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Pro Evolution Soccer (PS2) Review


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Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) is the newest game in the ISS Pro Evolution series to be released in Europe since the release of ISS Pro Evolution 2 early last year. The true sequel to ISS PE2 was, however, a game called 'Winning Eleven 5' which was released in Japan only. So PES is really a greatly enhanced version of 'Winning Eleven 5' and goes under the title 'Winning Eleven 5 Final Edition' in Japan and there's also a version of the same game featuring J-League teams called 'J-League Winning Eleven 5.' Confused? Well don't worry because the only thing you really need to remember is that not only is Pro Evolution Soccer the best soccer game out there, it's also arguably the best live-action sports game money can buy, period.

Presentation/Graphics - 95
One of the best things about PES' graphics, and the first thing that stands out about the game, are the incredible stadium models. Eight stadia including the Olympia Stadion, Highbury, the San Siro, the Nou Camp, Amsterdam Arena, and the Stade Louis II and all are modeled superbly. The crowds are still 2D but look spectacular from a distance and importantly they wear the colors of the two teams playing, with the stadium separated for home and away fans. The quality of the stadiums really gives an amazing sense of immersion and when you're playing at Highbury the pitch actually feels smaller because the crowd is brought right up to the touchline and that big-ass jumbotron is in the right hand corner of the stadium – just as you'd see it when you watch an EPL match on TV. My only beef with the stadiums is not regarding the quality, but the quantity. ISS PE2 has almost double the number of stadiums with 15 and there's no excuse for PES having fewer stadiums than its predecessor even though these stadiums are clearly of a higher quality.

PES' player models are just as impressive as its stadiums. Unlike Fifa 2002's gargoyles PES' players are accurately proportioned and look just like their real life counterparts not only in their respective builds but also the facial features. All of the players on the top international and club teams have had their faces captured accurately even down to details such as Edgar David's sunglasses! Most importantly of all, the players are instantly recognizable from even distant playing angles. The only problem with the models is the kits; KCET didn't get a license for the actual kits and as a result they're all a bit off. The kits are still fairly recognizable, but in some instances (e.g. Croatia's kit) the jerseys are really off.

PES features a massive catalog of animations that has to be almost double that of ISS PE2. It's incredible to see a plethora of animations just for controlling a ball; there's the chest take down, the thigh take down, trapping the ball under the foot, controlling it with the instep, the outside of the foot, instantly dragging the incoming ball onto the player's stronger foot, and there are subtle variations on each of these depending upon the individual player you use and the type of pass he's receiving. Just as importantly as the vast catalog of animations is the fact that the transitions between them flow wonderfully and the players never end up looking robotic. The range of player celebrations has also been expanded and it's great to see players just embrace each other or give each other high fives after scoring the first goal of the game in the middle of the first half, as opposed to Fifa where the players jump around like a bunch of retarded tree monkeys. The celebrations in PES are also all context specific. Thankfully, though, KCET left out any penis-biting celebrations….

Finally, PES' TV-style presentation easily beats Fifa's lame efforts. Prior to each match you get a sweeping view of the stadium, the teams then walk onto the pitch from the tunnel with photographers surrounding them and numerous camera flashes. The teams then line up for the pre-match huddle or photo, and while this is going on a TV-style overlay goes over the starting 11 for each team and then shows the formations for each of the teams and how the players will line up! At the end of each half you also get a nice highlights package like in ESPN MLS ExtraTime.

Presentation/Audio - 55
Audio-wise PES really is a case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. On one hand it easily has the best crowd sounds in a soccer game. Not only do the crowds react to the events on the pitch with the cries growing louder as the action approaches the goal, there is also a ton of different songs, crowd chants, and crowd noise specific for each team. Play with England and you'll hear chants of “England, England” and even the odd verse of “Rule Britannia”; play with Holland and you hear Dutch songs and cowbells, while the Brazilian fans ring in with the samba beats. However, things aren't perfect, and soccer games still lag behind other sports when it comes to differentiating between the home and away fans – in PES, like Fifa, you can't really tell the difference at all.

