Another year rolls around and another football game from Konami comes in. Pro Evolution Soccer is long-regarded as the King of football in the video game world, with EA’s FIFA never managing to match it. Both had disappointing outings last time around and PES 6 was particularly bad thanks to missing features that should have been there on the next generation machines, such as the ability to save replays. Such an oversight was surely to be fixed in the newly titled game for this year, but would it bring a whole load of new faults, or has the King of football put it all together and made it work?
Looking at the back of the box it appears a massive overhaul has taken place. Brandishing words such as “Teamvision” (bold fully intended) and claims such as “Take free kicks fast”, it appears that the game has taken a step in the right direction and has changed over PES 6. But being brutally honest, there’s not a great deal here that PES 2008 does outstandingly well.
Sticking with the tried and tested format for gameplay, the graphics are average compared to other games and this will immediately annoy. Why Konami can’t upgrade the graphics to a suitable level is bewildering. However hardcore fans know that graphics don’t make PES, the gameplay does. Once again sticking with the tried and tested format, the gameplay is largely the same, albeit slightly better. There are new animations this time around, with players raising their hands in a “I didn’t touch him ref, honest!” gesture, and it is now possible to beat defenders with pace, unlike last time where defending players seemingly hit a turbo button and caught up with the sprinting attacker in an instant. This immediately makes it all the more enjoyable and much more like the real game that we all love. Balance also plays an important role out on the field, severely affecting everything from shooting to winning the ball from the opponent.
For whatever reason though, the seemingly wonderful AI that the game possesses is utterly ridiculous. The AI pass the ball round with mesmerising skill on the hardest difficulty despite having a very weak side. It’s nigh-on impossible to win the ball back at times. Even when a sliding tackle is made, the AI are always first to the ball, no matter what. This is infuriating as it’s just one way traffic non-stop for seventy percent of the game. Couple that with a referee who brandishes cards for fun and immediately curses will fly towards the box that apparently lied. Not only that, but the AI for the human-controlled team is incredibly stupid. They always play a high line even when told not to and individual players will constantly drift from their designated position, allowing for the super-intelligent AI to press forward into the open space and score a blinding goal. Utterly stupid and certainly something that surely shouldn’t be plaguing the game this far into the series.
Then there are the framerate issues. Thankfully everything runs smoothly during corners, free kicks and so on this time. However if a player goes off injured and then comes back on, we get a Picture-in-Picture event occurring. This slows the game to almost a grinding halt, and even for the three or four seconds it lasts, it’s the single most annoying thing Konami could have done. How it wasn’t spotted in the testing phase of development one can only guess. Clearly monkeys were testing this with sunglasses on, it’s that obvious. For a title boasting so much, something so little is truly shocking. It’s completely unnecessary too; it appears it would have been easier to remove the feature, but alas gamers will just have to pray no-one goes off injured and then comes back on.
Hitting the pause menu shows animations of the touchline which to be fair, are exceptionally pointless.
Next is the replays. Sure, you can save them, but that’s assuming you don’t go blind watching them. Somehow, those damn monkeys also got to playtest the replay functionality and once again let slip more framerate issues. If there’s more than two players on display, the replay will slow right down and shift up and down in a very uncomfortable manner. It changes the focus of everything on screen and is likely to give even the toughest gamers a slight headache after a few watches. It’s again atrocious and inexcusable when last year’s version, for all its flaws, managed to display it just fine. Also looking at Halo 3’s save replay feature, this is a huge embarrassment for Konami.
Are there any redeeming features gameplay wise? Thankfully there are. Not just the new animations but during the game, excusing the AI, there are some positives to draw on. The quick free kick was introduced last year and has been retained and improved, as the box claims. Instead of a quick black out on screen, the referee blows his whistle for the foul, the gamer hits A and the player on-screen runs up to the ball and plays on. It works well, although seems to occur less this year thanks to no on-screen prompts and because the referee is always showing someone a card. There’s no black out for the card showing either though, as the referee simply runs up to the player who’s committed a crime and brings out the card, with the camera quickly panning in on the action. Rather annoyingly though the camera angle will often chop off the heads of the referee and the infringing player, meaning you don’t know what card has been given until something pops up on screen. Again a slight oversight here.
The sound too is vastly improved. Playing as England is one example of improved chants, whereby the crowd will actually shout “England!” occasionally. The commentary has finally received a make over too, booting out Peter Brackley and Trevor Brooking’s stupid ramblings that we had all heard for the past few years and instead Jon Champion and Mark Lawrenson enter the fray. Sadly team names are rarely said for whatever reason, but their general comments are much better and add to the experience somewhat. Jon Champion is occasionally slow on goals and cards, but generally it’s not a big issue at all. Lawrenson also chirps in about tactics, with the occasional obvious statement mixed in with a slightly perplexing one. It’s fine though and is certainly an improvement.
