Game: Actua Soccer
Publisher: Gremlin Interactive
Format: PC (also available on: PlayStation, Sega Saturn, Mac)
Also known as: VR Soccer ’96 (USA), RanSoccer (Germany)
It looks somewhat clunky by modern standards, but Actua Soccer was genuinely revolutionary upon its release. It didn’t quite beat FIFA ’96 to the market as being the first football game to employ 3D graphics, but it certainly blew EA’s competing series out of the water for a good season or two, as the first to offer a genuinely immersive full-3D experience.
A thoroughly British affair, Actua was developed by Sheffield-based Gremlin, and they sought assistance from down the road by hiring the rather unglamorous Wednesday trio of Andy Sinton, Chris Woods and Graham Hyde as their motion-capture models. Most thrillingly, however, it was the only computer game to feature commentary by Barry Davies – and while it was the early days of football game commentary (so in other words, you basically just got random unconnected segments of speech, and the occasional shouting of a player’s name about five minutes after they’d had a shot on goal), his reassuringly authoritative voice was a huge factor in the game’s highly atmospheric feel.
As an early entry into the 3D genre, it makes obvious mistakes – particularly the way the default camera whizzes around all over the place – and it’s buggy here and there. But it’s got a lot of charm to it, and still plays a damned good game of football for its time (and you can still pick it up, under its US title of VR Soccer, at gog.com to find out for yourself), one that arguably wouldn’t be bettered until EA’s Road To World Cup ’98.
Initially only offering international teams, it was re-released with club sides as Actua Soccer: Club Edition the following year, before a slipshod and ill-advised official Euro ’96 game. Actua Soccer 2 followed in 1997, adding the Super Furry Animals as an unlockable bonus team, but already the games were looking a little tired. Reviews and sales were still solid, as they were for Actua Soccer 3 in late 1998 – but by the time the latter had come out, EA had gained a significant foothold in the 3D football genre thanks to the double-whammy of World Cup 98 and FIFA ’99 (not to mention there being an overwhelming glut of variable-quality games released in 1998 in general), and Actua no longer had much with which to distinguish itself.