On the more negative side, Chris James and Terry Butcher are simply awful as commentators. About the only worthwhile thing they do is to say the names of the players when they receive the ball; however, the rest of the comments seem completely random. During a nighttime match in the pouring rain, James remarked “the sun is shining and the wind is shooting through the stadium.” So much of the pathetic audio from ISS PE2 is reused and it's a shame the localization team didn't do a better job with the commentary.

Interface/Options - 75
The major modes of play in PES are similar to those in ISS PE2; Match Mode (exhibition match with either club, international, or All-Star teams), League Mode, Cup Mode (World Cup, European Championships, African Nations Cup, Copa America/Gold Cup, Asian Cup and Custom Cup), Master League and Practice Mode. The best addition has to be the changes to the Master League which now features two 16 team divisions. Like ISS PE 1 & 2, the ML uses a system of starting off with a roster of fictional rejects and then earning player purchase points for victories and high scoring draws. An additional layer of strategy is added in PES with the implementation of player maintenance points which are basically the salary you have to pay a player each season.

The featured club teams are Liverpool, Arsenal, Leeds, Chelsea, Manchester United, West Ham (!), Newcastle, Inter Milan, AC Milan, Juventus, Lazio, Roma, Parma, Fiorentina, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Valencia, Deportivo La Coruna, Monaco, Marseille, Paris St. Germain, Bordeaux, Ajax, PSV, Feyenoord, Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich, Bayer Leverkusen, Vasco de Gama, Palmeiras, River Plate, and Boca Juniors. There are also 53 international teams. All team rosters are accurate to about early September. While the team list may not too impressive compared to the plethora of leagues and 100s of teams in Fifa, this really is a case of quality over quantity. Each of the club and national teams have authentic rosters with the correct players playing in the correct positions, and most importantly, each of these teams plays exactly like their real life counterparts. That said though, this still isn't an excuse for KCET considering they've made a deal with Sports Interactive (of Championship Manager fame) to have access to their accurate team and player database, and hopefully PES 2 can feature at least a few full domestic leagues.

One of the best features in PES is the brilliant edit mode that allows you to create and add players to teams and also edit existing players. The create a player mode allows you to chose between 4 tones of skin color with 27 different types of faces for each skin tone, 69 different hairstyles, 62 shades of hair color, 8 different head band colors, 60 different types/styles of facial hair, height ranging from 155cm to 205 cm, 8 different types of body builds, and 10 different types of football boots! PES features also 5 difficulty levels and when you win tournaments you unlock various all-star or classic teams and also a number of free-agent players.

Unfortunately, the edit mode has one very shocking flaw: aside from changing player names and squad numbers you can't edit the club teams! So while I was able to add Kieron Dyer and Joe Cole to the England squad, there was no way I could put Robbie Fowler on Leeds and replace him with Nicolas Anelka! Equally as stupid (perhaps even more so), is that you can't use the club teams in a custom league or tournament! You can use any of the club sides for friendlies or in the Master League, but when it comes to making a custom competition you're limited to the international teams only!

Another problem seems to come with the stats tracking and simulated match results; there are a quite a few statistics for the leagues such as team form, goals, assists, etc. However, occasionally the totals don't add up! For example, Nigeria won their first match in the International League 2-0 over Norway, but when I checked their team stats Kanu had 2 goals, and Okocha had 1! The stats aren't wildly off-base, but it's still perplexing as to how Konami could make such a gaffe. Another problem is with simulated match results, the match results are largely spot on in the International League, but when you play a cup/knockout tournament there seem to be far too many upsets and weaker teams like Australia and Japan reach the semi-finals over established superpowers far too often to be realistic. Thankfully this doesn't change the way the teams act when you play them and can be mitigated by only selecting the best 16 teams to play in tournaments.

