Pro Evolution Soccer 2008
At the time of writing, Bolton Wanderers fans are in uproar over the impending appointment of the ever-popular Gary Megson and his whopping 7% winning percentage in the Premiership. Martin Jol has at last been relieved of his stay of execution with Spurs and there’s yet more talk of foreign takeovers to pump more cash into the game. So what better way to delve into your own fantasy world and show the money men a thing or two than the recent release of Pro Evolution Soccer 2008. Yep, they’ve gone the way of that competitor and tacked on the year to the title, as if to remind us of the twelve month lifespan.
PES, to pen the abbreviation, has long been the football title of choice for those looking for a more technical game than its fully licensed, all singing, all dancing competitor FIFA Soccer, and this year a few steps in the right direction have been made to try and give fans a better experience. All teams, barring 18 of the English Premiership, are now licensed meaning proper player names, kits and colours, and if you’re a Newcastle United fan or a follower of the troubled Spurs then you’ll be relieved to hear that your team isn’t one of the 18 inaccuracies. Music in the menus has at last turned away from the bishy bashy Japanese style and instead given us an editable playlist of rock, ska and pop genres that are really quite catchy.
Master League has received a make over that won’t appeal to many, with players now resigned to playing 19 games with the woefully dire default team before making any kind of transfers. Ideal for those wanting a challenge, and a challenge it will be, but for the rest that want to keep their controllers intact there’s the usual exhibition line-up and custom options. The scale of the licensing soon becomes clear as you’ll find sponsorship banners chucked about everywhere for no apparent reason other than to obviously please those that parted cash for a small advertisment, which was no doubt used to correct the team and player names. It’s just a shame that shameful plugging couldn’t be done in a more subtle way than the in-your-face nature of PES 2008.
Onto the pitch then, and as usual we have our hits and misses. Konami have been saying right from the word go that this year’s defences have much improved AI, and that’s true to an extent. They play more as a unit, especially when using the offside trap, but they’re still far too susceptible to mad moments of rushing out to opposing forwards, allowing another player to slip into the space behind them and onward to goal. Many times the opposition will launch an attack and you’ll be left wondering where exactly your defence went as they slice through and score yet another goal. They seem to fail picking up players even when told specially to mark aggressively, making crosses a nightmare and corners a free-for-all. Luckily, these don’t happen often enough to use the disc as a coaster, but it’s still something that should be eradicated as it does spoil and change the nature of a game, especially in the final moments of a World Cup final. Goalkeepers are also far too inconsistent and their positioning is often poor. When calling your last man out to an attacker, rather than running from standing he seems to shuffle to either the left or right momentarily before complying to your request, often leaving a large gap for the opposition to aim for goal. Sometimes you’ll see them make a save that even Gordon Banks would be proud of, and then they’ll seemingly become invisible for a freekick straight at them. Some would say this is evident in the real game, and whilst that’s true if you’re an England fan, it just isn’t logical.
The ball feels as if there is little to no air inside, so instead of that satisfying pinging from the foot in PES 6 you’ll be lucky to hit the ball with any sort of real venom or power to trouble the keeper. Crosses rarely hit the middle of the area anymore, instead sailing straight over and out of play or right down the keeper’s throat. Even changing the crossing settings yields little success. Just as you’re becoming enraged at your sides inability to find the net, the last thing you’d need is someone commentating. Luckily, Jon Champion and Mark Lawrenson take to the mic this year and provide a decent yet basic and repetitive ramble as you misplace yet another pass. Jon’s enthusiasm shines to an extent but the limited sound bank just doesn’t do him justice, often missing something critical on the pitch or providing critique when the game is only a matter of minutes old. There’s also a crime against Lawro, who seems unable to chip in unless there’s been a god-awful mistake, and there’s none of the usual camaraderie between the two like we here on the radio, something which makes the duo renowned in broadcasting.
On a more positive note, dribbling is a lot more effective than it ever has been and you’ll see the likes of Ronaldinho and Kaka really come into their own on the field as they glide past player after player. Perhaps annoyingly the balance has gone a little too far in that defenders seem to have little strength and are easily barged over, even with sky-high balance attributes, but then you’d have to argue that the game just simply wouldn’t be exciting if defenders won every tackle. Speaking of which, slide tackling is now also redundant as players take an age to get back up off the floor and never really seem to get contact with the ball, either giving it back to the opposition in regular lucky deflections or taking the man entirely.
There’s lots of little additions to look out for that are both an advantage and a hindrance to your side, such a goalkeepers dropping catches and players tripping over the referee, and deflections still play a huge part, especially in penalty areas, but because you’ll never hit the ball with any sort of power it’s not really something to fear anymore. Still, defenders will still hit the bar trying to clear the ball and the lesser talented goalkeepers will parry an easy shot right to the feet of a striker, just to make the game feel unpredictable. The mistakes and fumbles make for a decent game against the computer, but it’s online where the game comes into its own. Or at least, it should do. Terrible amounts of lag render the game almost unplayable, and although a patch has been promised, this was well before the game had been released, so if they were fully aware of the issue before launch, why not fix it beforehand? Luckily the Xbox 360’s gameplay is affected only online and has stuttering problems with replays and cinematics in single player modes, but for PS3 players the problems are both on and offline, which just isn’t good enough. Further more, the PS2 version has been shipped without some of the new additions such as the ability to dive – a polite way of telling owners to upgrade, maybe?
After being stripped bare of anything remotely fun last year, I’m pleased to report that the saving of replays function is back, albeit without a Halo 3 theatre mode application in which to edit videos and share them, but then Konami have never been the epitome of creativity when it came to PES. There’s also a log book which keeps track of every minute statistic, perfect for people like me that get a kick out of possession percentages, and the usual trophy cabinet to show off the cups that look nothing like their real life counterparts.
So there we have it; another year of the “well this good but that aint” story and more inevitable comparisons to FIFA. As usual PES 2008 will appeal to those wanting a challenge without the glamour or presentation of EA’s offering, and whilst this is fine and dandy, it’s yet another year without the definitive title. I’ve had the mispleasure of reviewing many Americans sports titles in the past, and the amount of extras you get such as decorating your own fantasy office or locker room in memorabilia, unlocking video clips or themes is vastly impressive. Only Codemasters tried to buck the trend by introducing a system to unlock cards in one of their recent football genre failures, and until someone takes it by the horns and does it properly, be it EA, Konami or another company, football as we know it is going down the route of the skateboarding genre, where an overdue competitor in Skate finally came along and shook it up.
Despite the shiny graphics, catchy music and long-awaited additions and tweaks, PES is showing its age as it’s flogged again for another year. It’s a great experience, the best we’ve got so far in fact, but is more of a small step than the giant leap we were once again really hoping for.
Seven out of ten
- Better defence organisation than last year
- Better emphasis on crossing
- Dribbling far more destructive
- Statistics page tracking your every move
- Crossing feels broken
- Still not fully licensed
- Many evident bugs, both off and online
- Lofted through-ball nearly useless