Friday, August 01, 2008

Full Metal Soccer Review

Full Metal Soccer, developed and published by Quanticode.
The Good: It’s different, integrated server browser, online ranking system, Linux compatible
The Not So Good: No single player modes, no AI bots for online play, only one arena, lacks weapon variety, needs power-ups or special abilities
What say you? This soccer game with tanks is only mildly entertaining and it lacks a lot of features: 4/8

MY POORLY WRITTEN INTRODUCTION
Let’s face it: Americans will never fully embrace soccer (better known as “crappy football”). The combination of low scoring and the lack of violence (well, that could be debated) means it will never rise to the level of American football, basketball, or even the similarly paced baseball in the United States. If only they added inappropriate amounts of brutality to the game. Full Metal Soccer has answered that call, turning players into tanks. It’s a fairly unique premise; how does the game stack up?

GRAPHICS AND SOUND
The graphics of Full Metal Soccer are OK. The best aspect of the visuals is the level of detail on the ball itself: very bumpy. The tanks also have some nice worn textures on them that show the scars of battle. The lone arena lacks crowds and their reactions to make the environment seem more dynamic. Full Metal Soccer also comes with basic sound: some slightly annoying music that can be switched off, along with appropriate, if limited, effects for each of the in-game actions. For an independent game, Full Metal Soccer fulfills most of my expectations for presentation value: the graphics don’t hinder the gameplay and the performance is good, so you can’t really complain too much.

ET AL.
To put it quite simply, Full Metal Soccer is a soccer game with tanks. Well, my job here is done.

Oh, you'd like more details. All right, then. First off, Full Metal Soccer comes in Windows and Linux flavors to appease all of those penguin fans (big secret: I am actually writing this review on a Linux laptop...now my secret is out!). Full Metal Soccer is an online-only game, where you can host or join matches that are automatically listed on the in-game browser: a nice feature for an independent game. I certainly do not have a problem with online-only titles (I am a big fan of multiplayer action), however Full Metal Soccer lacks any sort of AI players, either as a single-player training tool or to fill out the Internet matches. Shelled! Online is another independent online-centric title, but it featured very decent AI opponents, so not finding anyone to play against was essentially a non-issue. That's how it needs to be done for independent games that, frankly, will not have the numbers to support a lot of matches. I was typically able to find a couple of opponents to play against, so the lack of AI opponents certainly hurts the game as a whole. Full Metal Soccer only comes with one arena; this would not be a big deal in classic soccer games, but since the pitch (I'm getting all technical) in Full Metal Soccer has numerous ramps and obstacles, more variety is a necessary feature. The arena that does exist needs more interesting obstacles to take advantage of the tank mechanics. Full Metal Soccer does have an online score list, for what it's worth. Still, overall the features of Full Metal Soccer are definitely lacking.

Just like normal soccer, the object of the Full Metal version is to get the ball into the net. Since you have a tank at your disposal, your options are increased. Your armored vehicle is equipped with a cannon for shooting opponents (which both damages and slows them down) or the ball itself, a tractor beam for collecting the ball, a speed booster, and a front bumper to hold the ball and ram people. It takes a lot of shots to completely destroy an opponent, which I suppose is meant to balance the game and not lead to a lot of wide-open scoring. You do much more damage simply running into them, so games can quickly devolve into a rugby scrum as everyone piles on other tanks near the ball's current location. The lack of options in Full Metal Soccer comes up again, since the tanks do not have any other weapons other than the basic cannon and the title lacks power-ups or collectible bonuses of any kind. Because of this, the games are actually quite routine and not terribly different from “normal” soccer matches, albeit with more shooting. The physics are OK: there are some collision problems with ball bouncing too much and getting away from your tank, but overall things seem to be believable enough. The matches can be fun and the tanks lead to some unique strategies, from shooting and ramming your opponents to shooting the ball in order to advance it. Games are quick and action-filled, although the mechanics do sometimes get in the way of fluid play. It takes a lot of damage to destroy a tank, and you respawn so quickly that eliminating the enemy is more of a nuisance than a viable strategy. In addition, after a goal, the ball spawns back in the middle of the field without sending each time to their respective sides; this causes a massive scramble to the center of the field immediately after a goal, and this actually favors the team that's not playing as well. In the end, Full Metal Soccer doesn't offer up enough to keep the interest level raised.

IN CLOSING
Full Metal Soccer is a good idea that's a number of features away from being a satisfying game. The basics of the game are fine: tanks playing soccer. It features plausible physics, a couple of different strategies not found in any other soccer games, and easy-to-find multiplayer matches through the in-game browser. However, Full Metal Soccer lacks a lot of features that should be a part of any online sports, independent or not. The lack of AI bots means you have to find someone online in order to play: a death wish for a small title. The tanks are also not equipped with varied weapons to add more strategies, and the arenas need more obstacles or power-ups like in Speedball 2. I'm usually willing to give a little bit of leeway to independent titles, but the single note of Full Metal Soccer thanks to its large lack of features cannot be ignored.