Gameplay - 99
It's amazing that just when you think that KCET really reached their peak with ISSPE2 they absolutely astound soccer fans with PES, and the improvements from ISSPE2 to PES are even more impressive than those from ISSPE1 to ISSPE2. The biggest improvements in PES come in 5 main areas; game speed, control, ball & player physics, new player ratings, and the improved AI & tactical options.

Once you kick-off the first thing you notice about the game is the speed – it's fast! I don't mean Fifa fast, but the players in PES move close to the maximum speed you can select in ISSPE 1 & 2. I played more than 6 months of ISSPE2 at only 3 speed notches so this speed difference was quite a shock, just as shocking is the fact that there is no option to change the game speed!! This really floored me as I didn't see why KCET chose to take out an option that was present in the past two incarnations of the series. However, the more I played the more I began to like the faster speed – it's still a realistic pace, but the matches play out more like those in the EPL or La Liga rather than at a slower pace like in Serie A. It may take some getting used to but the higher pace in tandem with the vastly improved control options mean that PES requires even higher skill level than previous versions of the series, and you have to think quickly on the ball.

When you have the ball at your feet the control options are staggering. Starting off with dribbling there are now 4 different types of dribbling. The D-Pad is your plain vanilla dribbling technique; however, more so than in previous games you have a great deal of control. The ball doesn't stick to your feet like in Fifa, but with guys like Giggs or Kewell you really can dazzle defenders with deft footwork. Holding down R1 is a fast sprint like in ISSPE 1 & 2 where you can't make tight turns and now, depending upon the dribbler, you push the ball quite a bit ahead of you and players with low dribbling stats are very prone to pushing the ball too far ahead and losing it. Holding down R2 is a slower sprint than the R1 version, with better ball control but you can only turn in the standard 8 directions (in 45 degree increments). This may sound odd but it's very practical when you want to make a quick cut with the ball. For example, say you're running at an angle to a loose ball that's just near the touchline. If you run without any sprint the defender will beat you to the ball, if you run with the R1 sprint your momentum and first touch will send the ball out of play, but if you run with R2 or hold down R2 the moment you reach the ball you can make a quick 45 cut and knock the ball parallel to the touchline while gaining possession. That's just one example of its use, and if you dribble with the R2 pressed you also shield the ball more effectively than a flat out sprint. Furthermore, when dribbling with R2 pressed if you turn in a direction 90 degrees to the one you're moving in you do a little shimmy move. Finally, the L1 button performs a very slow dribble in which you shield the ball really well and have very tight control. This great for when you receive the ball with your back to goal or in a tight space. Tapping the L1 button does a double step over, but now you can fake out of a step over at any time, while tapping the L2 button does a single step over to the outside. The stop and cut back move is performed the same way as in ISS PE2, while R3 is jump.

All these new dribbling techniques finally allow you to recreate the individual skill and flair of dribbling that's present in real world soccer, while still requiring a great deal of skill to succeed and most importantly without dumbing things down and making the ball stick to your foot.

Passing is even more dependent upon a player's preferred foot and passing statistics (which I'll discuss soon) than in ISS PE2. The basic passes are the same as in ISS PE2 with regular pass, lob pass (with a power bar), one to three tap crossing, through pass and lobbed through pass. The new additions KCET have included are the option to use the left analog stick to control the passing on the floor in any direction (with a powerbar) and you can also use the left analog stick while holding down the L1 button to do a lobbed pass in any direction with a powerbar. Even after close to two months of play I haven't really got used to using the left analog for ground passes because in the split second you move from the face buttons to the analog you can lose the ball or miss a passing opportunity, also the analog doesn't seem too accurate either. Where I did find this feature useful was for lob passes from defenders when you have a bit of time on your hands, using the analog you can more carefully place your lobbed passes rather than lugging them up the field in a straight line. Pressing L1 and the lob pass button does an automatic lobbed pass towards the penalty box from anywhere on the pitch, which is an excellent tool when on the counterattack. The best change, however, to the passing system comes from the refined 1-2 passing system. In previous games pressing L1 and X (or circle if you wanted a lobbed give and go) initiated a 1-2 pass, but now pressing L1 and X simply passes the ball but now causes the initial passer to go on a forward run, and gives you full control of the initial recipient – in other words you do a give and go without having to immediately pass the ball back to the other player (who still makes a forward run). While this may not sound too special it has incredible ramifications for potential passing movements. For example, you could pass the ball from Conceicao on the left wing in towards Rui Costa in the middle of the park using the L1 + X pass. This now sets Conceicao in motion tearing down the wing. You can then sidestep a midfielder or two with Rui Costa and pass the ball up to the forward Nuno Gomez, who then flicks the ball onto the rushing Conceicao who started his run 25 yards back!!

