It seems that since the Leipzig Games Convention, Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 (PES 2008) has been the highway car wreck of the sports gaming industry. Over the past few weeks I’ve had the chance to do some rubbernecking of my own and inspect the flaming wreckage of the PS3 version. Is PES 2008 as horrible as some have made it out to be? Read on to find out.
I think the visuals in Winning Eleven 2007 (Xbox 360) received a pass from most gamers because it was Konami’s first effort on next-gen systems and was basically a high-def version of their PS2 game. This year’s game, however, promised to be built from the ground-up and I was quite interested to see how Konami would do. Unfortunately, the visuals are incredibly poor for a next-gen sports game and on the whole, lag far behind FIFA 08.
Since PES 2008’s release in Europe there has been much talk of the game’s notorious slow-down/poor frame-rate, particularly in the PS3 version. The frame-rate does indeed bog to a crawl in most replays – often rendering them un-watchable (unless you have a healthy dose of Dramamine on hand). However, the frame-rate does stay steady throughout gameplay. This is an important distinction to note as it doesn’t render the game unplayable but it is still shocking that any company would have the gall to release a game with such glaring problems in the replays.
The slow-down is slightly improved with the newest patch and also by installing the game to the hard-drive, but this mostly applies to goal celebrations and cut-scenes and replays still shake like Gary Busey before his eye-opener.
Player models, once one of the strengths of the Winning Eleven/Pro Evolution series are decent if unspectacular. Body builds are depicted nicely and you can quickly identify many players from the gameplay angles. Player faces and expressions are very well done and on the whole much better than the zombies present in FIFA. Unfortunately, kit and skin textures lag far behind those in FIFA and look like HD verssions of their PS2 counterparts.
Also disappointing is the fact that the game features a paltry 15 stadiums. This is absolutely shocking especially considering that the most recent J-League Winning Eleven game on the PS2 featured more than SIXTY different grounds. Also shocking is that there appears to be no English stadiums present! The grounds themselves are modeled decently and I really like the fact that you can see dugouts (something sorely missing in FIFA). The 3D modeled fans are passable and there are variable attendances. Unfortunately, the pitch textures are not only worse than last year’s Xbox 360 version but they’re some of the worst I’ve ever seen in a sports game.
The animations in PES 2008 are probably the best part of the graphics as there is an incredible catalog of movements (including many new animations). Even after playing the game for several weeks, I am still seeing the odd new animation and the transitions between them are silky smooth. Also animated very well are the linesmen and the referee who is visible on the pitch at all times (unlike FIFA 08).
Unfortunately, the running animations are laughably bad as all the players move like they have shat their pants and if you look really closely you can see that they’re actually skating on the grass rather than taking steps.
The TV-style presentation in PES 2008 is actually very well done. The goal celebrations are excellent and there is a massive variation between them. Most importantly, all the celebrations are context specific which really helps to convey a sense of emotion when you do put the ball in the back of the net. It really is satisfying to see your players go absolutely nuts when you score a 90th minute winner and the inclusion of substitutes in certain celebrations is another excellent touch.
Similarly, cut-scenes are well done and the substitution sequences are miles better than FIFA. Again, these are context specific – sub off your striker when it’s 0-0 and he’ll trot to the sidelines and ‘tag-up’ with the oncoming player. Sub off the same player after he’s scored a hatrick and not only will he slow down to applaud the crowd, he may also get a congratulatory hand-shake or hug from the coach! These may sound like little touches but they make a big difference in creating an authentic atmosphere.
I also really like the fact that much of the refereeing animations occur without cut-scenes. For example, if you chop a player down the ref will run up and pull out a card without the gameplay angle changing at all. Again, this really helps with the sense of immersion as you’re not drawn out of the gameplay with a sudden cut-scene for something that happens routinely.
Instant replays and end-of-half highlights are excellent and again, miles better than FIFA with regards to variety of angles and the fact that they often show goal celebrations in the highlight packages. Unfortunately, all this is undone by the pathetic frame-rate.
Finally, I voiced my dislike of the menu-style in FIFA 07 & 08 for the next-gen consoles, however, PES 2008 has EA Sports beat with the ugliest and least functional main menus yet. Thankfully, the tactical and strategic menus are largely unchanged from previous versions.
Apparently Konami created all of the musical tracks (instrumental and songs) for PES 2008 in-house and as a result; they are laughably bad. With titles like; “Rock the Sweeper”, “Use your Head”, and “Go for the Goal” you can just imagine the lyrical genius of the songwriters. Seriously, you’ll bust a gut laughing at the Eurovision Song Contest-esque music and lyrics before searching for the mute button.
Much in the same way I’m shocked that Konami had the gall to release a game with such framerate problems, I’m also amazed that no one at their European offices thought such awful music was passable.
