The iPhone might seem like the wrong platform for a good sports simulation, considering its lack of buttons, but that barely slowed Gameloft down when making Real Soccer 2009. Instead of resorting to a gimmicky accelerometer solution, the developer went ahead and pasted a fake game pad at the bottom of the screen, and it works well enough to keep a full team of footballers in line’”most of the time, anyway. Real Soccer 2009 has some annoying eccentricities, especially on the defensive side of the ball, but it still delivers a strong portable soccer experience.
Like many of Gameloft’s other iPhone titles, Real Soccer 2009’s priority is to come as close to console game quality as possible, and it certainly has enough content to make the grade. This game offers up dozens of football squads from all over the world–including national teams from Europe, the Americas, Africa, and Asia–as well as many popular club teams from the English, Spanish, Italian, French, German, and other leagues. There are also a handful of legendary national championship teams to choose from, and once you pick your team, you can play in one of 12 different stadiums. Naturally, all of these teams play in their correct home and away uniforms.
Each team has its full roster of real-world players, who are assigned a numerical rating along 14 different dimensions, covering offensive, defensive, physical and technical skills. Some players also have special characteristics; David Beckham, for instance, rates as a ‘Curve King’ and a ‘Good Passer,’ which sounds just about right to us. You can sub these players in and out for one another, and change up your formations and basic strategy, but it is important to note that Real Soccer 2009 doesn’t really have any management features’”it concentrates on the sport side, leaving the business stuff alone.
Real Soccer 2009 has three basic play modes. You can run a one-off exhibition between any two teams, compete in one of six seven-game regional tournaments, or play a full 38-game season in a particular European or international league’”all on one of three difficulty levels. During tournament or league play, the game keeps simple stats on top performers, ranking the best strikers and assist-men, for example. The game also features two training modes: practice for the over-the-shoulder penalty kick sequence, and a tutorial mode that runs over all of the game’s basic and advanced controls.
As mentioned above, you control almost all of the in-game action with a simulated d-pad and two buttons, one for shooting and one for passing (only throw-ins are managed with the accelerometer). The basic shooting and passing buttons work well, and they have some subtleties built into them. The longer you press a button before releasing, the stronger the shot or pass, and if you ‘wipe’ your thumb off the button in a particular direction, you can put extra touch on the ball, too. If you try to blast the ball at the goal using max power every time, you won’t get anywhere; you really do need to hit nuanced, controlled shots to put the ball where it needs to go. There is a learning curve here, but it feels very natural.
Gameloft also threw in several advanced dribbling and passing techniques, also accessed via gestural controls. For instance, if you draw a circle with your right thumb while dribbling the ball, you’ll perform a spin dribble maneuver, which may be able to get you out of traffic. These are decent, with one notable exception: we found that the double-tap on the d-pad to sprint is somewhat difficult to pull off consistently.
We are also unimpressed with the way the game handles defense. When on defense, the passing and shooting buttons make your player challenge the ball, either by trying to interrupt the ballhandler’s dribble or by going for a full slide tackle. Since you can only control one player at a time, your teammates are supposed to move into good defensive positions so you can switch over to them and easily engage the ballhandler.
Unfortunately, your AI-controlled teammates aren’t with the program on defense; they often seem to stand around while the opposition blows right past them. Moreover, it’s not so easy to switch to the right defender at the right time. You can partially address these problems by adjusting your team’s formation to favor defense, but you’ll still find yourself a few steps behind the ballhandler too often. This will net you a lot of red cards as you madly slide-tackle from behind to keep the offensive player from getting an easy shot on goal. Offense is easier, and a lot more fun, too.
Real Soccer 2009’s graphics are roughly comparable to a good PS1 soccer game. The game runs really smoothly, even when the camera pans quickly from one side of the field to the other. Also, the player models, while blocky and a bit under-detailed, have a nice range of realistic animations; there are many different kinds of shots you can perform on goal, for instance, depending on how far away from the ball you are, your distance from the goal, and the approach angle. With that in mind, we were surprised to find that your players barely celebrate after scoring a goal’”they merely run into a group and raise their arms in unison. It’s probably the least realistic part of the entire game.
Meanwhile, the game’s sound is quite good. All of the menus are punctuated by a driving rock theme, and you get realistic crowd noises, chants, and whistles during the course of the game. You can also run your own iPod soundtrack, if you desire.
Overall, Real Soccer 2009 rates as an impressively complete soccer sim for the iPhone. It’s got all the teams and players you could want, and the soccer action itself is mostly very strong, even if defense needs some additional tuning. This game is good for hours of one-player football entertainment, although we’d like to see Gameloft add a local multiplayer mode, as well.