Shooting is also more dependent upon preferred foot, the position of the ball relative to the player and the shooting statistics than in ISS PE2. More than ever you really have to be aware of the preferred foot of the player you're shooting with and often when on a player's weaker side you have to straighten them up at the last minute so they can side foot it in with their stronger foot rather than shooting across the ball with their weaker one. Conversely when on defense forcing a forward outside to shoot with his weaker foot is a viable strategy. The fake shot remains the same as in the original ISS PE (though like in ISS PE2 defenders and keepers rarely fall for it) and there are now two types of chips; a short chip (double tapping the shoot button) which is useful for chipping an onrushing keeper and a longer chip (shoot plus L1), in both cases you really have to be chipping the ball with a player's preferred foot to have any success.

Set pieces largely remain the same, though free kicks are a lot harder than before and require a lot more practice to learn the nuances of specific players. Throw-ins are still too rigid with little control over where and whom you can throw the ball (though you can now select throw-in takers and certain players have especially long throws). Goalkeepers have more control over their throws and movement when holding the ball than in pervious incarnations of the series, though throws are still line-of-sight only.

The excellent ball physics from ISS PE2 have been even further improved and ricochettes and deflected shots can even exhibit backspin. The physics are completely non-scripted and this is very clear with the dribbling and ball control, if you're running at top speed with a poor player you're likely to lose the ball (there is no imaginary string that will pull it back to your foot like in Fifa). Likewise if you run to a lose ball at top speed your first touch will be poor and out of control with all but the best players in the game. Ball control is so important in PES; that extra second it takes Nathan Blake to control a pass as compared to Thierry Henry can be the difference between a successful turn and shot, and a defender taking the ball away. Player control is very tight and with good players you can straddle the touchline much more effectively than before.

The third area where KCET have really improved the game is with the new range of player ratings. Each player now has 24 regular stats (each going from 1-100); Short-Pass Accuracy, Short-Pass Speed, Long-Pass Accuracy, Long-Pass Speed, Attacking Awareness, Defensive Awareness, Balance, Stamina, Speed, Acceleration, Response, Dribble, Dribble Speed, Shot Power, Shot Accuracy, Jumping, Heading, Technique, Curving, Aggression, Mentality, Stability, Free Kick Accuracy, and Team Work. The most notable of the regular stats are short and long pass speed and accuracy ratings, this really allows a player like Beckham to stand out because not only does he have a really high long pass accuracy but also a high long pass speed which means his crosses, much like in real life, are whipped in with a great deal of pace while Figo's crosses (which will be just as accurate) won't go as fast. The fact that the ratings go from 1-100 and the stats are done by SI mean that no two players are exactly alike, whether they be user or CPU controlled. And this means you really have to be acutely aware of the player you're controlling; you know that if you're controlling Beckham on the right wing you shouldn't try to cut in and take a left footed shot because it will screw high and/or wide. Conversely, if you're covering Beckham you know that despite the fact that he's a brilliant passer and has decent speed he's not going to dribble past you often and his left foot is useless so you try to force him to cut inside. This is where the game becomes a true soccer fan's dream as you end up adopting the same playing styles as individual players and teams use in real life. When I play as Liverpool I know if I have Jari Litmanen and Owen upfront I can play Jari a bit behind Owen and play the ball on the floor with Litmanen trying to send Owen through. If I play with Emile Heskey and Owen up front and use the same tactics, Emile's poor passing and control statistics mean he won't nearly be as effective, and it's much better to have him further up field and lug the ball up to him for him to nod down to Owen or just hold up the ball with his back to goal and (using his size and high stability rating) wait to bring the midfield into the play. This is just one example regarding two positions with three players on one team, so you can imagine the possibilities especially when you consider the increased variables of the opposition's formation and personnel (e.g. if they're playing with a 5 man back line then lugging it up to Heskey isn't going to work so well).

