If there’s one genre of game that’s the most resistant to change, it has to be the annual sports franchise.
Yes, there are often control tweaks, roster changes, and improved (or in the case of Madden, slightly more awkward) graphics, but overall it’s a genre most defined by evolution over a series of years, rather than major sweeping changes.
Real Football 2012 is different.
Rather than continue to compete against EA Mobile’s rapidly improving FIFA series, or even against Konami’s slightly less agile PES, Gameloft has decided to completely overhaul last year’s edition and turn the game freemium.
Before we go onto that, let’s talk about the new social features that have been added to the title.
On opening the game you’re presented not with a menu screen, but with a faux-newspaper sports page with the latest news across the world (provided by goal.com) right through to polls and forums for discussion.
It’s also the place where the community can share pre-made scenarios and rate those already uploaded, as well as share custom teams made using the in-game editor.
The editor will be a major boon for the more ardent footy fans, as Real Football, despite once again having David Villa on the title screen, lacks some of the licences for the major competitions.
Thankfully, it does possess the FIFAPro license, which means all player names are accurate, even if the teams, badges, and league names are not.
The game is structured more like Let’s Golf! 3 than a traditional game of football, so the lack of a Premiership licence doesn't really matter in any case.
That’s not to say you’ll be running out of energy halfway through a game (although that controversial issue does rear its head here, too), but rather that competitions and trophies are split into matches graded with stars depending on your performance.
Gain enough stars and you’ll unlock a higher tier of competition, each of which comes with certain entry conditions such as a limited team selection.
There’s also a simplified variation on a management mode lurking in the in-game shop, although it’s worth noting that - while it does feature the ability to intiate transfers and follow an entire league season through with one team - it requires real-world cash to unlock.
Other, more disposable, elements such as in-game boosters (the option to clear all yellow cards would be a handy one to have in real-life) are also available for cold hard cash, while everything else can be unlocked by paying ‘coins’ that you earn by winning matches.
Out of the tunnel
In terms of on-the-pitch action, Gameloft has once again targeted the arcade side of the genre, with three buttons always on-screen ('pass', 'shoot', 'sprint' or 'tackle', 'press', 'slide').
You can perform more complicated moves, such as one-twos, in a similar fashion to FIFA - by dragging up when pressing the button, for instance - while moves such as the tricky pullback are performed by tracing on the screen.
It’s a brave move by Gameloft to change direction for its upcoming football title. We’ll find out if it was a perfectly judged through-ball or an embarrassing own goal when the game arrives on the App Store "before Christmas".