Ranked! The best football video games ever made
If you fancy a game without standing up, the computer (or console) is your portal to pleasure.
And so, we present the finest video games ever created – and for the sake of variety, we've limited the big franchises (yes you, Football Manager, FIFA and PES) to one edition each...
23. LMA Manager (2002)
The pinnacle of Codemasters’ made-for-console dugout sim series. This PS2 edition provided a 3D match engine long before Football Manager did, as well as characteristically wry post-match analysis from Alan Hansen and the ability to save your team to a memory card before facing off against a mate.
Oh, and the option of barking orders from the touchline, even if in-game you sounded like an overly competitive sad dad watching his kid's under-10s.
22. FIFA Street (2012)
Long criticised as shallow and overly reliant on gimmicks, the PS3 reboot of EA’s five-a-side panna-thon finally nailed the intensity and intimacy of close-quarters football. Ridiculous skills were still de rigeur, but nifty footwork and sharp passing were necessary too. The thinking man’s futsal game? It genuinely wasn’t far off.
21. Microprose Soccer (1988)
The first football game made by Jon Hare and Chris Yates, who went on to transform the genre with successor Sensible Soccer. We still miss the C64 version’s six-a-side mode and science-flouting banana kicks, but are relieved to have moved on from the ball appearing to be glued to players’ feet.
20. Euro Boss (1991)
Budget Spectrum and Amstrad coaching sim with a twist: incoming funds could be used in the transfer market, but if you didn’t set aside enough to finance stadium upgrades you’d be fired at the end of your second season. Arsene Wenger probably liked this one.
19. Super Soccer (1992)
A SNES launch game with typical Nintendo quirks. Players only had first names, based on famous counterparts (Diego for Maradona, for instance), while the vertical perspective meant the pitch grew narrower as you attacked its far end… lending a massive spatial advantage to the competitor playing towards the TV screen.
18. World Championship Soccer 2 (1994)
This little-known Mega Drive release is one of the most sought-after football games of all time, after it emerged that Jon ‘Sensible Soccer’ Hare had a secret hand in its development. It's therefore no surprise that it plays like a sped-up, side-on Sensi… albeit not quite worth splashing £752 on.
17. Emlyn Hughes International Soccer (1988)
While the late-‘80s saw home computers inundated with management simulators, few developers dared to provide total control on the football pitch. C64 standout Emlyn was the spirited anomaly, enabling you to pass, dribble and shoot (as well as triggering deft changes of pace) using a joystick.
16. Mario Strikers Charged Football (2007)
No, not Balotelli – this off-its-rocker Wii kickabout instead took its name from Nintendo’s ‘tached toilet-fixer. Super-powered shots, comical power-ups and wacky surroundings made it utterly unlike anything else on this list. Family game? Not when you’d just gifted Toad a last-minute winner, it wasn’t.
15. UEFA Euro 2008 (2008)
The PS3 and Xbox 360 FIFA spin-off which helped transform EA’s footballing fortunes, introducing popular series mainstays such as individual player celebrations and pitch-affecting weather. Slower on-field tempo than the club games that sandwiched it delighted users, but it was a frustratingly long time – seven years, to be exact – before the publisher would apply the brakes within FIFA proper.
14. Top Eleven (2010)
Finding a good social media sports game is as easy as finding an Arsenal defender who can defend. But Nordeus’s tactics-based treasure is the exception. Its layout recalls the golden years of Champ Man, with instantly rendered results enabling you to whip through seasons in a day. Oh, and it’s free – no wonder 15 million played it every month on Facebook in 2014.
13. Virtua Striker (1994)
Long pass. Short pass. Shoot. Tackle. Granted, in-game control options in this arcade favourite were limited, but its ground-breaking 3D graphics kept you thrusting 20p pieces at its innards anyway. Eighteen international teams featured, and we’ll pay actual cash to anyone who can prove they ever won a game as Saudi Arabia.
12. Multi-Player Soccer Manager (1991)
Amstrad, Spectrum and C64’s best management game, and not only because up to four friends could take it in turns to play. Squad-wrecking injuries, players turning down transfers and proper in-season stat tracking were lifelike touches that kept it afloat amid the late-‘80s/early-‘90s flurry of tracksuit sims.