On top of the 24 regular stats, each player can have up to a maximum of 21 special skills such as being an expert dribbler (e.g. Ortega), excelling at man-marking (eg. Nesta), natural goal scorer, long throw, good when one on one with the goalie etc. The best of these special skills has to be the 'Command' special skill which is reserved for the players (mostly midfielders) who can control a game, when these players have the ball their teammates actually make better off the ball runs than if another player had the ball!! It's amazing to see Roy Keane just bossing around the United midfield, especially when he has a full random status boost the whole United team just seems to revolve right around him. Even when you control these players you can notice the difference in your team's behavior and when a player like Zidane has the ball his teammates make much more intelligent runs than if you had Micoud in the center of the park.

The final area where KCET have added to PES is with the AI and tactical options. PES' AI really puts all other sports games to shame. The off the ball movement, both offensively and defensively, is incredible – overlapping runs, support play, players backing down when outnumbered – it's all there, and best of all there's massive variation in offensive and defensive awareness between players that's very noticeable. Slower, but smarter players, like Batistuta are still very effective not only because of their skills but also because they can draw defenders out of position and move into space more effectively in anticipation of a pass.

In the new tactical options added to PES you can really see the influence SI has had on KCET. The game features 21 base formations but with full position editing there's literally an infinite number of base formations you can come up with. There's also position selection where, for example, you can assign a central defender to play as a libero, a sweeper, or stay as a central defender and this will affect the runs he makes and how he defends. PES also features 3 degrees of man-marking and as mentioned before you can finally select throw in takers. Another addition is the ability to designate players to make runs in any of the 8 directions (like in Championship Manager). Each individual player now can have up to 3 favorite positions and won't play well if played in a position that isn't one of his preferred ones. Just like in ISS PE2 random player statuses play a large role and during the course of a season or tournament you'll have to chop and change your starting 11 quite often. I just wish the status effects weren't completely random, but rather more related to form and fitness during the previous matches. Finally, during the match you can select from 11 different in game set plays (such as CB overlap, counter attack and offside trap).

On 5 stars of difficulty being an astute tactician is a pre-requisite for success especially with a poor or mediocre team. You also can't expect to find a single formation that will work the best against all the teams. The random status effects mean you'll often have to shift your starting eleven and when Figo, Conceicao and Simao are unavailable you better think twice about playing an attacking 4-5-2 formation as your available wing players won't be as good as those in your strongest 11.

So what's the end result of all these changes? Well for one, it makes PES undoubtedly the best simulation of the sport of soccer money can buy and arguably the most faithful videogame simulation of any sport ever. The passing, the movement on and off the ball, the goal scoring - all are terrifyingly realistic in PES. Just as impressive is the way PES so perfectly captures the emotions of a soccer match; a 90th minute goal-line clearance will have you jumping around your apartment with joy, while an extra-time free kick goal by a CPU controlled Veron will have you collapsing onto the floor in anguish. Secondly, the high-skill nature of the gameplay means that there's an incredible sense of satisfaction not only in scoring but also in the general play; when you get the timing just right make a great tackle or anticipate a through pass just in time and cut it out, or you simply string together 10 passes to take the piss out of the opposition, when you beat just one defender by doing a step over fake - since everything is so skill dependent you really feel an amazing sense of satisfaction when successfully performing any of these. Every goal you score you feel as if you've truly earned it, while when you're beaten you know it was your fault and not some lame computer assist or goalkeepers making miracle saves. You cannot button mash and win and there is NO money play. It's also one of the few games where you actually have to spend time in the practice mode. Things like dribbling, passing, skill moves, shooting, and set pieces all take hours of practice not just from playing matches but also in the practice mode itself. Even seasoned ISS PE 2 veterans will have to spend quite a while getting used to the dribbling, and the cunning AI will surprise even those who've completely mastered ISS PE2.

