Here in Ireland, we have the not so beautiful Gaelic games

gaelic games football logo

Gaelic Games Football (2005)

Whenever people laugh at me for buying Ashes Cricket for the PS3, I’m quick to remind them that my plight is much worse than that, for I own Gaelic Games Football for the PlayStation 2. The PS2 by my conservative estimate has around 400,000 games in its library. I don’t know how any mad fool could ever hope to collect each and every single one of them, and you can be sure that there are plenty of people out there with more money than sense attempting to do exactly that. FIFAs 2001 through 2014 in a row must look great on the shelves I suppose. My takeaway from all this is that game development for the PS2 must have been as easy to get into and as accessible as fetish pornography, and the unfortunate end result of this is that some Irish programmers out there got on the turps and decided it was a great idea to make a Gaelic Football game.

An explanation on Gaelic Football. It’s the biggest sport in Ireland, believe it or not, and it’s entirely amateur. It sells out huge all-seater stadiums, and the players aren’t being paid. Well, let’s be real, there’ll be endorsements somewhere down the line (the local silage company no doubt). And some of the “top-ranking GAA officials” that you always hear about when there’s a scandal, I’m sure they’re not charity cases.

No, think of the Gaelic Athletics Association as a mafia for rural Ireland. The only difference is that, unlike Goodfellas and The Godfather where the ‘mafia’ is never mentioned, GAA men will find it rather difficult to talk about anything else but that thing of theirs. To be on the intermediate or senior ‘panel’, whatever that is, is a badge of honour far greater than any Nobel Prize or Freedom of the City.

It confers a certain status as well – cows on the road will yield to you, for instance. You’ll get a free pint of falling down water in all of the one-horse towns in your county. You may even get the hallowed Gold Card for Copper Face Jacks, a bang-average Dublin nightclub that serves as a sloppy, low rent North Star for country folk up and down Ireland.

Obviously it’s the same old story for me here: I’m only being judgmental against the GAA because I was never a part of it. Still, that all changed quickly for me when I got my hands on this PS2 rendition of the good Irish game. Finally, the 100 mile per hour high-octane world of Gaelic football, brought to life!

To get you up on the rules: 15 burly, pale, ruddy-faced men (or women, although you won’t find any in this game) per side take to the field. Seems like an awful lot of lads to have in one game, but the pitch is absolutely humongous and it’s little wonder that running with the ball is almost discouraged.

No, anytime I played GAA in school, I was told only one thing – get rid of it. There is to be no running or dribbles or hops and solos here. No build up play, no finesse. Just take that ball and boot it in a vague direction towards the opposition goal before some ox in an opposition shirt spears you.

The goal is a H-shape, similar to rugby, but this time there’s a goalkeeper. Goalkeepers lose a bit of their efficacy somewhat when you consider that every player on the pitch can boot the thing out of their hands, offering the kicker absolute precision, and the ball is actually smaller than a soccer ball too.

Goals are worth three points, very useful if your players can withstand four bullcows hanging out of them and battle their way into the opposition’s box. Just lashing the thing over the bar is far easier, but only gives you one point. Once everyone’s reminded of the rules, the 30 lads begin running about and crashing into each other with seemingly no foul play or bad tackling getting punished by the referee, inevitably a schoolteacher in their everyday job.

The burning question, then. How does this cavalcade of madness translate into a fluid video game? Do you really need me to spell it out? Gaelic Games PS2 is an abomination. I don’t want to be sharply critical of Irish devs, especially since the game came out 15 years ago, but lawks-a-lawdy lads, don’t let your national game down like this.

Match commentary is provided by Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh, and I’ll send you fifty quid if you’re not from Ireland and can pronounce that name correctly. He’s sort of like the John Motson of GAA. Or the John Madden. Or maybe even the John Wayne. Regardless, he’s a big name in the world of GAA, with an inimitable Kerry accent, and he used to come out with some cracking lines.

You won’t hear many here though, because the repetition is fierce and this is one of those early sports games with commentary that falls into that dire trap of leaving large, badly edited pauses between interchangeable voice samples. So you’ll score a point, and Mícheál will come out with “And…Dublin!…are ahead of… Wicklow!… by…. Seven! Points!” over a period of about 20 seconds.

He doesn’t say any player names either, probably because these names aren’t even in the game. Which is a bit rubbish for them – this could have been their big opportunity. And it’s not as if there’s dozens of different leagues to get through. Mind you, I have to ask would it really matter, because not only do the game’s players not resemble their real-life appearance, they barely even represent human beings. The guts and chunky legs are there, but not much else.

Glitches become quickly apparent in this game. The buttons are FIFA 64 levels of responsiveness, i.e. medically defined as being in the latter stages of rigor mortis. The result here is that you’ll frequently ‘overcarry’ the ball, failing to bounce and ‘solo’ the ball or pass it to somebody else as per the rules. You’ll have been pressing the Pass button with all your might of course, but solely because of the non-functioning buttons, you are penalised and lose possession of the ball.

Getting done for overcarrying makes you look awful in front of the entire farming community – if you’re gonna be penalised, get penalised for a violent tackle. There’s no poise to Gaelic Football tackling, you just barge into your opponent with enough vigour until the ball comes loose.

The PS2 game represents this pretty well, in fact. Well, the players don’t move like humans and there exists a powerful magnetic field between them all, and there doesn’t seem to be a button that lets you bat the ball out of their hands or give them a sneaky elbow or a kick in the rocks. But the game has about as much flair as real-life GAA. I’ll reluctantly give it points for that.

Not that GAA PS2 will be short on points – the AI will score dozens. No such luck for you though, because even on the Easy difficulty, and up against a lowly rated opponent, you will struggle to put more than three points on the board. And the only way to get those three is to borrow that real-life tactic of fighting tooth and nail for the ball to come loose, and then garryowen the thing as far up the pitch as you can. Eventually you’ll get to near their goal, and then it’s anyone’s guess if you can accurately get the ball over.

Just don’t let the AI come near your goal, or they’re Dead Eye Dick every time and knock it over no problem. They’re not hampered by the schizophrenic camera or the castrating controls, of course, so you’re always at a strong disadvantage.

And God help you if they attempt a shot at your goal, because your goalkeeper is catalogue useless. I’ve had mine take a few steps backwards over the goal-line, then attempt to catch a ball. I was as dumbfounded at this stupidly bad programming as he was at having conceded the goal in the first place. That was about the end of my brief foray in the murky underbelly of GAA. And when I get the chance, I’ll make sure the disc sleeps with the fishes.

24 April 2019

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