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MLS ExtraTime (PS2) Review




Explaining all the divisions behind Konami's sports games may seem confusing, but it's merely is a matter of remembering what acronym goes with which set of games. Firstly, there's KCET (Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo) who make the incredible Winning Eleven series, also known as ISS Pro Evolution and MLS GameNight in North America. Then there's KCEA (Konami Computer Entertainment Osaka) who make the more arcade-like Jikkyou soccer titles such as ISS 98 for the PSX and N64. Now there's KCEA Honolulu (Konami Computer Entertainment America) who've produced the newest Konami soccer title to be released in North America, ESPN MLS ExtraTime. Unfortunately, MLS ExtraTime is not the North American version of Winning Eleven 5 (KCETs newest soccer gaming masterpiece currently out in Japan); rather, it's basically a PS2 port of the PSOne's ESPN MLS GameNight but with a few extras. While this isn't necessarily a bad thing, North American soccer fans deserve more than just a simple port of a game that is essentially two years old, and most ISS veterans will find the game somewhat disappointing.

Presentation/Graphics - 85
Since ExtraTime is essentially a port of MLS GameNight on the PSOne the player models and animations are basically the same as in last year's game, but obviously with a higher resolution and a bit more detail. Unlike the Fifa series, ExtraTime features differential player sizes and KCEA Honolulu have also worked on the players' faces so that many of the MLS' top stars are easily recognizable from just a simple glance. KCEA have also done some brilliant work with the kits and they're easily the best I've ever seen in a soccer game.

The animations are exactly the same as in GameNight and ISS Pro Evolution, and while they're light years ahead of those in Fifa 2001 in terms of realism, variety, subtle details and the transitions between animations, they still fall behind the plethora of animations present in ISS Pro Evolution 2 on the PSOne. This is very disappointing considering that the PS2 is several times more powerful than the aging PSOne, and even more so when you see footage of Winning Eleven 5 on the PS2 in Japan.

The most impressive aspect of ExtraTime's graphics, and the only part of the in-game graphics that aren't merely high-resolution upgrades of GameNight, are the absolutely brilliant stadiums. The game features all 12 MLS grounds, such as RFK Stadium, Giants Stadium, Foxboro, Soldier Field, The Cotton Bowl, Mile High Stadium, Arrowhead Stadium, The Rose Bowl, and Crew Stadium. Each one is modeled brilliantly and many of the more famous stadiums are modeled even better than in most Gridiron Football games! Another feature I particularly like about the stadiums are the crowds, and more specifically the fact that most of the large multi-sport stadiums aren't close to being filled to capacity. This is a nice touch because you don't expect most multi-purpose stadia to be completely sold out for MLS games.

The game also features a variety of little graphical touches such as linesmen, different pitch textures for each of the stadia, cameras surrounding the pitches, and some wonderful sky textures (especially for matches at dusk) complete with moving clouds. The TV presentation has been improved, and one of my favorite features is the highlights at the end of each half which replay the goals scored in the last half. The game also moves at a silky smooth and very (very) brisk framerate with no slowdown whatsoever. Overall, ExtraTime is one of the better looking PS2 sports games; however, at its very heart it's basically a high-res version of a PSOne game, but with some magnificent stadiums. Considering the graphical power of the PS2 I feel there's more KCEA could have done with the graphical aspect of ExtraTime.

Presentation/Audio - 40
One of the things I was hoping KCEA Honolulu could improve over GameNight was the audio. Unfortunately, they've failed miserably and, honestly, I take the poor quality of ExtraTime's audio as an insult to those who've invested $300 in a shiny new PS2. The commentary, featuring Bob Ley in English, is practically the same as in GameNight but with a few extra phrases thrown in. Unfortunately, Bob Ley is so utterly annoying that these extra phrases took me over my 'bad commentary threshold' and I simply had to turn the commentary off. It doesn't help matters that Ley's comments are absolutely moronic and range from the Forest Gump-ish “He had to make that play…and he did!” to the Clive Tyldsley-esque “With that hatrick he'll be a national hero!”. The other commentary option is to switch it over to Spanish with Louis Tapia; however, this is only bearable because I don't understand what he's saying and I have the distinct feeling that if I understood Spanish I would be doubly pissed off at the commentary since I'm sure he's saying the same phrases as Ley. Most gamers will be best served by just turning off the commentary, but unfortunately there isn't much of an aural atmosphere otherwise. The crowds are muted and understandably there are hardly any chants. The on-field sounds are adequate; however, a slide

Interface/Options - 70
In the options department, ExtraTime does a decent job, but again fails to dazzle as I had expected. The main modes of play are Match Mode, Season Mode, Cup Mode, Scenario Mode, and Training Mode. The Match Mode is your plain vanilla exhibition mode, and the Cup Mode allows you to participate in any one of 5 international cup competitions based loosely upon the European Championships, African Nations Cup, the Gold Cup, the Asian Championships, and the World Cup. The training mode is the same excellent training mode found in GameNight and ISS Pro Evolution and allows you to work on all aspects of your play from free-kicks and corners to simple open-play practice. However, GameNight veterans will spend most of their time in the Season Mode and the Scenario Mode.