If there's anything wrong with PES it's that it's perhaps too complex for those who've never played an ISS Pro game. The learning curve is definitely not friendly for newbies, in fact it can be downright cruel and even if you're a veteran of ISS Pro Evolution you'll likely find the game very overwhelming at first. There are just so many variables at play beyond a player's skill when doing something as simple as making a pass, and I wish Konami allowed you to see the random status attributes of the CPU players because those who aren't familiar with the random status changes may wonder why sometimes Ronaldo can be world class, and at other times have a poor game. Some may think the random, game-by-game, changes unrealistic, but even in real life Ronaldo was brilliant for most of WC 98…but in the final he had a 'mare. Even once you get down the controls, the top two difficulty levels really require you to be tactically savvy, furthermore recognizing and knowing how players play in real life is important to success – if you've watched United play then you know that Giggs will be left footed a better dribbler than Beckham who's a better passer and right footed, while Scholes is a threat from the midfield but not so great a tackler and not as strong as Keane. If you've never watched United play before, then you'd have to skim through the pages of player ratings and memorize them because in a tight game when you have a split second to decide whether to shoot with a player's right or left foot you better know that player's preferred foot and shooting ability. For die-hard soccer fans that's the beauty of Pro Evolution Soccer – it's a brilliant simulation of world class soccer. Yet regardless of the extreme learning curve, the moment you score your first goal you'll be hooked, and the game is just so deep and rewarding that even after 3 solid months of play with this game engine in both PES and JLWE5, I haven't even scratched the surface of what the gameplay offers.

Replay Value - 99
If you have a multi-tap (or two) and are into multiplayer gaming then PES offers practically unlimited replay value; multiplayer matches are an absolute blast. The game now offers support for up to 8 players and a great deal of co-operation is needed to succeed even in a 3 on 3 match. Even if you don't have a multi-tap the game offers replay value that puts most other games to shame. The replay value doesn't come from the a multitude of leagues and cups, but from the gameplay itself – the steep learning curve means those new to the ISS Pro series will take, quite literally, weeks to even get down the basics. Even if you're a veteran of the last two ISS Pro games there's just so much to be uncovered, every team and player has it's own subtle nuances that need to be learned and no two games, indeed no two goals, are ever alike. The higher difficulty levels exhibit particularly crafty CPU AI and trying to win with a mediocre team on the hardest (the 5th) difficulty setting will stump even the most hardcore ISS pro (pun intended).

Overall - 98
Pro Evolution Soccer really is a ground breaking game, and much of what KCET have woven into the deep and satisfying game engine could really be used to improve games that depict other sports. Hockey games, for example, would be exponentially better if they just incorporated half of the control options that are present in PES. The game's AI is simply mind-blowing. In terms of soccer games it's peerless, it's so much better than ISS PE 1 & 2 that it practically renders them unplayable once you've had a crack at PES, and all comparisons to Fifa really are unfair. Fifa is a simple arcade game, PES is a deep and satisfying simulation that, unlike Fifa, is an absolute joy to play from the moment you kick off and it's also the most addictive game this side of Championship Manager. This is a must buy for hardcore soccer fans and it's well worth the cost and hassle of importing.

By: Lavan Chandran 2/11/02

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