Monday, October 27, 2008

Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 - [PS3] Review

This review is written by a self-confessed PES fanboy but I guarantee I can be unbiased. I just want to remind you, the reader, that this is a review of the PS3 version so some criticisms may not apply to the PC and Xbox 360 version, i.e. online issues. PES 2009 strikes me as the most important release in the entire series, as with last years entry Konami stood by and let EA Sports steal their crown as the most impressive and progressive football game around. Has Konami learnt from last year and can they regain their crown so spectularly lost?

As a true Pro Evo fan it pains me to say that they have unequivocally failed to live up the challenge and have equally failed to provide an online experience equal to that offered by PES 6. Let us get the basics out of the way first. The graphics are functional but not what one expects from a current-gen console. Last generation player models and animation sets are not good enough, although player faces are impressive. There are some nice weather effects on show but overall the game still has the look of a PS2 title. The audio too is most unimpressive. They have made some strides in improving the crowd atmosphere with some real crowd chants. There is also support for custom soundtracks and importing of real crowd chants. However, and this will come as no surprise to fans of the series - the commentary is terrible. Why Konami can't see this and either hire new writers or spend money on better development is a mystery.

People have made a big issue of the fact that PES has lost a number of licences since the last game but for me that is a non-issue. Sure it is nice to play with teams with real kits and names but does it affect gameplay? No, not a bit. If it does bother you there are many option files available for download for both the PS3 and Xbox 360. In order to create these Konami has spent a lot of time developing the editing options in the game. It now boasts a pretty expansive editing suite were people with the time and patience will be able to spend many a happy hour creating their favourite players and teams.

Another area Konami has spent some time is the Become A Legend (BAL) mode. Viewed as a response to FIFA's Be A Pro mode, BAL actually predates the FIFA mode by a couple of years having been available in the Japanese version. BAL is a very substantial addition and very addictive and enjoyable too. Create your player, play in a trial game and sign a professional contract. Your goals are to break into the first Xl and keep your place. Then you need to worry about getting a move to a bigger club and playing for your country and finally becoming a legend in the game. It has an addictive quality as you feel you want to play 'just one more game' to improve your stats. Also the feeling of scoring a goal or getting an assist is greatly increased in this mode as you feel that you made the right moves to get into that position. You'll be punching the air after your first goal.

There are some niggles with this mode, mainly poor team-mate AI. Watch in tears of frustration as 99 times out of a 100 your winger will fail to deliver a ball into the box or a defender will hoof the ball for a throw in rather than play the simple ball to midfield. If you have patience though you can overlook these issues and you will get a lot out of this mode. The option to take your 'legend' online and play with up to three other 'legends' works very well, especially with some like minded players. Finishing off a free flowing attacking move with friends online is a sweet feeling.

The rest of the game however has been starved of such attention from Konami. Master League a staple of the series has been virutally untouched. Transfer negoiations have been speeded up. Really? Big deal. The Champions League is also a new addition but why is is not integrated into Master League? It seems the obvious thing to do really but that isn't Konami's style. At this point it must be said that despite the lack of innovation the actual gameplay is still perfectly fine. It plays just like every other entry in the series and is slightly slower in pace than last year. The controls are also nice and tight. There is a huge number of tricks that can be pulled off if you are willing to invest the time to learn them, adding a nice layer of depth to the game.

Now I have to address the online component of the game. I cannot find one justification for having to use the Konami ID system. Not only do you need a Konami ID but you also need a Game ID. It adds an extra layer of complexity when all you want to do is play online. The whole thing would not be so bad if the system worked smoothly but it does not. I regularly have to try at least five times to log onto the system. Once onine the lobby and match-room system is very badly designed and confusing.

How does it play online? Well I have found it to be fairly free of lag but not as smooth as it was for PES 6, which is unforgiveable. The AI on computer controlled team-mates online appears to be hugely compromised. The default difficulty when online is beginner and as a result online games are a goal fest. You will regularly watch in horror as your AI controlled defenders stand by and wave attackers through on goal. It makes for a very annoying and unrealistic game experience.