The on-field sounds include the same generic crowd chants that have been present in the series for the past 3 or 4 years. Compared to FIFA with its plethora of real-world chants and appropriate crowd reactions, PES 2008 is so far behind it’s embarrassing.
The audio’s only saving grace, and it seems incredibly odd to write this about a Winning Eleven/Pro Evolution game, is the surprisingly decent commentary. After years of some of the worst English-language commentary in the videogame world, Konami have finally sorted things out. Jon Champion and Mark Lawrenson make their PES debuts and Champion does a very capable job with little to no lag in describing the action. He also does a good job of conveying excitement in his voice during goalscoring chances. Lawrenson, on the other hand, sounds stoned and chimes in with the occasional soccer cliché but fortunately he keeps quiet most of the time. It’s definitely not in the same league as FIFA, but at least it’s functional.
PES 2008’s disappointments continue when it comes to the options. If you’ve played any Winning Eleven or Pro Evolution Soccer game made in the past 3 or 4 years (bar the brilliant J-League Winning Eleven games) you’ll know what to expect here. The main modes of play are Exhibition, Tournament, League, Online, Training and the Master League. All these modes are practically the same as they have been in the past few years.
The available domestic leagues are;
La Liga (licensed)
Ligue 1 (licensed)
Serie A (licensed)
EPL (not licensed)
There are also two groups of ‘Other Teams’ that include a host of Scandanavian club sides, and a few teams from Germany, Scotland (guess which two!), Portugal, Greece, Turkey and from scattered countries around Europe. The only licensed EPL teams are the mighty Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur – it’s all pretty pathetic.
There are a number of International teams but there is no in-depth World Cup qualification mode that was present in J-League Winning Eleven 10.
Rosters are probably the most up to date I’ve ever seen in a Winning Eleven/Pro Evo game but they’re still off. The saddest example of this is the presence of Sevilla’s Antonio Puerta in the game. I think the most alarming sign that your rosters are out of date is when you start including dead players…... Unfortunately, I don’t see Konami releasing routine roster updates like EA Sports does.
As you’ve probably noticed there is no Fantasista mode present which is a huge disappointment. For those unaware, Konami’s Fantasista mode debuted in their most recent J-League game (“J-League Winning Eleven 2007 Club Championship”, no seriously, that is the title). This mode has you controlling a single player through the course of his career. Think of it as FIFA 08’s Be A Pro mode meets FIFA’s Manager Mode. Again, I am completely baffled by this mode’s absence as it really breathed new life into the series.
Another feature present in the most recent J-League game, the World Tour/Scenario mode is also absent.
The dreaded Master League again makes up the bulk of the single player game. To be fair, Konami have done a good job of sprucing up the front end and making it more user friendly (I’d say it’s better than FIFA’s Manager Mode interface). They have also made player transfers more interesting by adding a Team Prestige/Popularity rating that increases or decreases depending upon your performances – the higher your ‘Popularity’ the more likely teams will negotiate with you. Unfortunately, the Master League structure itself fundamentally remains the same except now you can play in a full (20 or 18 team) division. You start off in a generic Second Division and gain promotion to one of the five leagues mentioned above. You can only have four domestic leagues running concurrently (even though five are available) and there’s no option to switch teams that you’re managing. Amazingly, there is also no option to select kits in the Master League (even though it’s present elsewhere in the game) so if you have two teams that have similar color kits you’re stuck being confused for the match.
Despite these chronic shortcomings this is still the mode I find myself spending most time in but that’s purely on the strength of PES 2008’s gameplay and the fact that, unlike FIFA, you can really notice a difference between player abilities and different teams. Of course, this still doesn’t excuse the fact that this game mode needs to go the way of the Dodo.
Online in PES 2008 is an unmitigated disaster. Somehow, while EA Sports can manage to work out 5 on 5 online, Konami still can’t manage 1 on 1. In many instances I am experiencing even more lag than last year’s game. After talking to many gamers in Europe this lag isn’t just because I’m in North America (besides, I can play people across the Atlantic in FIFA with no problem). There is also no option for online leagues and no interactive leagues. FIFA-style pod-casts and live score-tickers? Keep dreaming.
The in-game tactical options are unchanged. While these tactical and strategic options are far more in-depth than in FIFA (and have a lot more bearing upon the match) they’ve essentially stayed the same for the past four or five years and I really wish Konami would add more set plays and allow more varied custom runs.
Year after year Konami disappoint with the paucity of options in their Pro Evo and Winning Eleven games (while their Japan-based J-League games improve). This year, however, the disappointment is multiplied because of jump to next-gen systems and the expectations that come with that. Furthermore, each year EA Sports add more and more options while Konami are content to spin their wheels. It really is baffling.