you go up a difficulty level; firstly, while you were out-pacing all the opposition team’s players before, now they will all out-pace you; your team-mates go from winning most challenges to losing most, the quality of passing from team-mates descending from mediocre to woeful, and the goalkeeper apparently suffering from partial blindness. Okay maybe it’s not quite that drastic, but it pretty much feels like it (while “Hard” is simply a massacre). From previous experience of the New Star Soccer games it is possible to get into the groove and do well at the harder difficulty levels (and of course playing on the keyboard doesn’t help, though it’s less of an issue with the simple controls used in NSS5), but perhaps 5 less drastically different difficulty levels might have been nice. Still, if playing Easy mode is too easy but allows me to play for a Liverpool side who win absolutely every trophy there is, maybe that’s not such a bad thing... :-D  Also, since the only way to really make tackles is by doing sliding tackles, you get yellow cards far too easily for mistiming them (I know, I know... the trick is to not mistime them...)

Not sure if the other bods want their names public, so I blacked them out.
But you get the idea about the leaderboard from this...

Away from the matches you have to work at your relationships with boss, team, fans, friends, girlfriend and sponsor. Your overall happiness affects your performance on the pitch – as do a lot of other factors – and your performance on pitch affects many of these things in turn. It’s really a very holistic game – it isn’t necessarily apparent right away, but pretty much everything you do affects everything else you can do. There are many aspects of the game, some of which you don’t really need to use unless you want to, and they’re all well presented within an excellent interface. You can buy football boots that improve your shooting / dribbling etc, booze to increase your flair (but you might fall over drunk sometime in the game), energy drinks to boost your energy (but you might get stomach cramps), enhancers to increase your pace (but you might get caught in a drugs test). You can do post-match interviews to boost your fame – but get your clich├ęs in the wrong order and your fame will decrease.

Even little touches in the game can affect your stats – when you score a goal you can celebrate in front of the fans to increase your relationship with them, in front of cameras to increase your fame, or carry the ball back to the centre circle to buddy up with your teammates. Tips are shown every time the game’s going to spend a significant time loading / preparing data; take notice of these tips, they can really help you! Every so often dilemmas will pop up, requiring you to make a decision as to which relationship is more important to you at the moment. Getting injured will put you out for a number of matches and may reduce one of your abilities – you can buy painkillers to get through the pain and play anyway, but it will leave you more prone to being injured again. If you gain the respect of your manager and teammates, and the adoration of the fans, you might be made captain, which will open up a few more options to you such as convincing the manager to change formation. Of course the life of a footballer these days involves a lot of money, so there are plenty of lifestyle perks you can buy, which may also help you attract a girlfriend (face it, it’s shallow women you’re trying to attract in this game).

Early on in a match
The graphics are nice enough, quite retro and with a very well designed interface. The sound effects and music / football chants are great and really contribute to the match atmosphere, although a little more variety would be nice. Online leaderboards are an intrinsic feature of NSS5, so as your career progresses you can see how you’re doing against the rest of the world.

All in all New Star Soccer 5 is a very complete and highly enjoyable career-based football game. It wouldn’t be fair to compare it to, for instance, the latest FIFA or PES games because it’s aiming to be a completely different gaming experience (plus, it’s created by a single person instead of a huge team!). If you like football (soccer to those over the pond) it’s a really enjoyable game and you’ll be playing it for a long, long time.
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