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Real Football 2009

For: DS   Also on: DSi, Mobile, N-Gage

The dark horse of the tournament?

Product: Real Football 2009 | Developer: Gameloft | Publisher: Ubisoft | Format: DS | Genre: 3D, Sports | Players: 1-4 | Version: Europe
Real Football 2009 DS, thumbnail 1

It's said that some of life's harshest lessons are taught in the playground. Schoolyard games of football tell you in no uncertain terms that if you're good, you get picked first and if you're rubbish then you can expect to endure the humiliation of being selected by a begrudging team captain purely because you're the only player left.

How does this whimsical analogy connect with a game like Real Football 2009, you ask? Well, in a marketplace packed with high-profile sporting titles, Gameloft's eminently likeable soccer simulator is undoubtedly the bespectacled kid who always gets picked at the end. Tragically, this state of affairs is actually somewhat unmerited because the series is a lot more wily and skilful than you might give it credit for.

Placed side-by-side with EA's all-conquering FIFA 2009 it's actually quite difficult to tell the two games apart. While EA has made sure its game looks as polished as possible, developer Gameloft has managed to achieve some degree of parity.

Real Football 2009 boasts a thoroughly accomplished graphic engine that zips along smoothly and even features neat effects such as a glossy sheen appearing on each player's kit as they hurtle purposefully around the pitch.

As was the case with last year's effort, the gameplay is equally robust. Players react swiftly to your commands and the control method is well-realized; actions such as pass, shoot, through ball and lob are all designated their own button, with the left and right shoulder triggers activating sprints and special Pele-style flourishes. Again, this isn't a massive change from what has gone before.

At this point Real Football 2009 starts to feel very familiar indeed, and aside from a slightly spruced up menu interface, you'd be forgiven for assuming you were playing last year's game. Thankfully Gameloft has an stunning ace in the hole: touch control. In Real Football 2008 the developer half-heartedly used the lower display of the DS for taking penalties and spot kicks, but this time out it's given a more prominent position.

At any point during the match you can tap an icon to initiate touch control. You still move your players around using the D-pad but the functions of the facia buttons are translated into simple stylus-based gestures.

For example, making a pass is a case of drawing a line in the direction of the player you wish to receive the ball. Shooting is handled by tapping the stylus on the screen and lobs are achieved by drawing a curved line. The strength of these actions is determined by the length of time you hold the stylus on the screen after completing the gesture.

Even special moves are handled in this fashion. Fake shots, spins, one-twos and other pieces of footballing skulduggery all have their own unique (and easy to remember) gesture. At first it seems rather silly and almost pointless, but as time passes you quickly find yourself relying on the system more and more.

Once you've played the game sufficiently to accurately recall each stylus input then it soon becomes second nature; in fact, remember some of the combinations for pulling off special moves via the 'traditional' pad and buttons control method is noticeably more mentally taxing – not to mention being a test of finger dexterity. It's far easier to simply doodle an image in order to execute a tricky feint in front of goal, and this gesture-based interface also makes stringing together a series of God-like manoeuvres blissfully straightforward.

Sadly, while the touch controls do much to lift Real Football 2009 above its rivals, the rest of the package is disappointingly sparse. Game options are practically identical to last year, with the usual compliment of cups, leagues and training modes. Wireless local multiplayer is predictably fun but offers little we haven't already experienced, and there are no online modes to speak of.

The killer blow – just as was the case in the game's predecessor – is a lack of licensing. Although Gameloft has dusted off its chequebook in order to secure the services of Arsenal and Spain star Cesc Fabregas, his face only graces the cover and title screen. When you actually get stuck into the game proper there's a distinct lack of authenticity that reminds you that you're not playing a FIFA title.

For example, while various international and league teams are featured, the latter suffer from awkward name-changes; bitter rivals Manchester United and Manchester City become Manchester Red and Manchester Blue respectively, for example.

Mercifully, the actual players that make up these teams have their real monikers (which is an improvement over last year's game at least) but it would be churlish to argue that FIFA's official use of aspects such as team badges, stadia and other intellectual property doesn't contribute to the game's immense appeal. These days sports titles live or die by the accuracy with which they portray their subject matter, and in this regard EA's long-running soccer franchise simply has no equal.

However, such criticism is easy to cast aside when the game in question is so enjoyable. While Real Football's core gameplay may not have altered all that drastically since the '08 instalment graced our DS screens, the addition of touch control is a tangible selling point and instead of being a throwaway gimmick (as was the case with the ability to use the DS microphone to plead with the referee in the previous game) it actually ends up being an almost indispensable addition and is something we hope Gameloft can augment and enhance for future versions.

If you're the kind of gamer who plays their football titles in order to be as close as possible to the same stars you watch treading the hallowed turf each Saturday then there's a strong chance that Real Football 2009's lamentable lack of official licensing will irk you. However, if you're merely after a solid digital representation of the world's favourite sport minus any external (and some might argue superfluous) trappings then this is worth the price of admission.

Real Football 2009
Reviewer photo
Damien McFerran | 28 November 2008
While the lack of official licensing continues to dent the mainstream appeal of Gameloft's soccer series, this is a solid update and the intelligent inclusion of touchscreen control is genuinely engaging
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