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A Lag-lustre Performance

Right now, I’m furious. I feel let down, cheated, and sorely disappointed. These are emotions that I wouldn’t usually associate with videogames, especially with one of my favourite series; Pro Evolution Soccer. These feelings should be arising from real life matters, like England’s dismal failure to reach the finals of Euro 2008. So why am I beginning to resent ever putting PES 2008 into my disc tray today? There’s only one answer to that teasing question: it’s because I decided to take the game online.

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Having played a vast range of online titles in my time, it’s fair to say that the quality of connection and opponent have a huge part to play in the amount of enjoyment I can take from the experience. If any lag is apparent, gameplay becomes a matter of luck rather than showing who has the greater skills. This is never more apparent than in a football game where timing is key, and seeing the ball is absolutely vital. Sadly, cheating has become commonplace in online gaming as well, meaning that many innocent gamers are prone to suffering at the vindictive hands of rank stealing match fixers.

“Many innocent gamers are prone to suffering at the vindictive hands of rank stealing match fixers”So, let me set the scene. As a true believer of playing fair and hard, I had safely battled my way to 40th in the world on PES 2008. Any player will know, accumulating enough points to even break into the top 1000 is by no means an easy task, so with this position I held great pride. Seeing my friends fail to get into the top 10,000 only made things better, as I had bragging rights amongst all that I knew. Having been a follower of the series for six years now, finally breaking into the top 100 players meant a lot to me. After 43 wins in a row I felt on top of the world. Nothing could stop me as I piled in goal after goal with relative ease. Then, something did stop me. It happened.

I lost.

And I won’t lie to you, getting beaten hurts. Even more so on PES 2008, where progressing is so difficult, and plummeting through the ranks is so easy. So, dejected and disheartened, I decided to call it a day. Being in the top 100 was enough for me, as it became clear that playing this game any longer was like admitting myself to a sport related torture chamber. You never quite know what is going to happen when playing online, and that isn’t down to the unpredictability of the beautiful game.

Funnily enough, two months later I decided to dust off my virtual boots and take to the pitch once more. It was here that things changed, and I realised how severely a failing connection can hinder any fun whatsoever. In the space of three hours, I managed to double the amount of losses I had to my name. Now, you may call me biased or arrogant, but this wasn’t down to skill. It seems, to my amazement, that Konami has managed to make the servers even worse. Numerous updates have appeared over Xbox Live, but none of them seem to have actually affected the gameplay at all as lag is more apparent than it has ever been. Whether this is down to the number of gamers currently playing the title online or due to sheer ignorance from the developing company, the matter is unacceptable.

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If you’ve ever played PES 2008 online, I’m sure you know how I feel. Players react over a second after the button is pressed, the ball disappears from one goalmouth and lands randomly at another, and players float between different areas of the pitch as if they are incapable of moving their legs. Oddly, it resembles the old table football games many of us have at home, as players can have their grip on the handles to control, but ultimately it is going to have little effect on the outcome. The aforementioned problems make this title completely unplayable against opponents from across the globe, as the silk and style of the world’s top players start to sloppily stumble like they have just retired from the Sunday league.

“The silk and style of the world’s top players start to sloppily stumble like they have just retired from the Sunday league”After losing a few matches, I began to question why I play this game against others, as I just begin to lose my temper during the stuttering mash of hit and miss gameplay. After only an hour of giving the game a rest, I had cooled off, and felt ready to step into the online arena once more. A part of me was optimistic; like a child playing with his favourite toy, no matter how broken it has become. Contrasting, my darkened side was taunting me, whispering into my conscience that things will only get worse.

And how right that prediction turned out to be.

My first match back, and the 14th best player in the world was ready for the challenge I could bring. Bizarrely, he had got to this position using SBV Excelsior, the Eredivisie’s bottom club this season. Of course, I was relishing the prospect of playing one of the world’s so-called “best players”. That is, until, the disconnect screen loomed over my television set once more. Well, at least I get a 3-0 victory if he quits right? Wrong. I check the score afterwards, and it mockingly snarls 0-0. As players get more points for getting a result with the worse teams, my heart began to sink. It wasn’t only the game that was cheating now; it was the opponents as well.

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As with any game, I can take losing to a cheat every once in a while. It happens. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the only time it happened. In the game straight afterwards, another player did exactly the same thing, propelling me out of the top 100 and perching me uneasily at 202nd. With months of hard work undone, it finally dawned on me that PES 2008 is no longer about skill and enjoyment. Just like the real-life game itself, matches are prone to corruption in a way that favours the obsessive and condemns the casual. Looking through the top 50 players now seems totally foolish, as many more of them utilise the under power skills of SBV Excelsior (or more likely their skills at pulling the plug at the right time). This only makes me prouder my previous achievement however, as it reminds me of a time when cheating hadn’t spilt into this particular game.

“With months of hard work undone, it finally dawned on me that PES 2008 is no longer about skill and enjoyment”Nowadays, it seems as if online play has become essential. I’m a firm believer that games should be shared and enjoyed with friends. However, my time spent on titles like PES 2008 begins to question the credibility of such experiences. If people are cheating in order to become the best, then the heart of the game is lost and only a rigid corpse remains in its place. Take into account the lag filled conditions of this football simulation, and the bridge between the real world and reality has never been so daunting. I’m sure many of you reading this have horror tales of your own, venting inside you like an angry sprite ready to escape. Online experiences are personal to those playing, and inevitably have low points littered amongst terrific highs. Unfortunately, for me, I now have to wait until the release of the next PES instalment in hope that these problems have been ironed out, and I can return to enjoying the game I love most.

Well, that’s if I don’t cool off in the meantime.

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in September 2007.

Gentle persuasion

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