Lords of Football (soccer for our trans-Atlantic readers) is a very unusual game. All the while I was playing it I had this slightly uneasy feeling, a sense that something was strange, a bit out of place. In fact, it took me some time to really put my finger on why that was, but eventually I think I did.
Lords of Football feels odd because it is, in fact, pretty damn odd. While possibly not as profound a statement as I might have hoped, it is nevertheless true. It’s an unusual mix of games, an amalgamation of different genres to make what is a hitherto unseen type of game.
But I get ahead of myself! ‘What is Lords of Football?’ I hear you cry, in my mind. Well, at its base level it’s a Football (soccer) management simulator in the mould of the Football Manager and Championship Managers of this world. You pick a club and take over its management, setting the team’s tactics, training regimes and such like during the non-game days and then can either manage the matches on game days or, if you prefer, just simulate them; pretty much as you would expect from your management simulation games.
However, the twist in this so far fairly pedestrian tale is that you don’t just play a normal football manager. Oh no no no, that would be far too mundane. In Lords of Football, as you may have deduced from the name, you play as an honest to goodness deity. You are a god in the sporting world of Lords of Football. Omniscient and omnipotent, you quite literally control the lives of all your players, even to the extent of controlling where they go moment to moment. No really, I mean you can literally manifest a floating hand and pluck the players from the ground and whoosh them over to wherever you want them to be, then dump them unceremoniously in your place of choice. Those of you who have played old Lionhead Studios’ favourite god-em-up Black & White will have a gist of how the game feels.
At first this feels all a bit out of place in a sports game, especially a management simulation, which is a genre usually defined by a focus on realism and, dare I say it, more structured and un-flashy design. This being the case, fantastical features like floating disembodied god hands make for an odd juxtaposition with the more familiar football themes. The thing is, though, once your brain accepts that this can work together, that’s exactly what it does. The god mechanics work very well with the role of football club manager and adds a new dimension to the standard paradigm, something that is welcome in a fairly set-in-its-ways genre.
The actual game is less statistics-focussed than its established rivals like Football Manager 2013. While that game and Championship Manager focus on tactics, stats, finances and game-day experience, Lords of Football is focussed mainly on daily training regimes and the management of player personalities and behaviour, both during work hours and after hours. It’s here that the game takes on a feel akin to games like The Sims, but this time with around 22 absolute wasters to manage. Oh and make no mistake about it, they will be the most unlikable, reprehensible morons you have ever come across. As you begin the game, you’re introduced to the players one by one, with three keywords to describe their personality along with a quote from them on their life outlook. Maybe it was just my bad luck with the team I picked, but all of mine were people I would sooner punch than speak to! Nine of my players had ‘Conman’ as a character trait, which I see as bad. Several of them even had their life quote as ‘Sex is the only good part of a so-called relationship’. So, the developers have pretty much nailed their colours to the mast on their view of football players I think.
The design style is slick and pretty crisp, definitely a modern feel. While nothing to shout about in general, the graphics are a huge leap ahead of the other management luminaries, who have only recently made the foray into 3d engines. This gives the feel a disproportionately high tech feel compared to its peers.
The game does have a few niggles though. The tutorial is fairly limited, with the player having to work out all but the most basic activities and tasks themselves. In a fairly complex management simulator this is a pretty big omission, as the game lives and dies by how well you can familiarise the player with the tools at their disposal. Lords of Football has much that is fairly intuitive, but the more complex aspects of the game could definitely have done with a better explanation. In addition, the match-day experience is very stripped back. You can make substitutions and tweak tactics but other than that the only input you have is to tell a player to make a run or shoot etc… While this sounds like you have a degree of influence, in practice it tends to of limited practical use, with players often making their own choices by the time you’ve made your instruction.
These minor issues aside, Lords of Football is a fun and engaging title. It manages to mix a number of disparate genres together to add a new dimension to the fairly tired management simulation game type. While I don’t usually like to make the ‘If you liked X you’ll like Y’ type statement, in this case it probably rings true. If you’re a football fan who liked Black & While back in the day or like The Sims, the odds are you’ll rather enjoy Lords of Football and its unique take on the funny old game.
I still think it’s a shame you can’t use the giant floating hand in goal mind…
Paul Izod is a lifelong gamer. Since he was old enough to tap at his Dad's PC's keyboard he's been a gamer. Dedicated and often opinionated, you can be sure he'll always have something interesting to say about the subject at hand. Find him on Twitter at @PaulIzod or @FaultyPixelUK or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org