11. Actua Soccer (1995)
Producing the first 3D match engine on console meant this game was mentioned in the same breath as FIFA and PES back in the PS1 days. Actua was also before its time in that it used real players for motion capture: Sheffield Wednesday's Chris Woods, Graham Hyde and Andy Sinton were drafted in, with developer Gremlin based just down the road from Hillsborough.
10. Kick Off 2 (1990)
The high point of Dino Dini’s superb series, which paved the way for Sensible Soccer with its top-down perspective and ingenious design decision to treat ball and player as separate entities. Still so beloved by those who possessed an Amiga that a virtual World Cup is played on it every year.
9. Football Manager (1982)
No relation to Sports Interactive’s identically named colossus, but a huge influence upon its creation – Kevin Toms’ Spectrum game represents the birth of the management simulation. Stick men played out every goal, miss and save in a manner which looks crude now, but at the time was considered just like Match of the Day. It really was a simpler time, yet some might argue happier.
8. New Star Soccer (2012)
Blending elements of Sensible Soccer (overhead perspective), Football Manager (club negotiations) and numerous RPGs (the ability to level up your player and participate in extra-curricular activities), NSS is an essential buy for any tablet owner. Little-known fact: released for iOS in 2012, it’s actually been kicking around on various formats since 2003, making it a Jamie Vardy-like late bloomer.
7. Rocket League (2015)
Swap players for cars and turf for boost-pod-covered arenas and you have a recipe for the sort of addiction that sends D-list celebs to rehab. PS4’s near-flawless sports/driver hybrid is the ultimate game of risk vs reward, where one unlucky bounce or jammy deflection can torpedo the oversized ball into your own goal.
6. International Superstar Soccer Deluxe (1996)
Not, as many assume, the direct precursor to ISS Pro and PES – those games were made by Konami Tokyo, this Super Nintendo effort by Konami Osaka. Yet this still marks the mid-90s’ cyber-footy peak, with recognisable sprites (Valderrama! Ravanelli!), side-scrolling action and memorably awful commentary. “Down the wing! It’s a biiiig kick! England win the shootout!” Alright, we might have made that last one up.
5. Football Manager 2014 (2013)
While the complex user interface can baffle to begin with, what’s underneath is a tremendously detailed and supremely authentic management game. Sports Interactive's fabled series improves year on year – but this is where things all went a bit Minority Report.
Improved AI in this edition meant opposing managers were far more alert to your tactics, forcing you to think faster in every match. Then there were the managerial interviews you could sweet-talk your way through, setting out your aims in a more refined way and sometimes allowing you to land bigger jobs than your CV deserved.
4. FIFA 98: Road to World Cup (1997)
Sure, the newest version is as flash as football games can get – but this list is about more than pure perfection. Many remember EA’s series most fondly on Sega’s Mega Drive; in retrospect, though, its isometric viewpoint looked flashy, but tended to limit passing options and goal variety.
Instead, let's fondly remember the absolutely belting production that was FIFA 98: the intro music of Blur's Song 2, Des Lynam's "Yes, hello" opening gambit to every single match, 3D graphics that took things to a new level, and yes – oh yes – indoor five-a-side football.
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 captured 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 curse under the sun) at the drama-packed text commentary.
2. Pro Evolution Soccer 6 (2006)
The main reason for limiting entries to this list to one-per-series is that the entire top 10 would otherwise have been an extended Pro Evo party. From ISS Pro ’98 on PS1 to this PS2 legend, Konami revolutionised virtual sport on an annual 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.
1. Sensible World Of Soccer (1994)
End-to-end footy viewed through God’s own eyeballs, with heavenly results. Sensi is 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 the Amiga game 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.
Greg Lea is a freelance football journalist who's filled in wherever FourFourTwo needs him since 2014. He became a Crystal Palace fan after watching a 1-0 loss to Port Vale in 1998, and once got on the scoresheet in a primary school game against Wilfried Zaha's Whitehorse Manor (an own goal in an 8-0 defeat).
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