As you've probably guessed, in Season Mode you basically guide an MLS team of your choosing through an MLS season and then the playoffs. Unfortunately, the game doesn't feature continuing seasons or a franchise mode, and while the individual player statistics (goals, assists, points, and cards) are more in-depth than those in Fifa 2001, I would have liked to have seen much greater statistical depth with individual tallies for shots on net, pass completion percentages, tackle percentages, G.A.A., and most of the other stats that you see tabulated for the Carling Opta Points in the EPL. KCEA Honolulu have also decided to abandon the player points system that was present in GameNight; however, they haven't included a system for trades and as such you're stuck with the default rosters!

Speaking of rosters, ExtraTime was released a few weeks after this years' MLS season began, and yet there are a few MLS roster inaccuracies, most notable of which is that Robin Fraser still plays for the LA Galaxy. Another disappointment with the rosters is that, just like in GameNight, there's no pseudo-license for players on the International teams (with the exception of the US national team)--worse still is that KCEA haven't included a player edit mode! Therefore, you're stuck with several International teams full of nobodies (the players don't even look like their real life counterparts). As such, most soccer fans won't even bother using the international teams and consequently the various International Cup competitions don't really add to the replay value.

One redeeming feature of the game that KCEA Honolulu have added is the Scenario Mode. The premise is identical to the Scenario Mode in Rage's Striker Pro 2000: you enter a match somewhere in the middle or near the end and have to complete a specific task. The tasks range from simply maintaining a shut-out, to coming back from 2 goals down with 15 minutes left in the match, to scoring a hat trick with a specific player. There are 12 scenarios in total, and they're all a blast to play.

Just as in GameNight, the game allows you to save goals to memory card, and one improvement in this area that I really appreciate is the greater length of the replay buffer. The buffer is now much, much longer and you can save the entire build-up to a goal rather than just the last 7-8 seconds as in GameNight. The increased size of the PS2's memory card also allows you to save tons of replays on a single card.

A final aspect that must be mentioned are the game's load times, or more technically the lack of load times as they're practically non-existent! Once the game boots up the first time you're never waiting more than 2-3 seconds for a game to load up, and after playing titles like NHL 2001 for the PS2 that had incredibly aggravating load times this was quite refreshing.

Gameplay - 78
Since the game is basically a modified version of MLS GameNight and ISS Pro Evolution I won't bother going over the basics of the gameplay (you can do that by checking out the original review of both games HERE). Instead, I'll go over how the game differs from its PSOne brethren.

The first thing ISS veterans will notice upon kick off is the incredible speed of play. I usually play ISS Pro Evolution at three speed notches and the same for GameNight. This game absolutely flies by at a terrifying pace, easily moving at a speed similar to the maximum speed you can select in both of the aforementioned games. Amazingly, there's no option to adjust the game speed! I can't think of even one reason why KCEA Honolulu decided to take out the option to adjust the speed of the game and as a result it will take most ISS pros (pun intended) a few games just to get used to the ridiculous pace of the game. Fortunately, the ball physics are solid and the ball still moves at realistic pace, rather than in Fifa 2001 where you can turn down the speed but a header from the midfield will still travel faster than an intercontinental ballistic missile. The solid frame rate also means that the game is still silky smooth despite the frantic pace.

Aside from instantly making the game less realistic, the torrid pace also makes player switching a bit of a problem. A lot was made of the semi-automatic player switching 'problem' in ISSPE and GameNight, but if you had the speed set to the default or lower level in either game it wasn't really a problem and you could always override the computer's selection by pressing L1. In fact, despite the option for totally manual player switching in ISSPE2, my friends and I are so used to the semi-automatic method that we prefer it. Unfortunately, because the players in ExtraTime move so damn fast ISS veterans will find themselves overriding the computer's selection far too often. This is especially annoying when you're crossing the ball into a crowded box and trying to select the player nearest to the ball. I'm certain those who've never played ISSPE or GameNight will need a lot of time to get used to player switching and this could be the source of some frustration.

One area of the game that has been completely changed from its PSOne brethren is the shooting system. The powerbar is still present, but it's no longer an indicator of the speed or the strength of the shot, merely the trajectory. Instead, both the strength and speed of the shot are determined by how hard and how fast you press the shoot button, and this is probably the best use of the PS2's analog buttons I've seen so far. The harder you push the shoot button the faster the ball will go, and the longer you hold the button the higher the ball goes. It may sound confusing, but in practice it's actually very simple. For example, if you want to shoot a low, fast shot into the corner of the goal, you aim the shot and give the shoot button a short, but very firm, tap. If you want to shoot the ball higher, but still with a lot of pace you again tap the button firmly, but this time hold it down longer. If you want to perform a delicate chip over the keeper you must gently push the shoot button down, and the longer you hold it the higher the ball will rise. It's a brilliant system and it really gets you more involved with the shooting. The system also gives you even greater control over where you want to place the ball.

