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KICK OFF 96 REVIEW - July 1996

"Liberty is a bitch who must be bedded on a mattress of corpses" - Louis-Antoine St. Just, Year II.

Scene: A dingy corner of a run-down office, viewed through a telephoto lens from a building some distance away. Some figures can be seen huddled around a flickering screen, occasionally gesturing or scribbling on a small notepad. Suddenly the silent whiteout explosion of a flash grenade momentarily obliterates the view. The confused figures have no time to gather their thoughts before they are rushed by a team of body-armoured assault troops with mirror-visored helmets. Black hoods are jammed roughly over their heads and they are bundled out of the room. Barely seven seconds have passed.

Scene: A shabby, hastily-adapted courtroom. A hooded and handcuffed figure is led in, to jeering from an unsightly crowd of fat, sweaty young men in Iron Maiden t-shirts who entirely occupy the public gallery. The figure is shoved into the dock, whereupon an official removes the hood, revealing the defendant as Stuart Campbell, videogame journalist. The jeering intensifies as the defendant looks around in disgust. The judge takes his seat. He is the First Cyclist.

FIRST CYCLIST: You are charged that from the 19th of January 1991 to the 20th August 1996, you did wilfully participate in a conspiracy with other members of the magazine AMIGA POWER to unlawfully murder the popular home computer the Amiga. Furthermore, you are charged that during this time you did deliberately and with malice aforethought attempt to facilitate this aim by unfairly maligning the reputations of those concerned with supporting said machine, to wit, software publishers. This offence carries the death penalty. How do you plead?

SC: Not guilty, bignose.

FIRST CYCLIST: You will address the bench as "Your honour".

SC: Bignose, your honour, whatever.

FIRST CYCLIST: Counsel for the prosecution, you may cross-examine the witness.

(The prosecution counsel steps up to the dock. He is the Second Cyclist.)

SECOND CYCLIST: It is true, is it not, that the Amiga is dead?

SC: Very much so. Only a deluded fool would claim otherwise.

SECOND CYCLIST: And it is also true, is it not, that this was not a death of natural causes?

SC: Certainly. What with the AGA chipset and the death of all the competition, it could easily have had at least another couple of good years left in it.

SECOND CYCLIST: If you hadn't murdered it.

SC: We didn't murder the Amiga, we tried to save it. We tried to make it an oasis in the 'interactive entertainment' desert, the last bastion of true, pure gameplay, affordable to the masses. Look at our Ultimate All-Time Top 100 - where other machines' charts are full of endless monotonous beat-'em-ups and driving games, the Amiga's best games are a world of diversity and innovation unseen since the days of the 8-bits.

From the dizzying platforms of Blob to the steampunk teamplay of The Chaos Engine, to the shining brutality of Speedball 2, to the inspirational weirdness of Wizkid, to the brainwrenching beauty of Gem'X, to the relentless intensity of Banshee, to the superfast future madness of Projectyle, to the steely discipline of E-Motion, to the pioneering spirit of Knights Of The Sky, to the masterful strategy of Sabre Team A1200, to the pinpoint realism of F1 GP, to the poignant carnage of Cannon Fodder, to the sheer gameplay genius of SWOS... these are the games we championed when others were content to acclaim shabby reheats of tired genre pieces and clones of earlier successes.

The Amiga, even the A1200 could never compete on level ground with the 16-bit consoles on their own territory, far less the next generation machines (check out any of the Street Fighter games for conclusive proof) - we tried to make it strong on its own terms, to carve it a place in the world of videogaming where pure design skill could be showcased and triumph in a way that it never can in the slow-moving, stiflingly cautious, corporately-restricted world of the consoles. And on a platform which people could actually afford to buy without selling a new organ every two months, unlike the PC.

SECOND CYCLIST: And you did this by, what, giving more marks under 20% than any magazine in the history of leisure computing?

SC: Giving something like SWOS 95% is utterly devalued if you also give, for example, Rise Of The Robots 92%. Percentage ratings are meaningless unless you use the full range, and you can't give credit where it's due if you're pretending that everything's good. What encouragement does that give developers to produce quality? They might as well knock it out at half the cost and in a third of the time if they're only going to get another 3% for doing it properly. Of course, the market will die much faster if people get continually stiffed by crap games, but hey - there's always another machine to move to and start the cycle again.

SECOND CYCLIST: But everyone else marks from 65% up - it's what the punters expect. You're just confusing them.

SC: And if everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you do it too?

SECOND CYCLIST: I'll ask the questions here. So if you didn't kill the Amiga, who did?

SC: Cripes, how much time have you got?


SC: Blimey, keep your cape on. Lots of people are responsible for the death of the Amiga, to one degree or another. You've got the mainstream media, who wouldn't put the Amiga on TV because it's graphics weren't impressive enough (the reason why you never saw Sensible Soccer on Gamesmaster, for example, despite it being an obvious challenge game and one of the best-selling computer games of all-time on any format). You've got the idiot public, who fell for hype over gameplay time after time after time - Rise Of The Robots heavily outsold Dynablaster, Guardian, Exile, Gloom, Super Stardust, Zeewolf, Head Over Heels, Banshee and Wizkid put together, for example.

You've got Amiga owners themselves, who seemed determined to jam themselves irretractably into a scabby little ghetto of football management games and flight sims - Airbus A320, for Christ's sake! You've got the games industry in general, which decided two-and-a-half years ago to kill the Amiga off for not being profitable enough - we've still got the minutes of the 1994 industry summit in the office for proof. But most of all, more than anyone, you've got the developers who produced utter, utter shit like Kick Off 96.

