Review by End of Days
"It's Pro Soccer... but it still hasn't 'evolved'."
Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 is Konami's first proper attempt at a next(current now?)-gen football title. Pro Evolution 6 should be pretty much disregarded as a 'hey! The audience is too small for a full fledged PS2 game, so we'll give you some HD graphics and er, take away everything else...' title - most sports games on the current generation of platforms are guilty of this too, however. So with Konami's main audience - the PlayStation crowd - now caught up with new hardware, surely they'd give us a proper Pro Evolution experience?
Well, they tried. Feature wise, the game has improved over the Xbox360 version of PES6 with a new Edit mode, Gallery and a few other Pro Evo options, yet it's still not the full offering we saw on the PlayStation 2. However, from reports that I've read right here on GameFAQs, the PS2 version of PES2008 is the one that suffered this year. So you have your run of the mill Exhibition matches (one off, totally customisable friendlies), the 'revamped' Master League which I'll get to later, Leagues, Cups and ofcourse, Xbox LIVE (which will also be lambasted later on!) modes to get to grips with. The return of Edit mode is welcomed, yet again watered down however. A new addition to the list on the front menu is Gallery. Gallery is home to every statistic you could want on your Pro Evo 2008 history - games played, hours of your life drained, goals scored, clean sheets kept, longest distance scored from etc, etc. It is rather quite extensive and quite alarming to look over - for instance, I've put over 20 hours in Master League alone since saturday - and it's not the only game I've played all week!
Staying on the topic of the Front Menu, the design of it is awful. Very Web 2.0, but also very, erm, awful. Some static grass lies infront of an imitation of a scoreboard where the options are listed one at a time. I definitely preferred PES6's menu system, much more simple and easier on the eye. I'll keep this subject going with my opinions on the overall presentation of the game - it's pretty embarassing. It really is absolutely woeful. Yes, it's a (very slight) upgrade over PES6, yet the way the game runs, you'd think it looked like FIFA08 twice over, when it reality, it looks awful. Player models are very poor, they all look the same. However, player facial likenesses are hit and miss, with some looking fantastic, while others are absolutely ridiculous. Some players have a crazed expression on their face (Essien of Chelsea is an example of this, it really made me laugh out loud), while others look docile. It really is frustrating. The mass slowdown you'll no doubt have heard about in the game is not as bad as initially reported, luckily. I play on 'Wide' camera, all effects on, runs absolutely fine in (upscaled) 1080p until, for some reason, we hit a replay. Sometimes they are fine, sometimes they will chug along at 10 fps, maybe less, and it really ruins a staple feature of the PES franchise - the excellent replays (which are now saveable, huzzah! More on that later). It's truly bewildering. There's a lack of aliasing in the upscaled 1080p mode, sometimes it looks really bad, others fine, shame I've yet to find an option for 720p letterbox, but alas, I doubt it would improve it much. Overall, it's your standard affair if you played the last iteration - shirt pulling would look nice if the kits didn't look like they were made of plasticine, but it really is poor.
Sound. Here, I have no complaints. Haha! To be fair, I only have one complaint - the soundtrack. Oh my God, it is absolutely awful. Whether it's two men shouting "Football! -- Soccer!" at each other or it moving to the Kaiser Chiefs, it feels awkward and out of place. Stadium effects and other sounds (apart from the menus, once again, which feel like we've gone back in time 15+ years) are generally okay, though. I guess I should talk about the (improved) commentary here - improved in that the lead commentator (Jon Champion) actually brings a bit of life to the game, even if sometimes the sound quality is quite poor - perhaps trying to put some authentic radio commentary effects? The analyzer is the incredibly (I can not stress that enough) boring and lifeless Mark Lawrenson. You can tell he's not really putting his heart into it and at times it's like he's reading a letter out loud with no emotion or anything. Poor effort on his behalf! However, the commentary is improved over the last few versions yet it is still repetitive. The commentary AI is improved, yet you will still get rather insane comments coming from Lawrenson.
With Konami getting a couple of big-name commentators behind the game, you'd expect it to feel a bit more... official, this time round. It does - if you're still not a fan of the Premiership, as only Newcastle and Tottenham (don't ask me why...) are licensed this year. Infact, I don't think there's a single English stadia in the game at all, but I'm not sure on that. The rest of the game is actually licensed, with more International teams and ofcourse all the European leagues you've come to expect, yet it still feels a bit bare in comparison with that other football title, ha! The licensed strips range from excellent realisations of the kits to pathetically low-resolution attempts. So, with a certain league lacking a certain... spice, we're finally able to fix that in PES2008 on the Xbox360! Edit mode, albeit a watered down version of it, includes a new feature which is compatible with the XboxLive Vision Camera! Take a snap of your favourite players face (if his likeness is not already included in the game - which there's quite a few of, even some that you wouldn't expect. I was quite surprised to see Anthony Stokes in the game!) and the game will let you scan it in, instead of the hassle of going through the substantial editing options which actually work quite well. This feature doesn't just work with player faces, but also team strips! However, you can only store 8 scans at a time on your Xbox for some unknown reason, meaning you can only fully edit 4 teams kits, which is rather weak. Renaming Stadiums, clubs and players and registering them with new clubs is all possible again in PES2008, yet it still feels lacklustre in comparison with last gens edit mode - only 12 base kits and the like dampen the options. But overall, the Edit mode is nice.
