The Football Playbook Review (PC)
he Football Playbook is, for lack of a better description, good geeky fun for soccer nerds.
You know how sometimes, when playing FIFA or PES for just an hour too long, your mind goes on cruise control and every attack follows the same pattern? The Football Playbook can be a good, if rather temporary, cure for that ailment.
The concept behind the game is quite simple: You get presented various scenarios from a 2D viewpoint, and your task is to pass the ball from your keeper to your striker for a goal, while avoiding the opposition’s efforts to win possession.
It’s an interesting concept that makes you wonder why it took until now for somebody to create a game like this. It’s a simple and fun way to learn about how to create space, which is one of the most fundamental philosophies in the game. Essentially, in every scenario, you plan your attack according to how the players are positioned on the pitch, and then react depending on they way the defense mark your players. At its best, The Football Playbook is very satisfying, and can make you feel like you can manage Barcelona, after you've just broke through what looks to be an impenetrable defensive setup.
But there are several flaws that keep the good game from being a great one, the biggest being that passing is done by clicking on the intended receiver with your mouse. Ordinarily, it’s not a big problem, but for more intricate sequences that you have to pull off at higher levels, where you’re also responsible for manually activating certain runs by — wait for it — clicking on a different part of the pitch. At times it can feel more like a game of reflex than one of intelligence. In fact, one can perhaps make the argument that this game is more suited to tablets than on a PC.
The other flaw is that, while the defenders do a realistic job at marking players and covering spaces, most of your team’s players, save for the few point-A-to-point-B type pre-programmed runs, are static. While it may be a tad wishful thinking to have them all moving dynamically, it would’ve at least been helpful if your team’s players can, say, actively come to receive the ball. Also, after you’ve triggered a striker’s runs, there are times when he is way offside, and you can still play the ball onto him to score.
Speaking of scoring, there are plenty of solutions to each scenario. You can certainly try tiki-taka, or you can go a more direct route. I’ve found that, in several scenarios, either way works. However, sometimes, it feels more like trying to beat the system — and the programming behind it — instead of beating the tactics. For example, rather than passing the ball around and sucking defenders out of position, the solution to one particularly pesky scenario was to play a long through ball, knowing that the defender was going to go a certain way (after some trial and error) and miss his interception.
Ultimately, instead of viewing this game as a tactical masterclass, it may be better, and more fun, to see it as a collection of soccer themed puzzles to be solved. It’s still a game first and foremost, and while it’s not realistic in some respects, it’s still fun, and that’s ultimately what matters.
For an indie title, the presentation in the game is quite sleek. No, there are no 3D elements of any kind, and you won’t confuse this for a big budget production, but the slick looking menus and the crowd noises can help add just a touch of immersion.
On the pitch, 2D circles of different colors represent the players and teams (similar to Football Manager's 2D matches) while individual runs are indicated with arrows and dotted lines. On the whole, they do a good job in conveying all the information you need to know without causing too much confusion.
While there aren’t an abundance of scenarios (42 of them in total excluding the tutorial, which sounds like a lot until you realize that most of them take around three to five minutes to complete), the lasting appeal of the game is enhanced if you decide to go back for a replay them and try a different tactic. This is not a sit down and play game, but rather one you can continually return to for a quick break, because of its bite sized structure — which again, raises the question as to whether the game is better suited as a tablet release.
The Football Playbook is a fun little game. Certainly it has its flaws — lack of teammate movement, the sometimes whack-a-mole like nature of the control scheme, and the occasional scenario where the solutions feel somewhat arbitrary. But at the end of the day, it’s still a fun puzzle game for you to spend a bit of your spare time on. It’s certainly worth a punt for those interested in the geekier side of the sport.
Learning Curve: If you know some basic soccer principles, most of it comes easy. But during the more difficult levels, your mettle will still be tested.
Control Scheme: Pointing and clicking, which at times it can feel a little cumbersome.
Visuals: Sleek and stylized. No 3D graphics or anything, but gets the job done.
Audio: Crowd noises. Helps with the immersion and atmosphere a bit.
Score: 6.5 (Above Average)