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ESPN MLS GameNight (PSX)
Hands-on Preview

Do the guys at Konami know what they are doing? It's one thing to have a great soccer game, but it's quite another thing to attach the MLS name to it. I bet if you asked ten average people on the street what MLS stands for, you would get ten blank stares. Of course this isn't saying much since the American public would have a hard time with FIFA, UEFA, or even NASL (some of our readers may have a tough time with that one). But nonetheless, Konami thinks it can strike it rich by throwing America's professional soccer league license on the box.

If you consider the heritage of the title, it should satisfy every footy fan's soccer appetite. Based on the superb ISS soccer engine, MLS Game Night brings all the current rosters of the MLS into one tight soccer game. The American league has been all but neglected in the latest soccer offerings, but no more. You can play with all the big name players like Etcheverry and Valderrama. Carrying a full license, every player on every team is there. Woohoo! And if you tire of the American teams, there are plenty of international teams to try.

The development copy I received lacked instructions, but fortunately the control scheme is simple. You will need a total of six buttons to play the game. Thus, the emphasis is on getting right into the game without having to memorize button combinations. The button layout emphasizes passing, shooting, and tackling. The hard-to-get-to R1 and L1 buttons control sprints and player switching.

Once you start playing, it's classic Konami - only the names have changed. One of my favorite games is ISS 98 on the Nintendo 64, and this game is ISS 98 with a full license and real players. The ISS series has always been tough to score on, and this version is no different. Defenses rapidly converge to keep the scoring down. In several games I had trouble scoring at all. The most I scored while playing five-minute games was a paltry pair. Part of the problem was that the shoot button was a little too sensitive. Shooting is based on strength, and strength is determined by how long you hold the square button. Unless you simply tap the shoot button, the strength meter rapidly fills up and the ball sails on you. I would hope Konami tames the touchy response down some in the final release.

Fans of the series will appreciate the wonderful through passing in the game. Your players make intelligent runs down the field and will cut to meet the ball. Unfortunately you can never seem to make the same types of cuts. The player you control is sluggish as he tends to finish his animation sequences before a cut or reverse can be executed. This is exaggerated when sprinting. There were several times where I would sprint to the goal and could not get a shot off because my player was under a computer induced trance for a good five or ten yards. There's still some work that has to be done, and hopefully a little tighter control will be on the list of actions.

Graphically, MLS Game Night is shaping up nicely. The game offers nearly a dozen camera views. While players are not highly detailed, there is enough clarity and difference to recognize player attributes. Skin and hair colors are the two ways to distinguish players. The night games feature stadium lights that produce four-way shadows of the players. Player animations are fluid, as bicycle kicks, slides, and headers all look realistic. Even early in the development I noticed no glitches with the graphics.

The same could not be said about the sound. Consider that it is still early and that some things have to get worked out. Bob Ley of ESPN goes solo and calls the play-by-play action. The commentary is well done at this early stage, although I did notice a couple of mistakes. I was playing with LA most of the time, yet the game insisted Kansas City was playing. A more humorous mistake was when Bob mentioned the game was "in the bottom of the fifth." Looks like the Konami crew is stealing some voice work from the ESPN Baseball title. For the most part, however, Bob calls the shots as he sees them, and I found the commentary to remain fresh.

I also noticed a flaw in the rules, or at least I think I did. I'm a fan of the English Premier League rather than MLS, but unless the MLS rules are different the game incorrectly keeps time. On dead ball situations (corners, free kicks, etc), the clock would stop.

Despite a couple of minor flaws, this game looks like a winner when it gets released later this summer. Konami's soccer games have always been easy to play but difficult to master. The arcade-style action comes through again with their latest title. Even though fast action is emphasized, the rules of the game remain. Tackle hard and expect to get carded. In fact, I was red carded at least twice for slide tackles. I even had one player collect a pair of yellows to get tossed from the game. Needless to say, the refs are tough in this version of the game.

Unfortunately I could not progress through the game enough to see what lies at the end. The memory card function would save but never would recognize the saved game when I tried loading. The prospect of 32 games in one sitting was a little daunting. And a couple of the modes gave a blank screen when selected. So until the final release arrives, I guess I'll be in the dark as much as you.

By: James Smith 6/8/00

Related Link : ESPN MLS GameNight Preview (Fact Sheet)

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