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(Pocket-lint) - As long as men have thumbs, there will be football games. This is Football (TIF) releases its 2004 version to bring everything up to date, and into direct competition with a host of other games. Is this really football, or a load of balls? Will the old tired puns make it to the end of the review? You know, small boys in the park, jumpers for goalposts, three and in? To get down to business, if you want your game to sell, it has to be good.

The first thing I noticed was how long it took to load the game. I know the PS2 is getting on a bit, but I was starting to fiddle with buttons, thinking TIF had crashed. And that’s something I don’t like in a game. It also told me that I didn’t have a spare 1000-odd kb on the memory card to save the game data. I wasn’t concerned, but I did have an empty card in slot 2 that it seemed to ignore.

The tried and tested formula is back, with different modes - career, exhibition match and so on - you’ll have seen most of it before. There are 900 teams, and international and Euro leagues to play in. Diving straight into an exhibition match, I paired England against Peru.

Once past the loading process, the game went rather smoothly - the replays were unobtrusive and easily skipped and the controls were fairly easy to master - playing a passing game is the best way, and you can be around the opponent with a few well placed passes. Shooting was a different story, although getting into a good position was surprisingly easy. Then I found the R2 button. It seems that off the ball R2 has been set up as some sort of Roy Keane button - when pressed, you lunge two footed into the player with the ball, earning yourself a red card. When on the ball, it seems that R2 is the Michael Owen dive button (controversial!- Sub Ed). Just to test the theory, I kept using this till the match was abandoned, and most of my team were on the bench. In exhibition mode you can play whoever you want, so you can match Arsenal against England, or in my case, the notorious West Ham against Bolivia (0-2).

It did seem stupidly easy to get sent off, and even the mild sliding tackle became risky - yes, I can see that realism is the aim here, but it’s only a game. We must concede that some fans may want the game to be this hard though. The running did seem a little slow at times. When performing a bit of fancy-footery, I got the sense that the player was stumbling around like a drunkard. It didn’t really matter, but it did seem to be a slow point of the game, turning and faking like Benali rather than Ronaldhino. The graphics are rather good - the pronounced forehead of Rooney is there. I don’t know whether they can predict the changing haircuts of Beckham, but you can pretty much tell who the players are.

The replays come and go smoothly, and graphically, TIF2004 has a polished feel to it. It also does what people want out of a football game - it supports multiple players, up to 8 with a multitap, as well as network play, so you don’t even have to invite friends to your house, or for that matter, you don’t even have to have friends.

The transfer market is perhaps the greatest new feature, allowing you to add players to your team - although, this is supposed to be a playing sim and not a management sim, so if you are no good, then being no good with Ronaldo is no real benefit. Some people will love this added dimension, some just want to play football (indoors, on their own, like a fat git).

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To recap

Much like football teams themselves, each game has its own legion of fans, so at least there’s choice in the market- rent all of them.

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Writing by Chris Hall.