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Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 (Xbox 360) artwork

Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 (Xbox 360) review

"It’s comparable to the thirty-something footballer in the twilight of his career; once a magician on the field, but now a fallen star who is content to sit on the bench for his massive pay cheque. PES needs to be the teenage upstart who’s making his way in the game; eager to learn, determined to succeed, and playing with passion."

What does the “beautiful game” mean to you? In my opinion, it’s all about passion for football, support for your team, and the spectacle of twenty-two men playing their hearts out for three points. Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 captures little of this magic. Rather than producing the buzz you get from the terraces watching a fast-paced and hard-fought final, it’s more akin to staring at the television waiting for the whistle to blow on a disappointing stalemate.

PES2008 plays a decent game of football, but it feels eerily similar to its predecessors. Players move smoother than they did in the past and physical momentum is now more important, but it still hasn’t changed a great deal. Konami have championed the “TeamVision” AI system as a revolution; computer opponents learn and adapt to your personal play style, so if you’re getting a lot of opportunities by attacking the right flank, the AI will tighten up its defense on the left side. Although it’s a neat idea, it doesn’t have a huge consequence on matches; you can just as easily focus your efforts on a different area of the pitch if you’re having trouble with your usual strategy. The goal of TeamVision is to make the computer feel like a living, breathing opponent. Unfortunately, it’s no substitute for the real thing.

Instead of trying to achieve the impossible with its TeamVision system, Konami would have been better off improving the competence of the AI when it controls your own players. All too often, your defenders drift out of position and your strikers spurn goal-scoring opportunities through sheer incompetence. When you’re pulling out to the wing to put a cross into the box, it’s very frustrating when, through no fault of your own, your lone striker follows your winger to the sideline. Stupid AI decisions such as this are not only frustrating but extremely unrealistic; you don’t see these kinds of school-boy errors at the top level that Konami is trying to emulate. Player switching also remains a problem; despite the various cursor control settings (including a fully manual function), it sometimes fails to select the man you want until it’s too late. Occurrences of this nature are particularly detrimental when your opponent is on a counter-attack. Though far from game-breaking, PES2008 would be a far better experience if these AI deficiencies were eliminated.

As always, the Master League mode is the main focus of the game (although you can also participate in stand-alone league and cup competitions, exhibitions, and online matches). The goal of Master League is to build your rag-tag team of footballing misfits into champions. If you’d rather take a more established team, or even create your own, those options are available to you. Buying and selling players is a core part of the game, but nurturing young talent into world class quality is probably the best part. It hasn’t changed a lot from its last outing; the menus are still somewhat confusing to navigate, but one new addition comes in the form of in-game advertising. MySpace and IGN adverts adorn the main menu, something which is sure to frustrate anti-ad gamers.

On a more positive note, some of the trademark features the last Xbox 360 game lacked are back; most notably the edit mode and the ability to save replays. The PES series has always had limited access to club licenses. The majority of players featured have their real names and likenesses, but a number of teams (most notably the English Premier League teams) don’t retain their names or kits (think “Man Red” instead of “Manchester United”). Edit mode allows you to change the names and kits of each team, as well as changing player skill parameters. For football fanatics who want to make their favourite unlicensed team as authentic as possible, you can use the Xbox Live Vision camera to scan an image to act as a club logo. Similarly, you can create a player with your own face.

Saving your best goals is a fantastic way to keep the banter going with your mates or prove you scored that forty-yard pile driver. While it’s definitely a welcome return, you can’t help but feel PES has missed an opportunity here. We’ve seen Halo 3’s extensive file share system work tremendously well, and Guitar Hero 3 has integrated a community website to track game scores and stats. Why couldn’t PES2008 have a similar community focus? Football is the world’s most popular sport, and I can’t think of a better game to integrate community features. The ability to trade replays with other gamers would be fantastic. As it stands, you can only share your best moments with someone who is sitting next to you. More unforgivable, perhaps, is the absence of online leagues.

Archrival FIFA’s latest instalment has a feature that allows gamers to set up their own Xbox Live leagues and invite friends. PES2008’s complete disregard for any such feature suggests that Konami are resting on their laurels. In fact, the entire online experience is deeply disappointing. After navigating your way through the not-so-user-friendly menus and finding a game you can actually connect to, you’ll be greeted with a stuttering, stop-start brand of football. I’ve put a good amount of time into the online mode and every match has been plagued with lag of some degree. In the ideal scenario, it’s a minor inconvenience that has little effect on the game. In the worst case scenario, it’s a potential game breaker. Players skip yards as they run, tackles become impossible to time, and you can even concede a goal when the situation appears to be perfectly safe. This may be a problem that can be alleviated with a patch, but the truth is the game shouldn’t have shipped with such shoddy online play.

If there’s one thing PES2008 has, its great visuals. Players look and move in a convincing way as they make their passes, jump for headers, and shape up for shoots (if you’re playing offline, anyway). All the star names, such as Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo, look just like their real-life counterparts. Most of the top-team players look spot on, but you’ll notice that lesser known footballers look less accurate. Many of the stadiums you play in are based on actual venues but don’t have the name licensed; Barcelona’s “Camp Nou” becomes “Catalonia Stadium”. Regardless, they look spot on and convey a good representation of what a football match should feel like. The crowd’s chanting fills up the stadium and erupts into a rapture of applause when a team scores. Accompanying the action is running commentary from “football experts” Jon Champion and Mark Lawrenson. Bad commentary has long plagued sports games of all kinds, but Champion and Lawrenson do a decent job of keeping you up to date. Admittedly, there are occasions were they come out with the most irrelevant lines of commentary (claiming a regular league match is about to go to extra time, etc.)

Ultimately, Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 is a disappointment. It’s better off with its small gameplay tweaks, but it isn’t a great change from the previous instalment. The state of the online play is, quite frankly, disgraceful. Konami has built in PES a series known for its constantly evolving and improving gameplay, but if PES2008 is anything to go by, they’re abusing this reputation. It’s comparable to the thirty-something footballer in the twilight of his career; once a magician on the field, but now a fallen star who is content to sit on the bench for his massive pay cheque. PES needs to be the teenage upstart who’s making his way in the game; eager to learn, determined to succeed, and playing with passion.

PAJ89's avatar
Freelance review by Paul Josua (November 06, 2007)

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