Licences are once again incomplete for the English league, with former teams who were licenced last year not making it this year. Gone is Manchester United fully licenced and gone is Arsenal. Now we have Spurs and Newcastle, although all players have the correct names. Not bad, but a tad disappointing when you look at the other leagues who all have considerably more licences. The Spanish La Liga, French Ligue 1, Italian Serie A and the Dutch Eredivisie are all fully licenced, as are a host of national teams. From an English standpoint it’s disappointing, but on the whole it is a step in the right direction at least.
Another feature that was severely omitted last year was the Edit Mode. Nothing could be altered, so you had to settle for what was there. Thankfully this year it’s back, albeit not as expansive as the PS2, and has a few new touches, most pointedly the face mapping.
Anyone expecting face mapping in a similar vein to Rainbow Six: Vegas will be disappointed. In fact anyone hoping for a decent face mapping period will be disappointed. It’s another hugely disappointing feature we’ve seen done so much better before. Here you have to awkwardly line up your face with the Vision Cam and position your eyes and chin in the designated area on screen. Except the screen is tiny and so makes it stupidly hard to do. Once you are satisfied, it just ports over the image it takes, meaning if you didn’t fill the screen, that bookcase behind you is going to be featured on a player’s face. You can twiddle around, zooming in and out to fill it out more, but it’s a very monotonous process and one you’ll never perfect. There’s also the option to change the colour of your player’s skin. But we aren’t talking black and white here. Nope, you can go all out and have pink, yellow, green or anything else from the spectrum. Why? Who knows, it’s ridiculous again, though highly amusing for those less serious about the game. Importing your own shirt images is also rather hit and miss and is likely to be a feature that people rarely use except for some sort of green alien comedy team. There are huge oversights here, as with a bit more care and attention, things could have been so much better.
All this and nothing yet about the available modes. Anyone that’s played a PES game before knows what to expect. There’s Exhibition, Cup, League, Training and of course the Master League. The Master League has always been a great spectacle in PES history and nothing has changed this time out either. Assuming you’re a traditionalist and opt to go at it with a bunch of unknown players like you should, the game will be hugely frustrating. Players’ stamina runs out stupidly fast and the wonders of the AI passing mean again ball retention is nigh-on impossible. It’s actually easier to go and create a superstar player in the editing mode, bump up all the stats and buy the new player in the Master League. It’s likely to be the only way to ever score a goal on the hardest difficulty.
But it does everything else right with transfers and negotiations going on all the time. Again it’s a tried and tested format that Konami are clearly sticking with. It works and is probably the only thing besides Achievements that will keep you playing this game after Christmas. Unless you have mates.
Mates make such a difference. Now there will be errors unlike the AI. Now the other team will also expose themselves stupidly. Now you can have fun. For all the criticism leveled at the game here, it shines on local multiplayer again. For whatever reason, it’s just a lot of fun having a few guys round to play the heck out of PES for a few hours. The rivalry, the chances, the misses are all captured together and will genuinely make you laugh out loud. The physics are superb in the game, so a deflected goal is always met with rapturous laughter from the spectators. PES is un-rivaled in this department; not any other experience recreates what happens during a night of PES action.
It’s a shame then that the game is let down by the online lag. Once again, Konami fail to incorporate some decent net code, and the game is unplayable after the first two minutes. One moment you’ll be running with the ball, the next your player would have teleported miles in front with the ball trickling out for a goal kick. It’s astounding that, just like last year, Konami cannot get the online part right. No doubt there will be a patch again to fix it, but for now, this is shocking and makes it unplayable. A huge shame for everyone that was looking forward to online play the most.
So where does PES 2008 rank? Well despite scoring lower than last year’s version, PES 2008 is better. It just does so many things wrong that should be working fine. Slowdown in single player is unforgivable, particularly because the replays were done fine last year. To see them so broken on what should be a superior version is very disappointing. PES 2008 is more of the same in most areas, with slightly improved gameplay mechanics thanks to better physics and speedier reactions to fouls. Somehow PES maintains the fun factor with mates, but with AI super-human like and a referee who is far too strict, coupled with awful online lag, the game is a huge letdown for anyone looking forward to it and will surely disappoint even the most hardened PES fan. It’s not good enough Konami, we all expected much better.
Final Score: 6 out of 10 - Average (How do we rate games?)