In summary the game plays very well offline and BAL is a very welcome addition. However the many online issues, a lack of innovation and a feeling that this is only a polished last-gen game means Pro Evo 2009 is found wanting in the face of fierce competition. Unless next years game is called Pro Revolution I for one will be giving it a miss.

There are some small graphical improvements over previous games but this is not how a current-gen football game should look. Player models haven't progressed from the PS2 era and animations are getting stale.

The comentary is as woeful as ever and utterly fails in comparision with FIFA. Some improvement in crowd atmosphere, a nice touch is hearing individual shouts. The soundtrack is improved from last year and support for custom soundtracks is a plus.

Controls are still nice and responsive. There is a good range of tricks to pull off and not easy enough to feel like a cheat. Passing has been improved, especially the manual pass option.

As a long, long time PES fan it hurts me to say that this is not the game I wanted. PES was supposed to come back with a bang but rather it has returned with a few minor improvements to core gameplay. This is simply not enough to recover from years of neglect. I simply cannot recommend this game when FIFA '09 is the competitor. For diehards only.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Become A Legend - My career

I think I will use this blog to chronicle my quest to 'Become A Legend' in PES 2009.

I want to be an attack midfielder as I think that will get me involved in the action more than just being a striker or a winger. After my initial match I got three offers - West Ham, Spurs and Hull. I choose Hull thinking it would be easier to get into the first team. I spent about eight weeks playing against the first team in training. Then in my 9th match I scored my first goal in the 88th minute. I got fouled near the penalty area and took a quick free-kick. I played the ball to the edge of the box and it was returned to me by Barmby. I hit it low first-time and it flew into the bottom right corner of the goal.

As a result of this goal I was called up to the 'A' training team. After a couple of games there I was put on the bench. During my first match on the bench I came on for the last 15 minutes. Not a lot of time to make an impression. In my second game I started the second half and did pretty well. I then went through a period of about 5 or 6 games playing the entire second half. However, I then went through a period of time where I was being left on the bench for the whole game. It is pretty frustrating as you don't get to improve much sitting on the bench.

After getting through this period of bried appearances I finally made the starting line-up. I started three matches in a row and the team didn't lose any of these matches. In my second start I hit the crossbar with a great shot from 20 yards or so.

Unfortunately, I picked up my second yellow card of the season in my third game and I got suspended for a week. I never made it back into the line-up for the final three games of the season. I did make a couple of substitute appearances but didn't do much. During the close season I signed for N.E.C. Nijmegen in the Dutch Eredivisie. Mainly because they offered to play me as an attacking midfielder whereas everyone else just offered my central midfield. Now I just have to force my way back into the starting line-up.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Why I'm not giving up on PES

There has been a lot of talk over the last two years and these past months in particular that Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) crown is slipping and the FIFA franchise is poised to overtake PES as the finest football game around. Of course there has always been a large group of people who preferred FIFA’s style of gameplay but I think it is fair to say that PES has always been the favoured game among the gaming media and football purists. PES has never matched FIFA for presentation or licensed content but for as long as I remember it has always been the better game to play.

My complaint about FIFA and one shared by many is that I never felt that I was in total control of the player, as though certain moves were being performed by the AI. Another thing I did not like was that in past games there were tricks mapped to a certain button, which reduces the skill involved in playing the game and thus reduces the feeling of accomplishment. I’m not writing this article as an attack on FIFA (in fact have owned previous FIFA games) rather it is about what appeals to me about PES and why I’m not giving up on it just yet. During this article I will be discussing both ISS and PES as I consider them to be the same series of games as one evolved from and replaced the other.

