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Codemasters' Club Football series brings a wealth of team-specific detail and in-depth action for the most fanatical follower of the beautiful game. Everything in each individual game is officially licensed from the club whose name is on the sleeve - the first-team squad, the kits, the manager, the stadium - the lot. Budding Di Canios, Ronaldos and Jimmy Floyds can even put themselves in the game and compete for a first team place, complete with their name and number on the shirt.
Any fan of the clubs featured in the Club Football series will be treated to enough personalised detail as they can handle. The red and white colour schemes are present and correct in the Arsenal, Liverpool and Ajax incarnations; Aston Villa gets claret and blue all to itself; and the green and white Super Hoops of Celtic are instantly recognisable, as are all the other teams represented from the FMV and main menus onward.
You know how some contemporary football games have a handful of the most well known players likenesses featured? Well, the Club Football series has them all. Every player - and we mean every single one of them - resembles the real thing, right down to Beckham's two-tiered ponytail in the Real Madrid game, and the curious mix of ginger and grey receding hairline that is Celtic's John Hartson. You'll get to the point where you're grabbing a non-football fan's arm to get them in front of the telly to convince them that yes, it really does look like Luis Figo! It's most impressive, and during the TV-style cut-scenes, you get close enough to see the work that's been put in. Score a spectacular goal and even the manager on the sidelines will come into view, looking uncannily - you guessed it - like the real thing. Gamers can replay crucial moments and spectacular goals after the fact, and also control the camera view, even being able to zoom in and see the players close up. A contentious decision from the referee, or a last minute glory goal (or the disappointment of conceding one) is reflected wonderfully in the reaction and body language of your players. They'll look chuffed to bits if they win, and like it's the end of the world if they lose out.
From the main game menu, you can get straight into leading your club into a Domestic Season, Super League, or Quick Start Match.
The Domestic Season consists of a League or a Knockout competition, played over a full season or half a season, as you take on teams from the top two divisions. As the season progresses, Club Football provides a weekly summary of team and player statistics for you to review.
Super League offers international club football played in two group stages made up of 12 teams, followed by a knockout stage. Whether playing home or away games, every match takes place in the official stadium of the host club, complete with licensed branding and sponsors, and of course, recognisable footballers and managers. Team and player stats are a feature of this mode too. The Quick Start mode delivers a single friendly match at your home stadium, playing against one of the other headline teams.
Beyond the main game modes, there are Trophy Room and Custom Mode options. In the Trophy Room, you can access the club's history and player profiles. Success in Club Football is rewarded with bonus items of memorabilia, including club-specific film clips and photographs to collect. Replays of your team's finest moments on the pitch are also saved in the Trophy Room.
The Custom Modes allow for you to play fantasy football, creating exhibition matches and custom competitions with any of the hundreds of clubs featured in the games. You can even create a team of fictional players, mess around with their facial hair, give them sticky-out ears and big noses, and call them daft names. We did. And qualities such as stamina, speed, passing and heading are yours to determine too.
When the Club Football series was first announced at the beginning of 2003, there were scant details available. What we can tell you now is that whether you're a fan of one of the 17 clubs with their name on the game or not, there's lots to enjoy. It's not a management sim as we first thought, but it's not just any old kickabout either. Football games don't often come along displaying this amount of dedication to detail, but more importantly, Codemasters has made Club Football hugely playable. The visuals are handsome, the controls are easy to get to grips with - as far as playability is concerned, the Club Football series is a classy outfit. Now it's just a question of which particular outfit suits you best.