What does all of this matter if you can make the game (relatively) pretty, but the gameplay is rubbish? Thankfully, the gameplay is the games strongest point, yet it is still somewhat of a let down. Initially, players felt less responsive - this is exactly why I hate FIFA and not something I want to see in a PES title! However, over time you will adjust and it will start to feel right, although sometimes you will still curse the lack of response from the players. I'll get the biggest flaws out of the way first - defensive AI is awful. Your defence will end up all over the place a lot of the time, which is frustrating. Goalkeepers (Computer and your own) are disgraceful, the parry rate has been raised massively over PES6 leading to a lot of tap in goals. Sometimes keepers will dive out of the way of the ball... and sometimes, but rarely, are absolutely unbeatable. I know this might happen in real life, but in a game we play to be entertained, having variables we have no effect on is not right at all. PES is reknown for it's quick pass and go gameplay, and it's a welcome return! It's a shame it feels less necessary, as dribbling has been upgraded hugely - mainly because applying pressure has become alot more difficult, which may be a good thing in some peoples eyes, but I don't like it. Seeing a central defender from the opposition on your own 18 yard line, dragging the ball around like Ronaldo really isn't much fun (this is on Top Player obviously, not sure about lower difficulties) at all. Players still refuse to move towards incoming passes also, instead preferring to run away from a trickling ball or just watching it roll past them, 2 feet away. All of these seem insignifant when put next to the PES series' biggest flaw - on the highest difficulties, opposition AI isn't improved. Their stats however, are. Sure, it's not like on Beginner, where they'll leave huge gaps in the defence to walk through, but the players are made stronger, quicker and more technically talented. For a game that promoted the new Teamvision AI, it's really only noticable once or twice in dozens of games. It really is unforgivable.
The things I like about PES2008? Well, it's still the most fun sports game out, easily, despite it's numerous flaws. Scoring goals is still satisfying, totally out performing a team on top player feels like an achievement and overall, it's fun. Many people dislike the new ball physics... I think they're a bit hit and miss. First off, the ball feels a lot heavier mainly because it's harder to get the ball off the floor which isn't necessarily a bad thing as you'll see less shots go flying over the bar, over the fans and out of the stadium, but it means you'll score less 'haha, awesome!' screamers from 30 yards out. I remember reading they 'fixed' passing feeling so slow... it honestly feels no different. There are times when you'll scream at the game because your right back decides to tap it two yards instead of 10 to your centre back, etc. Otherwise, the heavier ball instigates a more tactical approach to the game, which is definitely welcome. Freekicks have been improved - no longer does half a power bar and pressing 'up' equal a goal. Goals from freekicks are much more satisfying than ever in PES2008. Crossing has been tweaked, so a simple tap of B will no longer stick a pearler of a ball right on the centre forwards head, you really need to direct it now. Teamvision - when you see it work, it feels great, even if it does stifle your style of play, because it gives a more realistic feel to the game... but seeing it is unfortunately quite rare. Aside from some silly design changes (why change the Goalkeepers perspective on penalties? Why is Ronaldo's flick random? etc) the main game is as good as ever... yet you feel it could be so much better, it feels a shame.
The main singleplayer offering is the Master League mode - you can take an original Pro Evo team of fictional players and gradually build a better team over time, known as the 'proper' way to play Master League. You can also choose 'Match Mode teams', so you can take control of Man Utd, Real or Sunderland (I had to get them in, didn't I!?) with their proper team (most teams are out of date, which is very poor) or you can create your own team and have a go. There are one or two new features, which feel quite half-hearted (Newspaper style headlines which offer no interactivity and feel tacked on) and Team popularity - works the same way player development does, basically - which can make it easier to negotiate with transfer targets. Otherwise, its your standard Master League fare.
Pro Evo is best as a multiplayer game, we all know that. Konami however, don't, otherwise they would never have released the game with the absolutely disgraceful netcode to game currently utilizes. I have yet to play online due to this fact, but I've seen a few videos on the net of players warping, legitimate goals been given as corners and a whole host of other shoddyness. However, when online is fixed (rumoured to be 7 weeks after release, which is poor show, 'Seabass' and co.) I will return to the review and talk about it. However, I have noticed a few nice features - we can finally use Master League files in Player Matches! That will be fun, albeit seemingly a fare way away from being playable...
So, overall, what are my feelings on Pro Evolution Soccer 2008? The gameplay is solid. The rest.. not so much. The gameplay would get a 9/10, even through all the flaws, because it really is that good. However, nowadays a game has to have more than gameplay. Everything from its presentation to it's awful online offerings is subpar, even based on past iterations of the game, which is a huge letdown. If PES2009 hasn't rectified these mistakes in a years time, I could well leave Konami's sports title for good. The Wii version looks interesting, and you can't help but feel why so much thought hasn't gone into the classic version of PES. So, so tempted to give this a 6/10, it's really not worth the full £40, maybe £30. But at it's heart, it's still PES... just not as good as we know it can be. 7/10.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 11/05/07
Game Release: Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 (EU, 10/26/07)
Got Your Own Opinion?
You can submit your own review for this game using our Review Submission Form.