The best football games of all time: from Sensible Soccer to FIFA 98

Football may not be coming home for English fans this year, but with a few more days left to fill that gaping football hole in our lives before the dramatic final between France and Croatia, football can still come home in a way, through the power of videogames. 

Whether you call Pong a game of pixelated tennis or a bit of quick-passing footie action, football games have been staples of the video game scene since the dawn of the medium. 

But which ones have truly matched the passion of the beautiful game? Which ones deserve the golden boot where others were caught in the offside trap? Read on, as we run down TechRadar’s pick of the best football games of all time.

New Star Soccer

A football game, on a mobile, that can be played with one hand that is…good? Not just good, but great even? That’s New Star Soccer. Part simple tap-along on the pitch football game, part off the pitch management sim, and one final part luxury lifestyle simulator, New Star Soccer perfectly understands what we love about football. It’s not just about the on-the-pitch silky skills, but about the off-the-pitch fandom and drama too. Just be careful – it’s easy to get addicted to the in-app purchases, but at least this in one mobile game that can be thoroughly enjoyed without spending a penny, too.

Football Manager (series)

The game that broke a thousand marriages, Football Manager is about as close as many of us will get to becoming Alex Fergusson, all from the comfort of our bedrooms. With a database of countless real-world players, each accurately depicted by stats, it’s become a tool used by real life football scouts and agents to help them make their decisions and track down the next generation of stars. It’s even inspired armchair managers on cup final day to don a tie, just to see their digital teams through to glory. That’s some dedication for a game that, some would say, is a glorified spreadsheet.

Sensible Soccer

Sensible Soccer will always hold a special place in the hearts football fans of a certain age. Coming into its own during the era of the Amiga, it was the first football game that truly felt as though you were playing a tense, tactical game. Sure, by today’s standards its top down, over-the-top angle might look crude, but this was football as it had never been depicted before. Fast paced with a great passing mechanic, it was the home of the 40 yard wonder goal, where a late touch on the joystick after making a strike could curve your ball like a boomerang made of bananas. 

Pro Evolution Soccer (series)

If Sensible Soccer was the first great football game, Pro Evolution Soccer, as it evolved from the SNES’s International Superstar Soccer into its more familiar PlayStation-era 3D game, was the one that perfected the formula which all competitors would follow. It may not have had the big budget licenses, real player names or even official tournaments, but what it did have was a methodical, smart approach to depicting football. Where other titles felt like a jumpers-for-goalposts kickabout down the park, PES (as it’s more popularly known) was a true tacticians game, rewarding patient build-up play rather than ridiculous solo sprints for glory. It’s crown slipped for a little while against the glitz and glamour of its more well-funded rival FIFA, but recently PES has been back on top form.

Libero Grande

One of the strangest football games of all time, Libero Grande eventually paved the way for FIFA’s recent career modes. Yep, before Alex Hunter took to the pitch, Libero Grande had you playing as a single player on that field of 11. Whether you chose to be a striker, midfielder or defender, it was as much about holding your position as it was delivering a perfectly timed through ball or star strike. Was it truly great? That’s debatable, given the sometimes dull stretches of man marking and space making off the ball that had to be endured. But in terms of giving you that feeling of being a cog in a greater ball-kicking machine, Libero Grande made you feel like a true team player.

Kick It Pro Football Simulator

Now, this is where things got silly, even if it was arguably the closest game on this list to the real thing. For starters, it’s the only one on this list that required you to kick an actual football to score a goal. A staple of arcades in the 90s, Kick It Pro Football Simulator had a ball on a bungee cord that you whacked at a small goal target. Strike it just right and you’d be rewarded with a top-corner penalty kick, but scuff it and you’d be taking a Waddle-like walk of shame back to the halfway line. Best of all, the ball was often left loose in an arcade, letting you have a quick kickabout even if you didn’t have a coin to turn on the actual videogame part itself.

FIFA (series)

You can’t have a best football games list without bringing EA’s behemoth FIFA franchise into the equation, so we won’t bore you with the details of a series you’ve almost undoubtedly encountered over the years. Fully licenced teams and player likenesses, big budget production values and a great, ever-improving on-the-pitch action, FIFA’s fortunes have waxed and waned, but it’s now in a golden period where it barely puts a foot wrong. FIFA is console football gaming as we once only dreamed of. But, if you’re after a FIFA that still holds a special place in our hearts, cast your mind back to FIFA 98: Road to World Cup, with its three features that remain sorely missed to this day: indoor football matches, a cheating dive move and a dedicated dirty tackle button. If EA’s scrambling for ideas for next year’s edition, well, we’ve made it pretty clear what we’d like to see make a comeback, right?

Gerald Lynch

Gerald is Editor-in-Chief of Previously he was the Executive Editor for TechRadar, taking care of the site's home cinema, gaming, smart home, entertainment and audio output. He loves gaming, but don't expect him to play with you unless your console is hooked up to a 4K HDR screen and a 7.1 surround system. Before TechRadar, Gerald was Editor of Gizmodo UK. He is also the author of 'Get Technology: Upgrade Your Future', published by Aurum Press.