I first encountered the game on the Super Nintendo in 1994 as International Superstar Soccer. The game was simply light years ahead of the competition in my opinion. The graphics for the time were simply stunning with large well animated player sprites that were made to resemble the stars at the time. I remember Columbia was my team of choice back then and I had Carlos Valderama patrolling the midfield. Of course he had a fictitious name but he had the famous hairstyle so there was no doubting who he was. In the game Columbia had a player called Alvarez who was very speedy and I used to run him into the ground but he would always get me a couple of goals. My friend and I used to play each other everyday on the game and it became a running joke how often I would exhaust that player but never substitute him. PES only got better with the release of International Superstar Soccer Deluxe. As we have now come to expect the sequel was more of an evolution than a revolution but it did have plenty of tweaks to make the game superior in every way. My friend and I could now play co-operatively (rarely used), had better graphics, more commentary and if I remember rightly the ability to hack down goalkeepers. Pretty sure I collected a lot of red cards that way.

ISS Deluxe kept the two of us going for a long time, until my friend upgraded to the N64 and bought International Superstar Soccer 98. This is the game in the entire series that I remember least fondly. It mainly had to do with the N64 controller. I just could not get used to controlling players with the analogue stick, something which is second nature now but certainly not back then. The graphics were vastly superior to the SNES version but my inability to score goals in the game (thus losing regularly) meant I never really loved this release. Around this time I myself upgraded to the PSOne and there was some competition on that console in the football genre. I bought Actua Soccer that I still maintain was an excellent football game. Playing five strikers with S. Korea was the best possible tactic in that game and it had great commentary from Barry Davies (it is possible time has skewed my memories). Soon enough ISS came to the PSOne as International Superstar Soccer Pro Evolution (ISS Pro Evo), a bit of an unwieldy name really. This game came as a major shock to me. The style of gameplay changed quite dramatically. Whereas previous games had a fast attacking flow to them ISS Pro Evo was slowed down considerably and relied much more on accurate passing than running with the ball. It was especially difficult playing this version and the N64 version around the same time as they were so different. The graphics on ISS Pro Evo were impressive but very different. The players looked more realistic and had very good animation. I have to be honest and say that I don’t remember a lot about this version apart from the fact that I used Norway all the time and relied on their striker Flink to get the goals. He always did, including a magnificent bicycle-kick from outside the area. It is funny the little unimportant things that you remember.

During all this time I had been playing some of the FIFA games. While writing this I thought that I only owned FIFA ’95 but I actually had FIFA ’99. I remember because of the Fatboy Slim song used on the title screen. Even then the presentation of that game was far superior to PES, however after playing so much PES I could never get used to the camera angles used by EA in their game. The isometric camera angle that worked so well in FIFA ’95 no longer felt comfortable and the snazzy new cameras employed on the PSOne versions never felt right either.

It is now 2001 and once again I upgraded, this time to the PS2. Pro Evolution Soccer, the first in the true PESPES 2 quickly followed and then PES 3. I always thought it was strange that Pierluigi Collina appeared on the cover (the first real life person to do so) but didn’t appear in the game itself. PES 4 came along and if I remember correctly this game came with a large number of licences and brought La Liga, Serie A and the Dutch Eredivise to the game. I’m not sure which year the Master League was introduced but it was a masterstroke. No longer did we just have to play exhibition matches or boring leagues with international teams we could now have full seasons with player transfers. Probably something FIFA had been doing for years but for a PES fan it was all new and welcome. I think it was around PES 4 that I found Mathieu. Simply put, he is the best player to ever appear in a PESPES circles. series is released and it takes the football game to a whole new level. game. He was always listed as a SB (why do they not call them fullbacks?) but he had amazing stats for shooting, dribbling, passing and power. Ideal for an attacking midfielder and that is where he played forever more. Every year I would search him out and put him in the team. Every year he would be the best player in the team. The sheer number of screamers he scored was amazing, just give the ball to the guy 25 yards out and shoot. The real life player never had the same impact but I did look at this wikipedia page before and it did mention his fame within

