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Sunday 18th April, 2021

Bizarre Thought for the Week, w/c 20th March 2006
Tony Dobson

Hi all,
I thought I'd do something a little bit different this week. Following a trip to see Neil Taylor this past weekend I thought I'd review a few of the computer games we enjoyed together.

(At this point you might want to forget that Neil and I are both in our early thirties and have University degrees. Back to the thought.)

Now Neil and I aren't the sort of people who go hyper when a new game is released, rush down to the nearest computing store and hand over ?30-?40 for a new game (although I admit I made an exception when I let Lorraine buy Madden 2004 for me for Christmas one year), so instead of a review of new games consider this a list of games that have stood the test of time.

NHL 2003
There is something peculiar about Ice Hockey, that even if people don't seem to greatly enjoy it as a sport they seem to enjoy it as a computer game. Neil and I actually like it as a sport, and have played each other at various editions of the EA Sports NHL series going back to the NHL '99 version of the game.

While Neil and I don't rush out to get current games we don't agree on our favoured version of the NHL series. I prefer NHL 2004, as I find it smoother, more polished, designed for a dual stick controller and (most importantly) it doesn't have the Judas known as Paul Kariya on the roster for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. Neil prefers NHL 2003, which at least allows me the enjoyment of seeing Neil getting kicked out of the face-off circle (a sad omission from NHL 2004).

After years of play we've fairly well got the routine down for close matchups, and so it proved again on this occasion, as I won a best-of-three series with two 1-0 victories.

Best points: Fluid movement of players, authentic sounds (especially when a shot hits the post), addictive gameplay, comedy commentary.
Bad points: Decent fighting and the ability to get kicked out of the face-off circle don't exist in NHL 2004.

FIFA 2005
Here I must admit that I rarely play my version of FIFA 2004 any more, having been bludgeoned into trying Pro Evolution 4 and finding it far more enjoyable and easy to get into.

However I did find FIFA 2005 to be quite a big improvement on the previous year's version. The menus are much better, the options are much better and the game seems a lot easier to play.

For Neil and I though the main selling point of the FIFA series in recent years is probably the exact same thing which annoys so many people: the commentary. As in FIFA 2004 it is provided by John Motson and Ally McCoist, who provide a number of comments which are repeated over and over and over again, usually in the wrong context.

Neil and I really became fans of this when we played a multitude of games the night before the Palace-Norwich fixture last year. Because of this we became overly familiar with the line, "And alongside me today, he scored 355 goals in 581 appearances for Rangers, it's Ally McCoist!" I think Neil and I have quoted this line 355 times in the 581 occasions we have spoken to each other since.

On that same night we decided to predict the result of the next day's game by playing it out on FIFA. It is set to become tradition, with me always playing the side visiting Palace. On this occasion Palace (Neil) beat Ipswich (me) 6-0, only slighly out from the eventual 2-2 that would take place the following afternoon.

During Neil's 6-0 annihilation of me though we did hear that the commentary hasn't improved. At one point I made a mess of defending a corner, leading to Neil scoring a tap-in from about two yards out. "That's world class finishing!" shrieked McCoist. Right you are, Ally. Later on, after Neil had happily setup Andy Johnson to score for what would have been the striker's fifth goal in the game Neil appeared to be sympathetic towards me and actually missed one. "Oh, he's missed another one," uttered McCoist. "I hope he's got broad shoulders." Yes, you barely miss a chance when you're 5-0 up having scored four already, I'm sure you'd be really worried about being dropped for the next game.

Perhaps the best example of this though came later on in the weekend, as Neil and I carried out our own Old Firm matchup. Neil hit a shot in which my goalkeeper caught, only Motty's eyes were betraying him. "Oh, he's tipped it over!" Okay, if you say so Motty.

On this particular weekend Neil was the one doing most of the scoring, walloping me by at least three goals on most occasions. While he made Sunday lunch I started a one player game, in which I also struggled. It turns out that Neil plays this game several levels higher than me. I think this is where I should make an excuse about having a wife and baby daughter, but I won't.

Incidentally I did win two games on penalties. But then if Neil isn't going to hide his gamepad when aiming his penalties my goalkeeper will go the right way and save them.

Best points: Comedy commentary, professional fouls on the mickey-taking Mr Taylor's players.
Worst points: Comedy commentary, yellow and red cards for professional fouls on the mickey-taking Mr Taylor's players.

Neil has a great knack for finding really enjoyable games in bargain bins, and this game perfectly highlight's that talent in my view. He first showed me this game about a year ago, and fired it up without little explanation of what it was about except to say "That's your accelerator, that's your brake, and it is left and right to steer." Soon enough I was familiar with the warnings, "SEVERE DRIVING ERROR" and "EXTREME DRIVING ERROR".

Since then I've learned a lot more about it, in that it revolves around racing laps against an opponent with various cars (from fairly slow jeeps to a McLaren Formula 1 car) over various terrains. I've got to be honest and say that most of the game's menus are a mystery to me, but Neil seems to handle that with ease along with importing music into the game.

Over the last weekend Neil and I decided to play the game in Championship mode, which resulted in lots of amusement, starting with me landing Neil with one of the aforementioned jeeps, continuing with me plunging my car down a mountainous valley and carrying on with the quirk in the game which somehow ended up with Neil being listed as Steve. Needless to say I found that particularly funny, leading to conversations like this:

Me: "Which car are we driving this time Steve?"
Neil: "Stop calling me Steve!"
Me: "Sorry, Steve."

Can I find this game anywhere now? Of course I can't. As soon as I finish writing this instalment I'll be straight over to eBay to see if I can find a copy.

Best points: Great choice of cars, circuits. Big fun element, quirky backdrops (especially on tracks in Nevada).
Worst points: Does the championship mode ever finish? And who on earth is Steve?

Have a good week!

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