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.

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