When PES 5 came around it brought with it a totally new gameplay innovation - online play. I never had my PS2 online but I did buy the PC version of PES 5 just to play it online. It worked really well and was my first experience of online gaming. Skip forward to 2006 and again I’ve upgraded consoles to the Xbox 360 this time. The first title I buy? PES 6 of course. This title got a bit of criticism for not being a massive leap over previous generations games in terms of graphics or innovation. I always felt this was unfair as the Xbox 360Xbox Live I had an easy way to play it online. I would say that playing PES 6 online is where I had the most fun with this game. I still remember my first few games on Live, the score lines weren’t kind to say the least. Still I got my 100 online wins achievement in around 150 matches which is pretty good. I would consider that my favourite achievement from my 360 days. The game wasn�t without its flaws though - those online cheaters made me so mad. Another of the things that did annoy me was the all conquering Inter Milan team with Ibrahimovic and Adriano up front. Fun to play as but not against. That is where the uninterrupted run of success finished I’m afraid. was still new and Konami did well to get a game out. I did not care that the game did not have a next generation shine, I just cared about the gameplay. It was exceptional in my opinion. Not only that but now with access to

The next game was PES 2008, billed as the first true next generation PES. I want to get one thing straight, this is not the terrible game that it is made out to be. The gameplay is still as good as other PES games there can be no argument about that. What is wrong is that the online component of the game was entirely broken. In the year that I had the game I never once got to play it online. I do not understand how a company of Konami’s size and reputation can release such a substandard product. I traded in PES 6 when purchasing the 2008 edition, an action I very soon came to regret. On top of that Mathieu was no longer the same player in Master League.

After the disappointment of PES 2008 we are now in a situation were a lot of PES fans tired of incremental updates, poor licence deals and shoddy online play have jumped ship and are now buying FIFA. That is perfectly fine, I do agree that Konami need a big wake up call and the loss of a large percentage of the fan base will make them take notice. Konami have been making all the right comments in the lead up to PES 2009EA Sports Euro 2008. I have heard good things about FIFA ’09, however I did not enjoy the demo. FIFA now seems to take the more realistic simulation approach, which is funny as I used to consider it more of an arcade style game. Still after recent disappointments I am still excited about PES 2009 and am willing to give Konami another chance. I think they deserve it for all their past good work. - better graphics, better AI, better physics etc... The problem is we have heard all these promises before and yet they never seem to come to fruition. In the meantime FIFA has become a real alternative. I really enjoyed the few games I played of

As you can probably tell my current total belief in PES basically stems from the good times I have had in the past. It is the kind of brand loyalty that companies would kill for. This is not the only reason though, I have seen enough about the new game to think that they have got it right this time. The new Become A Legendmode looks really interesting and contrary to popular belief this mode predates EA’s Be A Pro feature having been in previous Japanese Winning Eleven titles. This is the single most exciting feature to come to PES in many years and I cannot wait to try it out. The introduction of the Champions League mode is also a nice bonus. When you consider in the past that EA have released a whole game based around the Champions League this is quite a big bonus to be included as an extra mode. The Legends mode where you take your created player online to play with friends will be great fun, provided of course that the online code works this time. Another big improvement coming this year is the totally revamped edit mode. Players are free to edit teams and players in nearly every way, an option that has been missing since the PS2 days. The edit mode will be particularly useful on the PS3 since the system is open and you can plug in a USB key with an edited option file. Unfortunately, Xbox 360 users will most likely have to edit everything manually. Finally, I was impressed by the demo and can only expect the final retail release to be even more polished.

There is a lot riding on this next release of PES. If this game fails to deliver again I do not know where the series goes from there. PES 2009 will be the game that should have been delivered last year. This puts Konami a year behind FIFA and for the first time puts them in the position where they have to play catch up. Will next years release be a reinvention? How do they go about that? I do not know the answers but I am excited to find out.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Wipeout HD [PS3] - Review

Wipeout HD is the first installment of the iconic racer on the latest Playstation console. It has been a long, long time in coming but it has been worth the wait. Having been in development for well over a year (a long time for a downloadable title) and dogged by epilepsy test failures it finally hit the PSN store a couple of weeks ago. The game takes the best tracks and the teams of the last two Wipeout titles on PSP and gives it a HD polish.