FIRST CYCLIST: The defendant will moderate his language in court!

SC: Or what? You'll shoot me?

(There is jeering in the court, and a sudden barrage of rotten fruit appears from nowhere and is hurled at the dock by the crowd. Court officials attempt to restore calm, without success.)

FIRST CYCLIST: The court will adjourn for ten minutes.

(Scene: an anteroom of the court. The First Cyclist sits at a desk covered in papers, while the Second Cyclist stands at the opposite side, leaning against the desk edge. Appearing in shot from the far end of the room is the Third Cyclist.)

THIRD CYCLIST: Okay, it's going according to plan so far. Keep it up.

SECOND CYCLIST: I still don't understand. Aren't we supposed to be on the side of The Truth? Are we really going to kill them all?

THIRD CYCLIST: Look, I know it's weird, but trust me. There are forces at work here that even beings as mighty as we cannot hope to comprehend. The AP team knew what they were taking on - perhaps, in another time and another place, they will come to understand why they had to be sacrificed. For now, comrades, we must simply perform our appointed task, as does our brother elsewhere. Let the trial continue.

(Scene: back in the courtroom. Order reigns once more.)

SECOND CYCLIST: Explain yourself.

SC: Look, everyone knows that crap games are what kill machines. Look at the Jaguar, or the Lynx, the Game Gear or even the 3DO - capable machines all, but destroyed by a lack of good software. And in the quiet shade of the Amiga market, software publishers have committed crimes greater than those seen anywhere else (just look at last month's reviews - the average for the issue was 7%). Kick Off 96 is only the worst.

SECOND CYCLIST: Come off it. Everyone knows you just hate Kick Off.

SC: True, but even Kick Off fans are being ripped off this time. Many of the flaws are just the same ones present all through the series (ridiculous control, over-close view, three sound effects, insulting lack of attention to detail, teams playing in entirely the wrong colours - I mean, how hard is that to get right?), but there are a whole series of new ones here, including outright lies on the box (there is no 3D view in the Amiga version), and one which effectively renders the entire game literally unplayable.

There seems, then, little point in expanding very much on the rest (even, for example, the one that lets the game clock tick down continually while it waits for you to take a free kick, goal kick etc, although you can wait all day if you like without the kick being taken automatically. So, even if the injury-time bug wasn't present, you could win every game by simply getting a goal ahead, then getting a goal kick and waiting. It's like International Rugby Challenge never happened).

SECOND CYCLIST: And this flaw is?

SC: The fact that in about 95% of the games you play, FIRST HALF INJURY TIME GOES ON FOREVER. At least, I think it's forever - the longest I ever tested for was four hours, but it wasn't showing any signs of stopping. You NEVER GET TO HALF TIME, which means, obviously, that you NEVER GET TO FINISH A GAME, which means, obviously, that all the league, cup and European Championships options, the creation of the 'Dream Teams', the four different passing styles catering for up to four-button joysticks and the 10,000 sets of real player statistics are a COMPLETE WASTE OF TIME.

This happened on every machine we ran the game on, in all competitions, using the finished, boxed version of the game. It's LITERALLY UNPLAYABLE, as would have been obvious to the most cursory playtesting imaginable, and it's been stuck into the shops anyway. THAT'S HOW MUCH ANCO THINK OF YOU. Would that it was only them.

SECOND CYCLIST: Yeah, but, at the end of the day, who cares what you think about anything? No further questions, your honour.

FIRST CYCLIST: Counsel for the defence.

(The defence counsel rises briefly to his feet. He is the Third Cyclist.)

THIRD CYCLIST: No questions, your honour.

SC: Well, thanks for the spirited defence, I must say.

FIRST CYCLIST: Very well. The court finds the defendant guilty on all charges. I shall now pass sentence.

(Puts black cap on over his black Cyclist's cape and hood. The effect is minimal.)

FIRST CYCLIST: For the crime of killing the Amiga, I hereby sentence you to death by firing squad. Sentence will be carried out immediately.

(The defendant is dragged off to a room immediately adjoining the court. It is a tatty room, and bullet holes pockmark the walls. He is unceremoniously tied to a chair and blindfolded, and the rifles of the firing squad appear through slits in a large black tarpaulin draped from the ceiling. There is a momentary hush as a sergeant-at-arms raises his stick into the air, and a deafening fusillade as he snaps it downwards. Blood seeps through the defendant's AP t-shirt.)

SC: (coughs)... is that the best you can do?

(The sergeant-at-arms' stick rises and falls again. There is another burst of fire. This time, there is only silence). 



UPPERS It's a shabby rip-off aimed at separating desperate and gullible Amiga owners from their money. It's riddled with bugs, it's clearly been rushed out with the absolute minimum of effort, and the fact that there are still people out there stupid enough to buy it because of the name, or because they think "Well it's AMIGA POWER, they *would* say that", who'll then have 20 quid less to spend on food, rent and heating, possibly leading to their death from starvation or hypothermia and a subsequent microscopic increase in the world's average IQ, is the only reason it's getting any marks at all.

DOWNERS The fact that those responsible for it are still alive and free to walk the streets.

THE BOTTOM LINE Fittingly, the worst game in AP's history, on the grounds that you simply can't play it. At least Rise Of The Robots and International Rugby Challenge basically *worked*. (As I write, first half injury time in Germany vs the Czech Republic has been going on for two and a half hours (real time), and shows no signs of reaching an end, with the scores tightly poised at 75-0 to the Czechs.) If you buy it, or if you had any part in its development, I hope a hideous tropical disease renders you eternally sterile, incapable of infecting the future of the world with your failed and worthless genes.



No, really.

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