The 23 best football video games ever made: Sensi, FIFA, Virtua, PES and more
3. Championship Manager: Season 01/02 (2001)
Cherno Samba. Mark Kerr. Tonton Zola Moukouko. Just three of the pro footballers who achieved little of note in their real careers, yet remain hall of famers among those weaned on Sports Interactive’s succulent managerial teats.
It’s impossible to distill CM down to one or two key elements; this was a PC sensation that perfectly recaptured every high and low of being a real boss. Hours and days and weeks were lost scouting little-known nations for bargain signings, devising unbeatable tactics, and rejoicing (or uttering every swear under the sun) at the drama-packed text commentary. If you were a student during SI’s wonder years, it’s likely that your guaranteed 2:1 turned into a fortunate 2:2 thanks to months lost to CM. And certain that you don’t regret it one bit.
2. Pro Evolution Soccer 6 (2006)
The main reason for limiting entries to this list to one-per-series is that the entire top ten would otherwise have been an extended Pro Evo party. From ISS Pro ’98 on PS1 to this PS2 legend, Konami revolutionised virtual sport on a 12-monthly basis.
This entry was the momentous culmination of that decade-long process. It wasn’t just that it nailed the basics of passing and shooting in a lifelike manner, but its nuances too: fabulously intelligent off-the-ball movement, unique running styles for stars such as Beckham and Henry, the addition of quick free-kicks, and so much more. The one downside to its close-to-faultless approximation of real football? The weight of its excellence has become an unshiftable albatross around the neck of modern-day PES.
1. Sensible World Of Soccer (1994)
End-to-end footy viewed through God’s own eyeballs, with heavenly results. There’s a strong case for PES to be in top spot, but the single factor propelling Sensi above it is timelessness. While the necessary evolution of annual titles hasn’t been kind to mid-noughties Pro Evo, SWOS plays as wonderfully today as when it first graced Amiga 21 years ago.
It’s the impeccably tailored grandchild of every top-down game to precede it, delivering an endless array of banana-shaped thunderstrikes, physics-defying tackles and Schmeichelian saves, all at a brilliantly breathless pace.
At launch it packed in 24,000 players and 1,500 teams, and even today there’s a bustling community devoted to keeping it up to date. The fantastic Mega Drive version also warrants a doff of the cap – but much like every friend and foe, before or since, it’s simply no match for this pixel-perfect title winner.