It feels a bit odd to be playing a new football game before the usual September showdown of FIFA and PES, but if you were to pick a time to release your football game then now is as good a time as any. Compared to those titles Geniaware’s offering Lords of Football has a very genuine USP and avoids what would be the usual bladder kicking options in what they consider football with a ‘god mode’. On paper they receive an A for effort but in their practical test they come up a little bit short.
Lords of Football is one part training management, one part team management and one part tactical management wrapped up in a friendly Sims like package, inviting for those new to football sims and a curiosity to the hardened Football Manager number crunchers out there. The goal is as simple as you would imagine: win football matches while managing your would-be footballing legends both in their training and their lives.
The game is broken up into very specific parts: training day, night time and match day. Every day will play out this way and the chronology of events is immediately a little bit strange as you play a match at the end of every day. During the daytime you have a training ground that has facilities such as football pitches, running tracks, gyms and even counselling rooms. By using the in-game filters you can see the strengths, weaknesses and needs of your players who all come with their own comic monikers such as ‘The Bull’. If a player doesn't have great stamina levels you can assign him to the track to build up endurance, if your striker is ineffectual in the air you can put him to work on some aerial drills. The interface is simple and clutter free, drilling down into your team’s needs is easily navigated and in no time you will be dragging and dropping your little players like a game of Subbuteo.
When the training day is over and you have released your players out into the world you can track their activities to make sure that they are not falling victim to an unwanted vice. There is a small world that exists outside the training that you can quickly zip around to track the whereabouts of your players. During this phase of the game you will need to check the needs of your players, again this is easy to quickly navigate thanks to filters which will see pop-ups appearing above the players’ heads. Does one of your players have a taste for alcohol? Then drag him out of the bar. Is your star forward in need of an ego boost? Then drag him into the local fan club to give an interview. Successfully keeping everyone in line and meeting their needs will see an improvement of their performance the next time they are on the pitch and obviously failing to do so will see a lacklustre performance. Failing to keep track of your players’ headspace can see them needing to be put into counselling whether it be for gambling, alcohol addiction or any other vice. This removes your player from active training and can see them develop at a slower pace so keeping an eye on everyone is key.
The player management element goes through a strange journey; firstly it is a bit overwhelming, then it becomes second nature and then you realise that there isn't much depth to the experience. What quickly emerges is that this management side is nothing more than a fancy version of that age old kids game of putting the right block through the right hole, making sure that the right people are in the right places. That’s where it pretty much ends, after a number of hours you will have explored this element to its fullest with the only change being if you start a new game with a new team and have to get used to a new make-up of players.
Where things really pick up, to some degree of success, is when you actually get onto the pitch which, as mentioned before, bizarrely seems to happen at the end of every day. There is a very accessible tactics editor that will let you drag and drop your way to tactical success, whether it be counter attacking patterns or just general formations. It is simple and intuitive but will let any player choose exactly how they wish their team to organise themselves on the hallowed turf. As the match plays out you watch from the standard football game angle, although there is a level of ugliness in the modelling that is at odds with the colourful cartoon design of the characters during the training element of the game. With the breadth of the game’s ambition it is understandable that it can’t be pretty all of the time but the on the pitch animation is just very poor, there is a real lifelessness as your players amble around with stiff animations. The AI of the players is as ugly as their graphical representation with players making utterly inexplicable decisions, it is odd to see a defensive player on his own running to get a ball that is going for a goal kick only then to kick it out for a corner. There is no real sense of the dynamism of football where strange things can and do happen, all you are left with is a messy and alien portrayal of football.
The high point of Lords of Football is the level of control you have on the pitch. As your team takes control of the ball you can pause the match, at this point you can then highlight where you would like the ball to be played into and what runs other players should be making off the ball. When you resume play you see the plan rolling out in real time and only then do you see if your supposed managerial prowess is effective. An unlikely comparison, although not completely unfair, is that of the project management inspired shooter Frozen Synapse. The interface of highlighting players and marking where you want them to go can be surprisingly inaccurate at times, with it being far too easy to click one more time than meant due to unresponsiveness only to realise you cannot undo that mistake. It’s a minor quibble and once you accept and get used to the control idiosyncrasies you will find yourself giving the interface room to breath.
Plotting out your master plan and hoping that it comes to fruition is exciting and definitely adds an element not seen in other football games but while it is interesting it is not perfectly implemented. As your plan plays out too often some bizarre AI decisions scupper success, whether it be ignoring what you planned or taking far too long to react to your command, and it hurts what is by far the strongest and most interesting part of the game. There is a solid idea here and if the team make another football game then this is what they should focus on; a proper tactical play by play football game. In many ways it is similar to Pro Evolution Soccer on the Wii which used the method of dragging players in the direction you wanted them to run, and building tactical plays on the fly. That was a small revolution for the football genre and a stronger focus here could yield similar results.
There are other nice touches that keep the game trucking along, your club owner will set you tasks to achieve such as winning the league and in doing so you will reap rewards and see your facilities improve. As your players develop on the training ground more and more exercises will open up and you can build much more diverse and specific training plans to get the most out of your team. However, as with most of Lords of Football the illusion of depth quickly disappears and you are left standing ankle deep in a decent but not exceptional game.
Lords of Football inevitably draws the comparison of being a lightweight version of Football Manager married with The Sims. It’s not an unfair comparison by any stretch of the imagination and it seems that the team have attempted to appeal to multiple audiences without really serving either of them in any particularly strong fashion. It’s an interesting title if only for a few hours and with a hefty price tag it doesn't help itself in getting off the subs bench. There are some great ideas in here but none realised with any real conviction and on the digital pitch of videogames while we wouldn't give Lords of Football a straight red it does get a yellow with a severe talking to.