Ah, soccer. If ever there was a world sport, it is this one. Played by just about everyone, it's a game that requires nothing more than a ball/kickable object, and some goal markers. No expensive equipment is required, but despite this, it can be played to an insanely high level, with a tactical depth that rivals that of generals in a war, and more drama than the complete works of Shakespeare.
Transferring all of these different elements of the sport to video games is a tricky proposition, but sometimes, games just nail it. Here are our ten favorite soccer games ever. A quick note: We're just going to include one entry per series.
10 Actua Soccer
Developed by Sheffield-based team Gremlins Interactive, Actua Soccer was one of the most well-rounded soccer games ever, when it was released in 1995. For the first time in a home-console football game, there was a fully-3D graphics engine. Its gameplay was superb, featuring deep strategy and fantastic visuals, but perhaps most interestingly of all, it actually featured motion capture technology.
Three players from Sheffield Wednesday - Chris Woods, Graham Hyde, and Andy Sinton - were brought in for just such a purpose. A very cool little game, all things considered.
9 Virtua Striker
Little-remembered these days, Virtua Striker, from the developers of Daytona USA and Virtua Fighter, is hugely important in the history of soccer games. It was the first soccer game ever to use 3D player models, and boy did we love it.
The arcade version had you competing in a tournament, alongside 16 other teams, desperately trying to make it through to the final. It wasn't complex, by any means, but it was incredible fun, and for those who'd grown up with top-down soccer games, incredibly realistic.
8 New Star Soccer
It's rare for a soccer game to be truly original, and yet New Star Soccer manages it. As you might be able to imagine from the title, New Star sees you create a footballer and play with them, dragging them up the rungs of the footballing ladder, while trying not to get in too much trouble along the way.
A bizarre, but compelling mix of RPG and sports sim, it's well worth a look, particularly as its a phone game.
7 Kick Off 2
You know a game is good when nearly 30 years after its release, there are still annual tournaments held with it. Kick Off 2 is often held up as one of the finest soccer games ever made, and it's hard to argue with that. The game's graphics haven't aged well, but its gameplay is still sharp after all these years.
It's hard, but that's how a sports game should be, and when you can pull off sweet moves at the game's breakneck pace, you start to feel less like a mess and more like Messi. There are a huge variety of shots available, despite being played on a one-button joystick. It's still well worth playing today if you want a blast from the past.
6 Head-On Soccer/Fever Pitch Soccer
This game was absolutely barking mad. Taking a slapstick approach to soccer, teams could play super dirtily, or cleanly, depending on the squad. Each player also had access to special abilities, such as being able to dive to attempt to win a spot kick.
You could take your pick from 51 national sides, and compete with up to four friends. Its mechanics would be imitated in RedCard, which came out in 2002, but it would never be equaled.
5 World Cup 98
The first World Cup game developed by EA, World Cup 98 showed us what sports games could be. The fact that every one of the French stadia got its own little cinematic intro, along with the 3D player graphics and accurate national kits, it was revolutionary at the time.
The voice overs in the UK version of the game were star-studded, with commentary from John Motson and Chris Waddle, and match introductions by Des Lynam and Gary Lineker. It hasn't aged all that well, but it was the first of its kind and deserves recognition.
4 Pro Evolution Soccer/Winning Eleven
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. If you grew up in the early 2000s, PES was the de facto football game for all true fans. Despite having some incredibly silly club names to get around licensing (ST Red for Stoke City, or West Midlands Village for Aston Villa, anyone?), it was incredibly tight, realistic, and challenging. That all changed when FIFA caught up.
Thanks to FIFA's essential monopoly on licenses, the incredible phenomenon of "Ultimate Team," and countless improvements in gameplay, it can't keep up. Regardless, Pro Evo will always have a special place in my heart.
The de facto king of modern football games, the FIFA series deserves its place this far up the list. Obviously, the gameplay is superb and gets continually refined every year, but it's more than that. The massive selection of modes, from "The Journey" to "House Rules" and "Ultimate Team," provide near endless replay value.
The graphics are fantastic, while the multitude of licenses keeps the game as real as can be. If you want the best-looking, most developed soccer game, you go to FIFA.
2 Football Manager
The Football Manager series is where soccer gets very serious, indeed. The tactical depth available to coaches is absolutely bananas, letting you create your own tactics and prove yourself to be a revolutionary footballing mind or a total fool. The squad dynamics modeling means that if you upset too many players you're risking your job.
The detail goes all the way down to pitch condition at tiny, minor league grounds. If you want to take the Metropolitan Police's team from the Southern League Premier Division South all the way to the Premier League, you can! Set training schedules, hire and fire staff, scout players, arrange friendlies, negotiate with the chairman, there is essentially nothing that you can't do in these games.
1 Sensible Soccer
From serious to sensible, Sensible Soccer is still a fantastic game to this day, and, in our view, the greatest soccer game ever made. It's accessible, with ludicrously simple controls, yet a massive amount of depth. The gameplay is tense, yet hilarious. You fly around the pitch, and slide tackling is brutal!
The shooting mechanics are absolutely wonderful, including an aftertouch mechanic that, once mastered, will be your best friend. What makes it so truly wonderful is its simplicity. There aren't any complexities. No distractions. Just pure soccer.