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Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 Review

3 November 2007
Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer series may be the undisputed champion of soccer sims on PlayStation 2, but its next-generation incarnation is still very much up for grabs after an underwhelming debut on PS3.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 was highly anticipated by the loyal band of fans the series has collected since the first Pro Evolution Soccer was launched on PS One back in 2001, and it was maybe this air of expectancy amongst gamers that has resulted in slight disappointment at the final product.

That’s not to say that this is a bad game, it’s just that it could be better. The gameplay has definitely stepped up from Pro Evolution Soccer 6, the series’ last outing on PS2, and the graphics are very slick and player appearances vastly improved and detailed. But when you play the game, you are often asking yourself “where’s that gone”, “why’s this happening”, or shaking your head in dismay at the blatant incompetency of the goal keepers.

It’s funny though, because despite all this question asking, the game still remains horribly addictive. You may ask the same question 100 times, you may get annoyed that your player wont slide to keep a ball in play, or that the ‘keepers are about as useful as a chocolate fireguard, but you still play it. Why? Because it’s Pro Evo.
 
 
The gameplay is much improved, and it is this that has many fans licking their lips. The prospect of PES on PS3 in a few years time is frightening. Once Konami are up to speed with the complexity of the console, they are sure to produce a stunning game. For a first attempt though, this isn’t intrinsically bad by any means. Passing is slicker. You can ping the ball about left, right and centre and actually find the man you are looking for. Gone is the lead-balloon effect of last year where your passes used to take an eternity to reach its target.

Running with the ball feels more realistic too. Send Ronaldo or Wright-Phillips down that wing and the ball will stick to their feet like it’s glued on. It feels as if you have more control of the ball, and manoeuvring around the pitch is as majestic as ever before. Find the gaps for your playmakers to run in to and then release your strikers and wingers with precision. It is the beautiful game. When has Pro never been?

It’s hard to judge the shooting in the game. It feels different, but not in a bad way or a good way. The jury’s still out. The fact that the ‘keepers are the worst in the entire series counteracts this though. If you thought they were bad on PES6, they’ve hit an all time, Paul Robinson-esque low in this one. From time to time, they’ll somehow manage to fumble a timid Gary Neville shot on a goal, or parry what should have been an easy catch to an onrushing goalhunter. Even more bizarrely, they’ll then go on to pull off the save of the season.

So what’s new? Well, for the first time, you can dive on the game. With a quick press of L1+L2+R2 your player will tumble to the ground. It’s quite an art really, as most of the time, you’ll get booked despite the insistence of the commentary team that you were brutally hacked down, even though you fell to the ground with no opponents within 20 yards of you just because you were trying it out…. Figure out how to use it correctly though, and it’ll be something useful to have in your armoury when you’re locked in an extra time battle with your mate.
 
 
Speaking of the commentary team, that’s new too with Jon Champion and Mark Lawrenson have replaced the tiresome Peter Brackley and Trevor Brooking. Champion certainly breathes fresh air in to the game, even if Lawrenson does sound obviously scripted at times. Still, it’s a positive move, and one that’s welcomed by fans.

The in-game music has improved, with the Kaiser Chiefs providing the song for the insanely boring intro movie. As always, after a while, the soundtrack does get a little tedious, but with the addictiveness of the gameplay, you won’t be hanging around in the menus for too long. The menus themselves have also changed, with a billboard effect replacing your bog standard list menu – god knows why. The usual Exhibition, Master League, League, Cup, Gallery, Edit, Network and Settings menus appear.

The gallery menu introduces a new feature, which takes advantage of the PS3’s added technical prowess, namely track record. This monitors every single game you play on Pro Evo, monitoring your wins, draws and losses, games played, goals scored and goals against. Not only that, but it works out averages such as goals to shots ratio, goals per matches and much more. If you’re in to your stats, then this is for you. Even if you’re not, it’s still an intriguing feature. There are also milestones within track record for you to complete such as play 500 games, or score 100 goals, and certain milestones enable you to unlock teams – i.e. win the International Cup with England and you will unlock Classic England.

Despite being regarded by critics as the best football game out there, Pro Evolution Soccer has always struggled to match FIFA in terms of sales. There is obviously EA Sports’ hugely funded marketing campaigns, but there’s also the fact that EA monopolises the licenses, hence why your average Joe might just plump for FIFA, just so they’ve got Van Nistelrooy up front and not Von Mistelroum. But Konami is slowly but surely closing that gap. OK so the English Premier League isn’t fully licensed, and the German Bundesliga isn’t even featured on the game, but there are more licenses than ever before. Newcastle and Tottenham are the two licensed teams from the Premier League, add them to the full leagues of Serie A (Italy), Ligue 1 (France), La Liga (Spain), Eredivise (Holland) as well as 32 other licensed teams and that’s a pretty decent collection.
 
 
Unfortunately the game has its downfalls, with lag being one of them. It’s not so noticeable in offline gaming; it happens occasionally but doesn’t have a detrimental effect on your gaming experience. There are frame rate issues in replays too, but replays are irrelevant on the whole. It’s when you venture online that the slow down really hits you. You’ll score a cracking headed goal, only for the screen to seemingly freeze up for 2/3 seconds and next thing you know, your opponent has got the ball on the half way line. The whole online section feels rushed too, with no game lobbys as in previous games. Konami though have already acknowledged the problem, suggesting that a patch may be released to resolve the issues, and frankly, it can’t come soon enough.

So if one doesn’t play online, the game’s perfect? Not quite. Edit mode has taken a turn for the worst too. No longer can you import or pixel-create club logos and sponsors. All you can really do is edit player and team names and player appearances. There is an import feature, which lets you import scans of kits in to the game, but this can only be done via webcam, and there’s no real definitive guide on how to do it (Konami have conveniently left it out of the instruction manual, as well as their official guide).

There are also flaws in the gameplay. Players no longer slide to try and keep balls in play, meaning that cross field pass by Beckham bounces right in front of your man on the other side who does nothing except watch it fly out of play. The advantage rule is maintained, but hack down a player who has just released the ball and you won’t get punished at all, if the ball goes to a player on his team.

Other things that are missing include the ability to select what kits teams where in league modes and the mix and match kit selection that we haven’t seen since PES5. Another disappointment is the fact that Master League has had no improvements whatsoever. In fact the only major noticeable change is that the divisions have increased to 20, meaning you now play more games in the league campaign.
 
All in all, this game is still worth getting. The positives outweigh the negatives, and as long as you stay away from online and editing, you probably won’t notice the bad points anyway, bar the ‘keepers that is. It’s still more realistic than the sluggishly paced FIFA 08, and the gameplay is more addictive than ever before.

-The Final Word-

Despite flaws in its online and edit modes, Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 is incredibly addictive and still wins the title of football champion over FIFA, but only on penalties.
  • Addictive gameplay
  • More licenses than ever before
  • Realistc player appearances
  • Awful keepers
  • Inefficient and laggy online mode
  • Limited edit mode
7.5
Platforms reviewed : PlayStation 3
See PSU's reviews scores on Metacritic and Gamerankings

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