Overall Score 90%
New Star Soccer 4
I received a lucky break at the age of 15, just after dropping out of high school to fulfil my dream of becoming a world famous professional footballer. Sidney FC offered me a trial contract. The money was a pittance, but at last, a chance to impress at the modest level of the Aussie domestic competition was what I really had craved up to that point. After a string of fairly lacklustre appearances, mostly involving me warming the benches for long periods of the game, the coach approached me about a club loan offer from struggling Tharrock in the UK. They were offering a 6 month stint in the lower tiers of the English leagues which could boost my confidence and allow me to gain some exposure. It was the start of a magical career full of highs and lows, of appearances for my national team, and of the desperation of a drug dependency. A career that spanned romance and heartbreak, stints in leagues in 4 continents, and saw me rise ultimately to the pinnacle of the game and rubbing shoulders with some of the most elite players ever to have strapped on a boot.
Your story may differ slightly from mine as you rise from a no-name junior player in a backwater comp. Through many years of training, dedication and sometimes somewhat underhanded tactics you become a globally recognised celebrity and superstar footballer; that's generally the theme of the game. In New Star Soccer 4 (just like in its predecessors), the focus is on your development as a player. It follows the life and times of your avatar through both good times and bad, and just as it refuses to be pigeonholed as just another soccer sim (and itís a damn fine one of those, incidentally), it really strives to simulate many areas of the playerís life - both professional and personal.
NSS4 sets itself apart from most sports sims, by allowing direct player control over their avatar only. Sure, it's possible to influence what others think of you and how they react to you generally, but you never have total control, and that's what makes the game such a hoot to play. Let the relationship with your manager slip, and you will be struggling for game time and team selection, fail to keep your family happy and you'll struggle for confidence on the field, fall out with your team-mates, and you'll be the victim of pranks and be starved of possession on game day. During matches you can only control your own player and have no direct input into team strategies and tactics. How well you fit into the overall team dynamics will have a direct bearing on how well the team performs, and this will have a flow on effect to many other variables within the game engine.
The artificial intelligence in NSS4 is such that sometimes you might think you're playing around with a political/social simulator such as Democracy. Learning the delicate balances between work and play, training and resting, playing fair and cheating, money and fame have as much bearing on your eventual success as do learning to dribble, pass, shoot and tackle and applying those skills during matches.
As much as NSS4 is a beautiful and complex simulation above all else, which alone would be enough for it to be considered a cool game, wait until you savour the icing on the cake. Thankfully now, the simulation is complemented by an all new 3D match mode that allows true ball and player movement and physics all over the field, as well as user selectable camera modes and control inputs. The action looks great, and plays intuitively. The interface allows replays to be viewed and saved with ease from any angle. The feeling of being actively involved in the match is far greater than in a standard football sim since the player only controls his character. Staying in position, marking up, running into space and calling for a pass are just some of the features that are not easily savoured in even big budget titles, since control is simply switched from one player to another as desired. You feel a greater sense of responsibility for your own performance in-game even when off the ball. This is where NSS4 scores well. Thereís support for gamepads, a standard keyboard interface and even a mouse/keyboard hybrid control system which may appeal to players that are more at home with a FPS style setup.
Outside of the matches there are also many, many mini-games including training sessions that range from dribbling around and slide-tackling traffic cones, to a trip to the casino on a day off, and even a fully featured horse racing mini game. Here, the player can be content to toss a bit of hard earned cash at the bookies and tempt fate, or once wealthy enough, buy a stable and individual horses to race for big prize-money and status. The scope of this game is truly epic, and the choices available to the player at any stage of the game are countless.
Likewise, there is a staggering amount of data kept for every player, every team, every league, every tournament in every country that the user chooses to include during the career setup. I honestly cannot see a country that has a domestic soccer competition that has been omitted from the massive database. Even countries that I had no idea even had a domestic competition are there! Attention to detail is greatly impressive. At the end of each day, the game only takes a few seconds to simulate matches and results, crunching numbers and providing information in an easily digested, tabulated form. Stat monkeys will think that they have died and gone to heaven.
Unfortunately, the database does not contain the real names of players and teams to avoid any legal entanglements due to licensing issues. In most cases however, names are easily recognisable as being extremely similar to real life clubs and players in competitions all over the world. I can't say this negatively affected my gameplay experience a great deal, and there are freely distributed 'patches' and 'add-ons' for the game made by fans, although it is saddening to me that a small indie developer is forced to make changes to a database in a $20 game to protect a multi billion dollar global industry.
Although the graphics are an improvement on NSS3 and the move to 3D is a huge step forward for the franchise, it's still not going to test a modern day PC's hardware to the verge of meltdown. Conversely, the accessibility of the game to those with even low-end and non-gaming rigs should stand as a great marketing tool. Don't be put off by the low-polygon player models and one available stadium on offer. This game has more substance and playability than many $60 titles on sale this Christmas. NSS4 is yet another example of gameplay value trumping eye-candy. That's not to say that NSS4 is ugly. All teams have multiple individualised strips, and there are weather effects, crowds and different pitch designs mowed into the turf. Outside of the main game, the screens are colourful without being gaudy, functional and well laid out.
I guess the best testimonial I can give is to admit that I bought a licence key for this game after trying the demo out quite a few weeks ago, and well before it was ever listed in our Bytten review queue. For the record, I'm not even a fan of professional soccer! This game will just suck you in right from the start. NSS4 is one of the best games I have played this year, and you should click the link at the top of this page and download the demo right now! If you choose to register the game it will activate immediately, and you can continue on from where the demo leaves off, seamlessly. Awesome stuff!
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