Several years ago, I saw a couple of links on Facebook to a game called Ultras Online and decided to investigate. 24 hours and a quick tutorial from a friend who's a much better gamer than me later, I was hooked. I'm currently working part-time, living on my own for the first time, and my broken laptop has been fixed, so games have crept back into my life. Having got a bit bored with both my Sims 3 neighbourhoods, I thought I'd have a poke around UltrasOnline and see what had changed.

Back in the day, I was surprised that UltrasOnline turned out to be more like HooligansOnline, because it's a Polish game and the distinction between ultras and hooligans is very clear in Poland. When you load the game, you are presented with a town map. Most of the action takes place in the city square on the top left of the screen. When you click this, you enter the game. Your role is then to run around the map, clicking on the edge of each square to move to the next, and smash up as many people and inanimate objects as possible.

Since I started to play in 2010, there have been a fair few alterations. There is now more than one server. The traditional game that I play resides on server 7; server 5, which was once the only server, now hosts a version in which there are only robots to beat up - no human opponents or police. The 'normal' game also contains robots now. You shall know them because they have 'lvl.1' above their heads where a nickname should be. You may also know them because they purport to follow the most random teams, such as Cavalier FC from Jamaica, or the improbably named Alabaster Lopuszka Wielka. Looking up these clubs on Wikipedia has increased my #Football knowledge considerably.

Robots are quite easy to beat up, and can be dealt with using only the Z key. Z deals one punch: X equals a double punch, and you only get 500 of those when you open an account. After that, you need to run around the game picking up blue tokens in order to accumulate more - maximum 100 per day. Yes, it's a 'freemium' game in which progression is much easier if you pay for extra tokens, but is perfectly playable and enjoyable without accessing any premium content.

Cash is obtained by smashing up ATMs, vending machines, cars, telephone boxes and anything else you can find. When you exit the map and return to the main screen, you can use the gym to build up your character, and this is when your cash comes in useful. Reserve smashing up the police station for when you've got a short, boring phone call to make - holding down Z for two minutes isn't my favourite way to spend an evening, but the 1200 coins available are a worthy reward.

In addition to choosing a direct debit to cancel or a distant relative to check up on, you should also make sure that there isn't a police officer standing beside the station before you try to break it. I've decided that there is absolutely no point beating them up. Yes, it builds your reputation, but it wastes 20 precious double punches, and if you lose you're frozen out of the game for ages. If you're on one side of a car and the police officer is on the other side, he can't get you if you start smashing it up, so go for it. Also, you can escape the police by moving to the next square. Space bar makes you move faster, but each 120 seconds of extra speed is another privilege that must be bought with 5 tokens, so don't waste it on the police or robots. Extra punches and speed are purchased using the 'Drugs' button on the main menu.

You'll have the need for speed once you come up against other players who've spent their life's savings on this game. How do you know if a person is real, or a robot? Real people tend to move faster; they may well attack you; they smash up objects, whereas robots just stand there and annoyingly move away from you when you don't want them to. The absolute giveaway is that a real person will have a nickname above his or her head. Note: if anyone has three rotating names above their head instead of two, this is a member of an alliance. This man or woman (probably a man) has spent their life's savings on becoming very, very good at this game. Probably not worth fighting with them unless you're playing with a mate.

And that, my friends, is the joy of this game. Whenever I decide to have a play, I post the square I've landed in on Facebook so that friends can join me. (Grid references are on the bottom left of the screen.) The middle of the five buttons on the bottom right of the playing screen is a chat button. You can use the chat facility to tell your friend what to do if they've never played before, or say 'left/right/up/down' to tell them which square to visit next. You can also use chat to talk to strangers, which can be great or terrible. Some of the people who play this game are not the sort that I would associate with in real life. I walked into one of the graffiti-wall areas the other day and found that a picture of Radovan Karadzic had been 'sprayed' onto one of them. Eesh.

A slightly annoying innovation with the latest round of updates is the inclusion of red boxes. They smash open with two Z punches, and this gives you a spray can. When you have 100 of these, you can change the pictures on walls and pubs. The irritation of this is that it used to be a free feature, accessible to everybody. Still, sprays are worth collecting. When you're on the main menu, the top-left menu button ('Profile') gives you the option of uploading a profile picture and a spray. Make them both football-related: your profile pic will appear on pubs that you've trashed, your spray on billboards. Google Images has some nice shots of football graffiti abroad that I like to use.

Finally, if you're interested in learning Croatian or Polish, there's an additional chat button on both the main menu and the map. This opens the chatroom, where all current chat will appear before your eyes. It's usually in an eastern European language, although I have seen English a couple of times.

In conclusion, this game is a superb waste of time - or even a good use of time if you're a scholar of the Slavonic languages. It's most fun if you've got a mate to go around with, and made more appealing by the possibility of interaction with other fans, provided they're not crazy right-wingers. It's got very little to do with ultras, though.
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