A huge step back from where Konami should be heading.
Pro Evolution Soccer is a gaming series you felt could do no wrong, with consistent quality titles being released year upon year. This latest installment however brings things to a crashing halt, a game that feels rushed and ultimately incomplete and in my opinion has no right lining up next to its six predecessors.
You can clearly see the lack of progression from the moment you load up the game, you only need scroll through the main menu which offers you the same thing’s it has done for the past few years now. No new modes, no new league or cup options and no major changes to the Master League, an area that is in desperate need of a revamp. In fact the only change to the starting line-up is the absence of Random Select Matches which have simply been tossed to one side.
This year Konami claim that their new feature entitled “Teamvision” will revolutionize the way you play the game; with the AI supposedly learning from your tactics and then implementing tactics to counter that on both the attacking and defensive fronts. While this new system works to a certain extent the differences are minimal, and unless you’re really looking for them the subtleties are hard to spot.
The gameplay is still as solid as ever and in some respects the games saving grace; they’ve even cranked up the speed, something that fans were demanding after last years offering. Sadly though there are some thing’s they’ve changed that aren’t as welcoming. The goalies for example now drop the ball a lot more frequently than before; making it a whole bunch easier to score tap-ins from rebounds. Occasionally when the ball rebounds off of the goalies gloves with ferocity and then drops in or around the net the referee awards a corner. Throw-ins are awarded to the wrong team a lot of the time, I know they’re going for realism but this occurs way too often. Every time you want to take a quick free kick or goal kick the referee prevents you from doing so, instead you have to wait a good 5 or so seconds for him to blow his whistle. The most controversial is the ability to dive, something that can be exploited to win penalties and get an opposing player sent off. While I understand that diving is part of the modern game it’s something that needs to be eradicated and including it in a football game feels wrong. The biggest problem however is the slowdown that occurs when action enters either box, it’s not as noticeable on a standard definition TV but that isn’t much of a consolation to those who have shelled out big bucks. This is simply unacceptable, especially when you consider this is running on next-gen hardware, The slowdown also hinders the replays, in fact it’s so bad it’s as if you’re watching a slideshow; making it near impossible to figure what’s going on.
Not content at providing us with no new features they also had the bright idea of removing certain editing options; including the ability to edit the games unofficial badges. It wouldn’t have been such an issue if they had stepped up their game and obtained a fully-licensed Premier League but once again it has eluded them, it wasn’t such a problem seven years go but as each year passes their excuses become less acceptable. To add insult to injury they’ve replaced the only two English teams they had (Manchester United and Arsenal) with Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle, a bizarre decision when you consider the following of each club. They’ve also removed every English Stadium, leaving just 15 to choose from, half of which are either fictional or you’ll have never heard of.
This time around they’ve done away with the PES shop and instead locked the secret players to the games various cups and leagues, this is a far better way of delegating the unlockables as it pushes you to play through every mode the game offers. The classic teams also make a return, these can be obtained by winning the World Cup with the corresponding modern equivalent, for example: winning it with brazil will bag you classic Brazil; Pele and all.
With the ever-growing popularity of 360 achievements and the lack thereof on Sony’s part; more and more games are implementing their own reward schemes, Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 is no different. Here they’re called awards and while they’re not nearly as diverse as Gamer Points they provide something to strive for, 100 wins, 100 clean sheets etc. It’s worth noting however that one of the awards seems to be bugged, so completing them all isn’t possible, hopefully this is something they can fix in the near future.
The online mode is an absolute joke in every single respect. To start with there’s no internet functionality whatsoever, you can basically create a game or join a game using simple search criteria. When you compare this to Fifa who pack their online with bells and whistles and the fact that they also offer extra content via downloads it’s a wonder why Konami offers its users so little, it’s almost as if they’re trying to cut down their fanbase. Once you’ve chosen your match you will soon come to realize that the slowdown is also noticeable in the online portions too, not to mention the most horrendous lag imaginable. The ball skips around sporadically, player’s teleport from one spot to the next and if you attempt to tackle your opponent then you’re probably going to end up either getting booked or missing them completely.
I simply cannot explain how unacceptable this is, especially when you consider that it’s running on next gen hardware. That’s not the end of the misery either, when you finally do come across a lag-free match you’re more than likely going to stumble across ‘wide cheats’ as I like to call them. They don’t want a proper game of football, all they want to do is play as Barcelona or another equally stat-heavy club, stick two players extremely far forward and extremely far wide and then pass to them over and over and over again. No inter-passing play, no one-twos, just continuous through balls for the full duration of the match. I know what you’re thinking; surely you can stop these balls if you know that they’re coming? Well of course you can, but eventually one is going to hit and when it does they will most likely breakthrough and score. It’s not like you can even retaliate because if your full concentration is not on stopping that one through ball they will break through and score again with ease, it really does spoil the online play. The only way I’ve discovered of preventing such an occurrence is by checking what team they have played as the last five matches, if that team happens to be Barcelona five times over then that’s the tactic they’re most likely to use.
The graphics feel like they’ve been taken straight from the PlayStation 2 and given a slight makeover, things such as the crowd still look as pixilated as ever. At least they have finally added linesman on the pitch though and it’s hard not to admire some of the highly realistic player models on offer, it’s just a shame that for every one they seem to get right they inevitably get one completely wrong.
The soundtrack is atrocious, every menu is filled with the most cringe-worthy songs you will ever hear, you only have to listen to a track by the name of ‘Football Soccer’ to understand where I’m coming from, it had me scrambling for the mute button after just a few plays of the chorus. One positive is they’ve sorted the commentary out this year, gone are the ‘gruesome twosome’ and in comes the pedigree of Jon Champion; who brings the play alive, making what used to seem like a 0-0 division 3 match into a Champions League final. He is however paired with the ever-dull Mark Lawrenson; who is on hand to turn everything sour, if the slowdown doesn’t put you in a depressive state his voice might just push you over the brink. The commentary also suffers from inconsistence, just like games of the past it is prone to the odd mistake, for example: I’ll bring on two defenders near the end of the game and it wills ay something like “it looks like he is really going for this game now, bringing on players to try and secure the win”.
All-in-all Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 is a huge step back from where Konami should be heading. It lacks features, it lacks progression and it lacks the graphical power to push the series forward. In fact it almost makes you wonder whether they gave up on this game a long time ago; in order to focus their efforts on Pro Evolution Soccer 2009, a game they claim to be ‘the real next gen Pro Evo’. Hopefully they deliver that promise because if they’re not careful they may just find that all of the Pro Evo loyalists that have stuck with them for so long may well have jumped ship.
UPDATE: Konami released a statement stating that the servers have been stabilized and that lag should now be less of an issue, after testing this it’s clear that some of the problems have been eradicated but there are still a few more kinks that need ironing out.