A league of their own: six of the best football video games
As the new season hits its stride, we look at the best footie games available for 2018/19 on the PS4, Xbox, PC and phones.
It has been a rare old summer of football. England’s heroic – or at least, much better than expected – efforts in the World Cup were followed by three weeks or so of cold turkey, with nothing but the opaque machinations of the transfer window to keep us occupied. But already, the season has resumed, in all its relentless glory. If you want to join in but were born with two left feet, flex your thumbs instead with one of these games – the six best on the market right now. Video game football isn’t just about pretending to be Harry Kane or Pep Guardiola: some of these take a strikingly original approach to the beautiful game.
FIFA 18 / FIFA 19 (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC)
EA Sports’ expensive and luxurious Fifa 18 is undoubtedly football games’ equivalent of the Premier League. It’s a money-making machine, thanks primarily to Fifa Ultimate Team, which encourages you to purchase Panini-sticker-like player packs to build up a dream team. But it’s also the slickest, most polished and by far the most popular football game around, with an excellent Journey mode that lets you control an aspiring pro and build him up to an international superstar, and a Career mode that lets you control your favourite team on and off the field.
If you have mates who play football games online, the chances are that peer-pressure will more or less force you to get Fifa 18. But it’s worth checking which yearly iteration of Fifa they all play: EA Sports’ obsession with churning out a new game every year means that they are nearly indistinguishable from each other. Fifa 19 is due out on September 28, and will include the full Champions League licence for the first time, tweaks to the player-touch engine, and an offline friendly, quick-to-start Kick-Off mode. It’s also the only major footie game to feature women’s teams.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2019 (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC)
For decades, Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) and Fifa slugged it out like Barcelona and Real Madrid, but in recent years, Fifa’s bigger budget has seen it pull away. But PES still has a lot of fans, thanks to the silkiness of its passing system and on-pitch feel. Off the field, it is less impressive, with a baffling menu system, spotty licensing and elements that feel as though they were implemented merely to keep up with Fifa, rather than designed to provide football-related fun.
PES 2019 will be released on 28 August, and its previously awful equivalent of Fifa Ultimate Team, myClub, has been revamped. It includes more licensed teams and players than PES 2018, too, although there is still no official Premier League licence. Whereas Fifa is all about style, PES makes up for its superficial shabbiness with on-field substance. The football game of choice for non-conformists.
Football, Tactics & Glory (PC)
Truly original football games are as rare as England senior teams who reach the later stages of tournaments. But Football, Tactics & Glory – currently in Steam Early Access but poised for a full release soon – feels unlike anything else. It is turn-based, and successfully applies strategy-style gameplay to the beautiful game.
It has a very basic management element that has you building up a skilful, complementary team, but it’s what happens on the pitch that makes it stand out. You are given three turns in which to get the ball to a forward and score; if that isn’t going to be possible, you can order your player to hold the ball, making it more difficult for the opposition to get hold of it and take their turn. And you can sometimes pull off special moves that earn you an extra turn.
It’s far from perfect: its graphics are determinedly retro, the dialogue between you and your club employees is stilted at best, and it won’t impress you if you’re looking for something glossy. But, importantly, it feels unique.
Football Manager (PC, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android)
If you seek the definitive, all-encompassing football management experience, covering everything from on-field tactics to keeping dropped players happy and working with the medical staff to ascertain why certain injuries keep occurring, then Football Manager 2018 is what you need.
Sports Interactive’s definitive football management game will also startle you from time to time by coincidentally mirroring situations that crop up in the real footballing world. It is huge, containing pretty much every player in every league around the world. Indeed, it has so much depth that it can seem intimidatingly complex.
If you don’t want a game that can completely swallow your life, you may want to check out Football Manager Mobile, which preserves most of the PC game’s rigour but is considerably simpler. Football Manager 2019 will add the official Bundesliga licence when it arrives on 2 November, and have a spruced-up appearance. In the meantime, you can pick up Football Manager 2018 surprisingly cheaply.
Sociable Soccer (PC)
In the early 1990s, the very British Sensible Soccer held sway as the king of football games. Now, the arcade-style game is back in the form of Sociable Soccer, lovingly crafted using modern, 3D tools by Sensible Soccer originator Jon Hare’s Tower Studios.
Currently, Sociable Soccer is only available via Steam Early Access on PC, so it is by no means the finished article. Online play hasn’t been added yet, and at the moment, you can’t be caught offside. But its trademark all-action, two-button, pass-and-move gameplay is intact – including that famous after-touch when you shoot. If you’re looking for an incredibly moreish pick-up-and-play football game, it’s in a class of its own.
Tower Studios has signed a deal to put out a mobile version in China, which should make it to the UK before long – and should speed the PC version towards a full release. Console versions are also planned, and the finished game will feature a player-card system similar to Fifa Ultimate Team, except with flashes of British humour. The return of this classic, cleverly updated for modern sensibilities, fills a hole in the market for arcade-style football.
New Star Manager (iPhone)
The follow-up to the Bafta award-winning New Star Soccer, created by one-man-band Simon Read, is even more compelling. This time, instead of taking charge of a single player, you’re at the helm of a whole club, so there are plenty of managerial tasks to perform. Once the games kick off, it is up to you to take control, moving players and passing with a simple, intuitive interface, then timing your shot right once you’ve got the ball to your forward.
New Star Manager pulls off the difficult trick of being simple to grasp but having plenty to dig into. If you love football and have an iPhone or iPad, you’d be mad not to download it, and an Android version should arrive soon. Read’s reputation as one of the up-and-coming stars of the games industry continues to grow.
Cover photo: The beautiful game … SC Corinthian celebrate in Pro Evolution Soccer 2019. Photo: Konami