Wipeout has been around now for 13 years and not much has changed gameplay wise. Anyone who is familar with the series will be thankful for that. The player pilots their hovercraft around large complex courses at high velocity trying to gain speed boosts and weapons. All the while trying to avoid opponents, walls and opposition weapons. The opposition AI will provide a real challenge and are actually very aggressive. The feeling of immense speed is here and I think this is the fastest of the Wipeout games that I've played. The controls will take time to get used to for those who haven't played before but perseverence is worth it. Once you get a handle on the left/right airbrake system you'll be flying around the track mere millimetres from the wall.

The one addition to the gameplay has been the addition of barrel rolls. Performed while in the air they will give you a speed boost when you land but they do cause damage so sparing use is essential. The most obvious improvement here is the graphics which are produced in full 1080p HD, hence the name. The game runs at a very solid 60fps and even at its fastest the game is silky smooth. The track design is very impressive with plenty of background details and vertigo inducing loops. This game is easily the equal of any other racing game this generation.

The sound is a very important aspect of any Wipeout game and this version hasn't stumbled here. The sound effects are very impressive. There are some good music tracks too from recognisable artists but the soundtrack is not as strong as previous games. This may be due to the fact that a budget for a downloadable game doesn't stretch to licencing more expensive artists. This isn't a problem though as custom soundtracks are supported so you can play music stored on the HDD of your PS3. One cool thing I noticed is that the sound of the music will distort if your ship is hit or if your going through a tunnel the sound will change to suit that. Very impressive.

I've mentioned that this is only a downloadable game but do not let that you put you off. There is simply a ton of content here. There are 8 tracks (which can be played in reverse configuration) and many different race modes - time trial, single race, tournament, speed lap, zone mode and online racing. There are also 12 teams and ships to master. The zone mode is something that has been in previous games and is a fan favourite. You race along and the game gets progressively faster and you just have to stay alive as long as possible. The music playing will affect the visuals on screen with the track and backgrounds flashing to the beat of the music. Very cool stuff. Throw in trophy support and this is a very substantial package indeed.

The online component works superbly and supports up to 8 racers. It is easy to find a race and one that suits your skill level. I have experienced no lag while playing the game and that was with the full 8 players. Worldwide leader boards will also have people coming back to try and post faster times.
Put simply this is a must buy title for owners of a PS3. The game is only €17.99, which is an absolute bargain. Great gameplay, amazing graphics and a lot of repayability. Go and buy.

Simply stunning. The graphics are produced in full 1080p HD resolution and it looks amazing. Equally impressive is the fact that it runs at 60fps making for a silky smooth visual experience.

Music has always been a trademark of the series and the sound here doesn't disappoint. Great sound effects and some good tunes combine to enhance the Wipeout experience. Plus there is support for custom soundtracks.

Very responsive controls and there are a number of control schemes on offer. Sixaxis controls are perhaps not as good as using the tradition dpad. Control is given over input sensitivity so there can be no complaints over control of your ship.

Quite simply this is a must buy. Excellent graphics, sound and gameplay. There is a lot of content and the online component will have you coming back time and again. Only €17.99! Buy now!

Little Big Planet - my first published level.

Today I published my first level in the Little Big Planet beta. It is called Platforming 101 and it is a simple platforming level set in a forest setting. It is my first attempt at designing a level so I tried to keep it simple. It isn't an amazing work of art but for a first go I'm proud.

I will try to make more complex and better designed levels once I have the full retail version. As it stands no one is sure if published levels will exist beyond the beta so it would be terrible to put a lot of hours into a level and see it vanish. I will write up my impressions on the beta later.