The FIFA vs. Pro Evolution Soccer debate rages every year, but how do the latest footballing titles stack up against games that helped us along the journey to ultra-realistic simulations and shiny graphics?
While separating the styles of EA Sports and Konami is becoming easier with every annual release, a plethora of soccer ball titles have entered our consoles, hogged our phones and taken residency on our PCs, all with their own style and philosophy.
From the scratch 'n sniff disc of FIFA 2001 to the tappy happiness of New Star Soccer, football games are mega business. This year, the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One have given birth to the next generation (surely the current generation now that they are both out?), meaning we can expect some truly spectacular results.
First, let's reminiscence on how we got to this point. Let's think of a time before screaming online idiots, unfortunate disconnects and rage quits. Let's remember a moment where, if you wanted to show your annoyance toward a fellow player (who actually sat by yourself), you lobbed your joypad at the nearest wall and watched it explode.
Ladies and gentlemen, let's take a rundown of the greatest football video games ever made.
5. International Superstar Soccer Pro/World Soccer Winning Eleven 97, Konami (PS1, Nintendo 64, 1997)
ISS Pro highlighted that you don't need licenses and recognisable players to compete with the best.
It was an intelligent game that prioritised enthralling football encounters over pristine visuals with high activity on the pitch. Your teammates offered decent attacking runs, looked for space between defenders and provided you with the opportunity to start moves from deep in midfield.
It was a forward-thinking title, one that wanted you to realise that retention of possession is vital if you're going to open space in attacking areas. While splitting the defence was easy, tucking away chances was not.
ISS Pro—also known as World Soccer Winning Eleven 97 in Japan—would also act as a forerunner for the series we now know as Pro Evolution Soccer, its success proving vital to the long-term future for Konami's footballing output.
4. FIFA 14, EA Sports (PS4, Xbox One, 2013)
It's easy to dwell on the past, but with the release of Sony and Microsoft's new consoles, it's also important to mention the updated version of FIFA 14 is mightily impressive.
EA Sports have slowly polished the series with a realistic approach, a style that is heavily aided by the new tech. Subtle additions such as fully 3D crowds, varied passing animations and the addition of more than two players challenging for the ball at the same time, make this an important step into the next phase of footballing games.
While FIFA 14 doesn't play the greatest game of football ever—with overpowered headers taking the "Championship of Annoyance" crown—it sets the bar for what we can expect across the next few years.
3. Championship Manager: Season 2001/02, Sports Interactive (PC, Mac, 2001)
Sport Interactive's final Championship Manager may be over a decade old, but it's still feverishly played today. Launched as freeware in 2008, the CM community continues to drum up new content for those who can't escape the legendary red box that had nothing but a football on the front.
It's testimony of this game's quality that it still matches up to SI's latest offering, Football Manager 2014. Sure, the 3D Match Engine is nowhere to be seen and tactical decisions are less nuanced, but there was something so satisfying about seeing the in-game text flash with excitement when a goal went in.
Gameplay trumped the LMA Manager series that was performing well on consoles at the time, with information presented in an easy-to-digest and intelligent fashion.
Even as a fresh-faced nine-year-old trying to understand various graphs, statistics and figures, I found myself hooked on a continual battle for trophies that proved addictive and rewarding.
Management games are difficult to improve, with new layers of depth often making them increasingly hard to play for long periods, but this version of Championship Manager struck the right balance to ensure players of all ages could get their fix.
2. FIFA 09, EA Sports (PS2, Xbox 360, 2008)
If you've played FIFA across the last four years, chances are you've fired up some Ultimate Team. EA's item-based mode, which gives users the chance to build squads alongside a real marketplace before competing online, is undoubtedly the series' most influential addition in recent years.
EA's decision to charge for packs of items is a genius business model, one that is sure to cost very little to run and provides massive returns. While the corporation may be berated by many for such a structure, it helps that Ultimate Team is extremely moreish.
Like a child collecting Panini stickers before the latest World Cup, it's easy to succumb. Will you receive Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo in a pack? You didn't? Best spend on another one.
Such is the power of Ultimate Team, many gamers will have barely touched FIFA's other modes across the last few years.
1. Pro Evolution Soccer 5/Winning Eleven 9, Konami (PS2, PSP, Xbox, 2005)
Pro Evolution Soccer's recent rejuvenation is welcome, but the series will be hard-pushed to replicate its stature of years gone by. PES 4 and 6 could have easily found themselves on this list, but the fifth iteration does enough to take the crown.
Another game that didn't boast a plethora of licenses—with just Arsenal and Chelsea offering real players in their proper kit—fans were instead privy to something of a gameplay marvel.
Tight controls gave you the opportunity to ping the ball around with gusto. With fast movement and an eye to pass, the opposition's defence would often have a momentous task ahead of them. First-touch control was also added, while improved shooting mechanics highlighted a title that ushered in an increased sense of realism.
Not so much that it became a simulation, mind you.
PES 5 managed to strike a unique balance between "entertaining" and "believable." Referees would wave play on, tackles could change momentum in an instant and players began to feel like their real-world counterparts.
Most importantly, this was the first PES to feature online play and the inaugural title to grace Sony's PSP.
It provided a new way of enjoying the game, whether it be against random individuals from across the globe or on the bus to school, and also managed to highlight how bitterly disappointing many of the Xbox 360/PS3 versions were due to its unblemished all-round quality.
The Gamers' View
I asked my Twitter followers to discuss their favourite footballing titles of all time. Here's the best responses:
Be sure to let us know your top five football games ever in the comments section below. Do you agree with my selection? Make your voice heard.
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