Imagine a world in which neither FIFA 20 nor PES 2020 exist. You're right, it would save a whole load of Twitter arguing - but also result in a dearth of football games across console and PC. Which is why we've come up with this list of playable alternatives to the big two, for those who fancy a change of pace following an underwhelming year for the sports genre. These are the best 11 football games not called FIFA or PES.
Rocket League (PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch)
It's become an annual GR tradition that a selection of readers respond to our FIFA and PES reviews along the lines of ‘who cares? Rocket League is better than both’. That view is echoed across the internet, as addictions to Psyonix’s electric football-driving hybrid show no signs of being cured. Not that the afflicted would wish them to be. The League’s acrobatic, boost-powered online matches always deliver physics-defying goals and headset-dirtying swears, with one rule enduring above all others since its 2015 release: you never, ever, ever go to bed on a defeat.
Football Manager 2020 (PC)
The Old Lady of dugout sims – by which I mean she’s as fabled as Juventus, rather than an incontinent mess. To have never played Football Manager or ‘ChampMan’ is to have completely skipped your education in the sport, with the credentials of many a keyboard know-all (a term I use affectionately, as I am one) developed by a 2am just-one-more-game session. In its modern guise virtual social media feeds, sports scientists and endless data analysis can overwhelm the casual fan, but that’s where Football Manager Mobile comes in; a simplified iOS and Android equivalent that cutely harks back to the late ‘90s originals. It’s the one elite boss to have outlasted Alex Ferguson, which says all you need to know of its brilliance.
Not a sequel to Rockstar PS2 favourite Bully (AKA Canis Canem Edit) played from a teacher's perspective, but a PS VR game in which you do nothing other than head footballs towards goal. If that makes it sound like a shooting gallery tech demo then prepare to be very pleasantly surprised: elements involving crash test dummies, explosives and stuff you'd usually see at a Saturday night funfair shatter expectations, and deliver PS4's most unconventional football experience.
Football, Tactics & Glory (PC)
Management sim, turn-based strategy game and RPG all rolled into one? Don't mind if we do. You control every single action of every player both on and off the pitch, in a manner which wouldn't have felt out of place on Spectrum or C64 - but has many beautiful nuances, such as individual skill trees which gradually bond you to certain players before you've even realised it. Hey, all managers have favourites. Steam enables you to download a demo and try it for free, while the full version will set you back £19.49/$24.99.
Top Eleven (PC)
Now coming up to its 10th year, Top Eleven claims to be the most played online football-management sim ever; and while it can’t compete with Football Manager for depth, it’s easy to see why. This is free to play via your internet browser, and setting up matches against mates is as simple as signing in via Facebook. Curiously, though, it’s a game that prioritises training as much as it does tactics; the more time you spend putting your fictional squad through its paces in the build up to each fixture, the better your abilities – and your players' – become. Perhaps not a game for Man City fans, though, given that it’s emblazoned with Jose Mourinho’s face throughout.
Kick: Football Card Trader (Android, iOS)
The modern equivalent of collecting stickers to plug wonkily into a Panini album, without the threat of dropping your swaps all over the playground and triggering ‘scramble rules’. Three fun mini-games, the best of which pits sets of cards against one another Top-Trumps-style, offer ample opportunity to score coins which can then be reinvested in packs, while in-game currency is also earned by watching videos and downloading other suggested apps. A likeable twist on a longstanding fan tradition.
Super Arcade Football (PC)
A modern reinterpretation of top-down ‘90s classics such as Microprose Soccer, Kick Off, and Sensible Soccer. It’s not cheap at $9.99/£6.99, but the game knows its past and audience, delivering what it calls ‘Slow-Mo-Banana-Bending-Technology’, and is being constantly updated, with regular dev insights on its progress thanks to Steam's Early Access programme. Its ever-growing list of match modifiers keeps it fresh, too, with fixtures affected by the addition of bouncy walls and teleporters. All it’s missing is a console release. Fingers and toes crossed for 2019.
Puppet Soccer Champions (Android, iOS)
If, as a kid, you ever stood at one end of a pitch/playground/common playing ‘long shots’ against a mate this will cause happy memories to flood back. Played horizontally across a 2D pitch it’s you, as a comical representation of a real player, versus the AI, with four control buttons: left, right, jump, and kick. Its simplicity is its majesty; like Street Fighter it’s played against a clock counting down from 100, with whoever scores most goals in that time the winner. Power-up bubbles such as bigger balls and stronger kicks vary up matches smartly, and the later characters unlocked, including mega-headed versions of Wayne Rooney and David Beckham, reward extended play.
FootLOL: Epic Fail League (PC)
60 levels of “hilarious soccer chaos”, best suited to those who actively hate the sport – although footy fans with a sense of humour will enjoy this too. The object is still to score more goals than your AI, or online, opponent, but there are bigger obstacles to avoid than a bald-headed defender’s sharpened studs. Such as landmines, warplanes, oversized cows… it’s effectively side-on footy infused with elements of Worms. Five years after release you’d be mad to pay the full £9.99 for it, though: keep tabs until the next Steam sale and if its price drops, snap it up.
Legendary Eleven (Switch, PC)
Nintendo Switch isn't blessed with Messi-calibre football offerings, but this one is worth a pick-up if you can find it in a Boxing Day or Black Friday sale. It's a throwback in terms of both its attempt to mimic arcade footy games of the late 80s', and its teams list: long-defunct countries such as Yugoslavia and the USSR are still a thing. The 'super shot' power-up ability also nods smartly to Hot Shot Hamish from the Roy Of The Rovers comics, for those of a certain vintage. I've not listed it for PS4 and Xbox One, as those formats are inferior to their Switch and PC equivalents.
New Star Soccer (Android, iOS)
A superb mix of ‘Sensi’ elements – such as interactive top-down highlights, where you’re tasked with completing key passes or having shots at goal – and more unconventional RPG fare. Yes, I said RPG. Progress between matches requires the guzzling of energy drinks to stay healthy, investing in agents and trainers to help advance your career, and, like every Premier League prima donna, picking up garish boots that deliver extra swerve and other cool lifestyle items. What many don’t realise is that for all its recent success, NSS has been around since 2003; making it one of the wily old pros of this list.
Read all this but still can’t pull yourself away from Ultimate Team? Then be sure to make yourself rich by using our FIFA 19 Ultimate Team coins guide.