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X2 Football is a straight forward, well crafted game that delivers a pretty pleasing, if not hugely satisfying, experience. Despite its undeniable, simplistic charm, I can't help but be a little disappointed that X2 doesn't seem to represent much of a leap forward and, in the end, feels like the kind of game that's just waiting to be superseded.
Football games have always functioned as a bit of benchmark in my mind. If, growing up, a new platform was going to impress me enough to warrant my forking out my hard-earned pocket and birthday and Christmas money, then it simply had to offer a decent stage on which I/Brian Robson could lead England to victory against West Germany. In the last couple of months it seems that, by my childhood rationale, the iPhone/Pod has began its final steps towards gaming legitimacy (although, of course, in reality I think it's already more than proven itself) given the arrival of a brace of serious soccer sims.
First, the trail was blazed by Real Football 2009, which, despite arriving late last year to a fairly loud chorus of reviewer and user praise, seemed to me to offer a bit more in terms of promise than polish. Nearly a year on, and, what with optimism levels reaching near maximum, both in terms of the quality of iPhone/Pod games and England's chances in next year's World Cup (yes, I know I'm drilling a hole through which crushing disappointment will seep, again), I'm more than ready to see what the second generation of iFootball games has to offer. This week I've been putting X2 Football through its paces and next week I'll be scouting out Gameloft's much anticipated sequel, Real Football 2010. Then it's onto FIFA 10 from EA
The passing is relatively accurate and crisp and the shooting has a fair amount of both subtlety and power.
In terms of controls, much like Real Football 2009, X2 Football 2009 plumps for a simple control scheme consisting of an opaque virtual analogue stick in the bottom left of the screen and an arc of virtual buttons in the bottom right - three as opposed to RF's two, giving changing player and rushing out the goalie a button of their own. Holding down pass or shoot to increase the power and height of the resultant release feels disappointingly generic in the light of Real Football 2009's novel touch and swipe mechanic, but having a dedicated button for changing player is, in my opinion, a welcome step up from having to tap the usually crowded screen.
For a virtual stick, the direction controls work pretty well and the sprint mechanic (which requires sliding your finger further in the direction of motion) has been nicely calibrated so that you don't end up covering too much with your thumb in order to initiate or sustain it. The passing is relatively accurate and crisp and the shooting has a fair amount of both subtlety and power, both of which make the majority of the time that you are in possession a pleasing experience. However, there are some weaker elements that start to become apparent relatively quickly.
The competence of the A.I. is something of an issue, especially on any but the strongest level. Computer controlled defenders are (like some of the guys I play 5-a-side with) mostly from the 'stay in the same place and watch the approaching forward until it's too late' school. As well as breezing past static defenders into space, it is fairly easy to turn a defender at your back when receiving the ball at pace - in the very first game I played (England Vs. France, of course) I was able to make Jermain Defoe do this with impunity, bagging himself a simple first half hat-trick.
While things run smoothly when you are in space (the vast majority of the time), instances of contact between players cause some slow down and occasional frame rate glitches. Sliding tackles, therefore, are basically a no-go area with it being practically impossible to judge the timing needed to win the ball and avoid a booking. In practice, however, this is not a major handicap because for some reason players sprint considerably faster when they don't have the ball than when they do (a discrepancy the computer defence does not really seem to make use of), which means that running down opposing strikers and winning the ball with a close tackle is extremely simple.
X2 Football 2009 can deliver a pretty satisfying football experience.
All things said, X2 Football 2009 can deliver a pretty satisfying football experience, even if it is lacking quite a bit in some of the more detailed areas. I quite admire the fact that X2 keeps it simple - there's no attempt to incorporate clutter in the form of elaborate game modes, a whole world of club teams, flashy videos or multiplayer options - but that does somewhat put the onus of the basic game to be slightly better than it actually is. After downloading, I warmed pretty quickly to X2's unfussy charms, and it kept me entertained through a couple of tournaments and a few one-off internationals, but in the end, the shortcomings of its gameplay have kept me at a slight distance.
Developers Exient made a pretty bold decision to abandon the norm and entitle a game released more than half the way through 2009 with that same year. With Gameloft releasing a follow-up to Real Football 2009 only a few weeks after X2's launch and EA following soon after that, I can't help but derive the sense that the naming decision reflects the acknowledgement that X2 Football 2009 will probably enjoy a fairly short shelf-life.
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