New Star Soccer may not be reliant on in-app purchases, but their presence here holds up a mirror to the modern game. As with those clubs bankrolled by Russian and Saudi Arabian petrodollars, spending money is no guarantee of success on the pitch, but it’s more likely to speed your progress from also-ran to superstar. In a simulation of an increasingly corporate sport it’s almost certainly no accident that the in-game currency you’re rewarded with for your real-world investment is named ‘star bux’.
Rather than guiding a team to glory, you’re cast in the role of a single player, beginning in the lower leagues of the country selected and gradually working your way to the top. It’s a career edited to a highlights reel, with each match reduced to a series of key moments. A match ticker, inspired no doubt by Sports Interactive’s text flashes in the Championship/Football Manager games, alerts you to events involving your player; you may have to manoeuvre him between two opponents to intercept the ball, or to pass or shoot. Here you’ll pull back an arrow to adjust power and direction, before tapping a rolling or bouncing ball to determine its trajectory.
Good performances on a regular basis are enough to earn the respect of your boss, team-mates and fans, but to progress you’ll need to spend wages – the aforementioned ‘bux’ – on energy drinks to recover from skill-boosting challenges, and boots which improve performance for a set number of games. Move to a bigger club and negotiate better wages, and you’ll start earning enough to buy lifestyle items and property, eventually attracting a girlfriend. Dilemmas emerge; choose to spend time signing autographs for supporters and you’ll miss out on a round of golf with the team. Likewise, should your girlfriend tell the press about your adventurous approach in the bedroom, expect to spend the next few games on the subs’ bench until the manager’s anger subsides.
If effectively evoking the circus that is a modern footballer’s career precludes New Star Soccer from being a realistic simulation, then the trade-off is worth it. Besides, its keen sense of drama is as authentic as it is exhilarating: arcing a 40-yard free-kick around the wall and into the top corner in the last-minute of a cup final is as thrilling a moment as you’ll witness in any FIFA match. It’s hardly the beautiful game – its visuals are perfunctory at best – but Simon Read’s creation smartly captures the capitalism, the artistry and the sheer, glorious unpredictability of its subject.