The New Star Soccer 5 Beta Is Killing My Productivity

In the history of all video / computer games that I have played, my list of “perfect 10” games is pretty slim. These are games that I could play for hours on end. If I play a game for what seems like 15 minutes, but really 5 hours have passed, then it fits in this category. For a game to be perfect for me I have to actually forget where I am or what time it is while playing. It has been several years since I have played a game like this as adult time constraints have really put a damper on my game playing

For the record (and off the top of my head), here are a few games that I consider perfect for me:

1. Asteroids (Arcade, 2600, and 7800 versions along with Megaroids for the Atari ST)

2. Star Castle (Arcade and Vectrex versions)

3. Galaga (Arcade and 7800 versions)

4. Space Duel (Arcade)

5. Food Fight (Arcade and 7800 versions)

6. Dragon Stomper (Atari 2600 Supercharger)

7. Excalibur (Atari 800)

8. Zepplin (Atari 800)

9. Phantasie I (Atari ST)

10. Kick Off Player Manager (Atari ST)

11. Dune 2 (PC DOS).

12. Wolfenstein 3-D (PC DOS)

13. System Shock II (Windows 98)

14. Tony Hark PS (PSX)

15. Medal of Honor (PSX)

16. Halflife (Windows XP)

17. Bookworm Adventures (Windows XP / Windows 7)

18. Baldur’s Gate Dark Alliance (PS2)

19. New Star Soccer 3 (Windows XP)

The last one is probably my favorite game of the last 5 years. I started playing NSS3 just after my first son was born and it was the absolute best arcade/rpg I had played in a long time. Yes it was a soccer game, and I am one of those few Americans who played as a kid in the 70’s and never lost my love for the game. I have followed all of the local pro teams and USA national teams through thick and thin for last 30 years.  I even had some very minor league glory on the pitch a few times. Most notably, I scored the winning goal against a fearsome team (at least to a scared, middle-aged, white suburban dude) called Latino United in  my final rec-league season in 2003 (that story for another time).   The cool thing though is the New Star Soccer is so good, you don’t need to be a soccer obsessed freak like me to want to play it over and over and over again.

NSS3 was an indie Blitz Basic creation by New Star Games with very average visuals but style and playability unmatched by any other game I had played up to that point (well, matched by the other 18 games on that list above I guess). I was able to take my young 8bitjeff player from the LA Galaxy all the way to Barcelona, become player of the year, and win world cup glory for the USA. You started out the game as a training squad player in a regional league and had to make it to the big time by playing well, training, getting the right sponsors, and ultimately getting transferred to  the large clubs in Europe.

A couple years back, New Star Games released NSS4 (this time with a native Mac version as well as PC version) and while it was much improved visually and fun to play, it was just too difficult for me to be a success.  The Match engine was great and I found myself scoring lots of goals, but  the big European transfers never materialized. So, I shelved it after playing constantly for 6 months and eagerly awaited what New Star had in store for version 5.

NSS5 has now arrived in Beta form. If you pre-pay $15.00 now, you get the finished game for at $5.00 discount off the normal $20.00 price ( available in roughly mid-August) but can play the beta now. I paid and downloaded it  for the first time last night at 10:00 PM and suddenly it was 4:00 AM and I had just finished my second season with the Galaxy scoring goals in bunches and getting attention (at least from MLS teams) as a transfer target.

The new version has been beautifully put together by Simon Read (the genius behind New Star Games). In past versions the players on each team were made up of thinly veiled and re-named real-world players. This time around, the players are all actually people who are playing NSS5 world-wide. This isn’t a giant multi-player game in the real-time sense, but in a stats sense. Every time you play, your player stats are updated and you are used in everyone’s games across the world. So, right now there are about 1000 people playing the Beta and 3 others are members of the Galaxy. I can see their value go up and then in  my game as they play and progress.   They also have taken the forward spots on the team, so I chose my actual re-world favorite position (left-attacking mid) so I could have them on the pitch with me.

So far, the game looks and plays awesome. The match engine lets you use either a complicated multi-button control system or a very simplified (Anco / Sensible) style with a single button.   The game is very involved and very much a classic RPG (if you consider weekly matches to be  like traditional Ogre battles) in the sense of training stats and a long-term character and career.  You can do as much off the pitch as on – go gambling with friends, sign autographs, go on dates, go shopping, etc. These activities help your happiness, but use up your energy. That, combined with travel and game fatigue force you to make some decisions on how best to spend your time and money – do you buy two energy drinks that will improve short-term pace, but might give you stomach cramps in the game or  do you buy a personal movie video player to watch, relax and get energy back before the match? The sheer number of variables that have been put into the game to replicate the real-world life on and off pitch for a professional athlete are astounding.

Even with all of the off-field things you can do, this would be no better than a soccer version of Lemonade Stand if playing the matches wasn’t such a fucking awesome blast. The AI of your team and the simplified controls are superb. Every time you tackle, complete a pass, get an assist, or score you are given a message that indicates your player rating for the game is going up. In-game,  if your team-mates are pissed at you for shooting too much or not passing (or even not going gambling with them), you might not get a pass in return.

The game-engine is so fun and easy with the single-button mode that old guys like me no longer can complain that the computer has it easier because it doesn’t have to remember button combinations …now, neither do you.

When a match is complete you are given full match and personal stats as well as a player rating from the newspaper and an assessment from the team manager.  Needless to say, everything about the game makes you want to keep playing and playing.

That being said, there is just  enough time right now for a quick lunch and a match against Chivas USA before I have to get back to work. I encourage anyone who is a fan of footie, soccer, sports games, or even RPGs to give this wonderful game a try. Fear though that you might get hooked.

In the mean time, check out the official game trailer video:


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