Staying with the topic of shooting, one of the major gameplay differences between GameNight and ISSPE was that in the former a lot of the player ratings had been juiced up and this lead to slightly easier goal scoring, especially from long range. The ratings increases are also present in ExtraTime, and it's also clear that everyone has very high dribbling attributes as well as high shooting ones. Consequently, games are much more high scoring and most ISS veterans will be able to score from 25-35 yards on a very consistent basis, provided they can get a clear path to the net. While this looks spectacular, it's hardly realistic and multiplayer games often turn into frantic battles 10-15 yards around the 18 yard box to prevent anyone from getting open because a clear line of sight to net results in a goal 99% of the time. This isn't helped by the fact that almost every player can shoot the ball with the outside of their foot with pinpoint precision, and this practically eliminates the need to shoot the ball using the player's preferred foot – something that really distinguished ISSPE from Fifa. The increased dribbling stats also mean that tactics play less of a part in the gameplay, and you don't need to adjust formations and call set plays in order to succeed like you do in ISSPE, and this takes away a lot of depth.

When you combine the frantic speed and the juiced up player ratings you get a very interesting concoction. Think of La Liga in Spain, but with everyone on massive doses of steroids and you have a good idea of what the soccer in ExtraTime is like: high scoring, a high frequency of stunning long-range strikes, insanely quick counter-attacks, and a ridiculously high degree of technical proficiency. Yet, since the game is built around the solid Winning Eleven 4 engine, it still manages to stay true to the ideals of soccer. Yes, the scoring is easy and spectacular, but the gameplay is still all about pass and move, and playing the ball into space. The game is also still fun to play, and even the most hardened soccer purists will appreciate the free-flowing passing.

So why then, the relatively 'low' score of 78 for the gameplay, especially when I gave GameNight and ISSPE much higher scores in the same category. Two reasons: firstly despite the improved graphics, the new shooting system, and the other minor gameplay tweaks, ESPN MLS ExtraTime is essentially the same game as ESPN MLS GameNight, and a slightly inferior one at that. Secondly, everything in gaming is relative, and after playing ISS Pro Evolution 2 it's very difficult to go back and enjoy this dated game engine. Just like its predecessors, ExtraTime's gameplay is just too rigid, the shooting too easy, the dribbling too archaic, the control too limited, the ball physics not as complex, the AI not smart enough, and overall the game is so much easier and limited in-depth compared to ISS Pro Evolution 2. I don't mean to be too hard on the game, because it still is a very good game, and by comparison ISSPE and GameNight's gameplay scores should be lowered to the low 80s as well. The game is still fun to play, and those who've never played ISS Pro Evolution 2 probably won't find a problem with the gameplay, but using a two-year-old game engine is not the way forward, and I just wish KCEA Honolulu had used the ISSPE2 game engine as a base instead.

Replay Value - 70
For those who've never played ISSPE 1 or 2, or MLS GameNight, this game will provide more replay value than you can shake a very large stick at. However, for those who have played the aforementioned games, this title won't last for very long. The three levels of difficulty are the same as in ISSPE and GameNight, and most ISS veterans will need an hour to get used to the speed and the ingenious shooting system before they begin to absolutely slaughter the CPU, even at the World Class setting. The Scenario Mode is a blast, but again, the difficulty level means most ISS fans will be able to breeze through all 12 scenarios in an afternoon and while there are unlockable teams and stadia for completing the Scenario Mode, none were interesting enough to keep me playing for long. The lack of a franchise mode also hurts the replay value, as does the lack of an edit mode and consequently most soccer fans won't bother with the international cup competitions because the players are all fictional.

Overall - 78
Much like most of this review, assigning a final overall score for this game is quite difficult. A score of 78 seems low for a game that is easily one of the best sports games on the PS2, and really in the end the actual score isn't that important. If you've a PS2-owning soccer fan who's never played ISS Pro Evolution nor ESPN MLS GameNight, and can't get your hands on either title (both of which are hard to find), ignore the overall score and then run to your nearest videogame vendor and buy this game--you won't regret it. However, if you're PS2-owning soccer fan who does have ISSPE and/or GameNight, then I can only recommend this game as a rental. It has good graphics and brilliant stadiums, however it's essentially the same game as its PSOne brethren, but with a few tweaks to make it more arcade-like. Finally, if you're an ISSPE or GameNight veteran contemplating buying a PS2 and ESPN MLS ExtraTime to satisfy your soccer needs, you'd be better off splashing the cash on a European PSOne with a copy of ISS Pro Evolution 2, or better yet, a Japanese PS2 and a copy of Winning Eleven 5.

By: Lavan Chandran 6/8/01

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