We've never yet found a football game for smartphone and tablet that has provided genuinely satisfying gameplay. Ports of Pro Evolution Soccer and FIFA to iPhone and iPad have been fleetingly intriguing, but too much sliding around on a touchscreen, and not enough consistency in the tackling or heading experience, have made them short-term attractions. After all, the reason Pro Evo used to be better than FIFA was the gameplay: regardless of bells and whistles the game's not worth the candle unless the actual playing of it is good. And Real Football 2012's four and a half stars on the Android Market suggests this game for Android tablets and Android phones has something going for it.
Which is not to say that the fripperies aren't firmly in place. Real Football 2012 offers 350 teams, 14 league championships including England, Germany, France, Spain, and South America, and thousands of real players' names, if that is the sort of thing you go for. You can create custom team strips using a dedicated editor, and then share your creations with the game's wider community. Within the game you can get the latest Football news via the official RSS feeds from goal.com, sports.fr and as.com, as well as - frankly annoying - bits of soccer trivia and quiz questions. You can upload images and video, send comments and interact with friends. See also: Group test: what's the best mobile game?
Which is all well and good, especially for a free game. But it does cost you, both in terms of what feels like interminable waiting and wading through dialog pages for matches to come round and, more importantly, in the mammoth download you need to make to play Real Football 2012 even after you're installed the app. There's more than 480MB of data to be downloaded and installed *after* you've loaded the app, and in our case the download stalled no fewer than five times. Kudos to Real Football 2012: each time it seemlessly started up again at the point it had broken off, but it still required us to husband our Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 through the install process. Something we could live without.
No matter, the proof of the game is in the playing, and in this respect Real Football 2012 is comfortably our favourite mobile football game. Visually, it is exceptionally good, with more than 700 motion-capture based animations which adjust without noticeable deviation to the players' skills and the field position in the game. Even the AI is better than in most soccer sims: playing against the game is challenging and fun.
There's a handy tutorial when first you play the game, too. You earn points and achievements, and learn the game as you go.
The controls are relatively simple: a single virtual joypad, and three virtual buttons: pass, shoot and sprint when you have the ball, and press, tackle and press when you don't. There's no change player option, but the game gets this right every time, in our experience. After the initial frustrating period of adjustment, you get into game pretty quickly. It's not too easy to fire in wonder goals, but you have a chance. The only real annoyance is that tackling seems to consist of either a horror foul, or a perfect tackle (but the game of football itself is a little like that these days)... Injuries are a little random, too.
But the important thing is it is a fun and challenging game, with enough to keep even the most gamey gamer interested for a decent length of time. And for those for whom these things matter, what the developer calls its 'Hypergame technology' means you can recreate any match-up from the in-game news feed and play along with your heroes as a real game happens.