Tyler provides context and commentary followed by the original text of our Striker 96 review, published in the December 1996 issue of the US edition.
To celebrate today's World Cup final, I've dug up one of the first soccer/football/who-cares-what-you-call-it games reviewed in the US edition. The first of them actually look to be FIFA International Soccer, Planet Soccer, and Sensible Soccer, all reviewed in the October 1994 issue. I chose Striker 96 over the much better FIFA debut (84%) in part because it's reviewed by Gary Whitta , who famously went on to become famous-er. I also happen to have it for some reason—probably for some ancient, abandoned feature idea—so I 'simulated' today's match with the help of DOSBox.
Argentina wins 1-0. Let's see if Striker, despite having no current rosters and not being a very good game at all, is an effective crystal ball. My bet is no, definitely not. Digressing, I'm happy that 18 years after Gary lamented that there's "a long way to go" before good soccer games, things have indeed improved .
Yet another soccer simulation lays claim to the crown, but does it boast anything the rest don't?
Soccer still isn't as comprehensively simulated on the PC as home-spun American sports, but it's getting there. EA's FIFA series has done much to raise the status of the genre, and with the professional game actually starting to attract crowds and TV coverage the games developers are finally taking note, it seems. Unfortunately, the quality of much of what's been seen so far suggests that we still have a long way to go before we're simulating soccer as accurately and entertainingly as, say, hockey or baseball—and Striker 96 is the latest proof of the genre's shortcomings right now.
The game is not without its pedigree. Originally designed by the British team Rage Software back in the early 90s for the Amiga and ST, the game has since been through several revisions and updates for various formats, culminating in this souped-up version for PC. The approach is familiar: 3D perspective, multiple camera angles, and lots of bells and whistles. Players select from 41 international teams to take part in friendly games, league and cup tournaments, either against the computer or up to four human pals over a network or with the Gravis GrIP system (multiplay modes also allow for co-operative play). All the staple options are here—variable weather, wind and match duration, adjustable rules and skill level and, in one original touch, a six-on-six indoor soccer mode which plays quite differently to the regular game.
Having fiddled with your team roster and selected a formation and team tactics it's out onto the field of play. Striker 96 looks nifty enough with attractive stadia to play in, although the player sprites aren't as impressive as the polygon-based characters in the likes of FIFA or VR Soccer. Fortunately the programmers haven't allowed themselves to get too carried away with the 3D views and, unlike VR Soccer for instance, there are at least a couple of straightforward, playable viewpoints along with the flashy but unusable TV-style perspectives.
The problems start when the whistle blows—primarily, the speed of the game is too fast and nothing behaves quite how it should. Once again, all the familiar soccer AI problems crop up—players seem quite happy to kick the ball into touch for no reason or otherwise behave erratically, you can never be sure that a pass will actually reach the player it's intended for because the recipient isn't smart enough to run towards the ball when it gets near him, the ball is all too easily stolen from you… it's the classic headless chicken syndrome which has afflicted PC soccer games for ages It's erratic rather than fluid, random rather than logical. There's a simulation mode which theoretically lets you string a series of passes together, but rare was the occasion that I could get it to work properly. Granted, there are moments when things seem to be working and there's satisfaction to be had, but this is the exception rather than the rule. If players can move and behave realistically in a hockey sim, why not here?
The experience isn't exactly improved by a dull soundtrack—even in enhanced mode the crowd doesn't react in time with the action, and the commentary, from former Scottish international Andy Gray, is spartan and equally badly synchronized. All in all, this game smacks of laziness where it counts—the designers seem more concerned with re-creating the trendy circular mowing designs of World Cup pitches and adding other minor gimmicks rather than concentrating on what counts—making a game that moves fluidly, intelligently and feels how soccer should.
Striker may find some fans amongst those with access to Gravis GrIP systems of networks for multiplay—at least that way the frustration can be divided equally between up to four people. The more discerning amongst us would be much better advised to be patient and wait for EA Sports' FIFA 97, which promises so much more than is delivered here. — Gary Whitta