In terms of reputation in the videogame arena, Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer series has long since been considered a sporting forerunner, the very staple of immersive gameplay for the world’s most popular sport. However, Pro Evolution’s main genre rival, EA’s FIFA series, has significantly closed the quality gap in recent years, bolstering its flawless presentation and simulation of the beautiful game with genuinely appealing gameplay and a decent level of challenge that threatens to end Konami’s rule.
In particular, this year has seen FIFA 08 outclass Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 across the board on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3; and not just in graphics, animation and style, but also in core gameplay too. While the bell might not yet be tolling for Konami as it leans against the historical strengths of its ailing series, the somewhat stilted Pro Evolution franchise is in desperate need of employing a much more ‘evolutionary’ stance in order to fend of EA’s driving ambitions.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 on the Nintendo Wii marks the first step in Konami’s journey to do just that, and what a first step it is. Aesthetically, quality progression is still non-existent — which remains a worry — but no Pro Evolution experience before this one has ever managed to redefine the depth and delivery of football with such spectacular results.
Specifically, the Wii version of Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 tears out the standard control foundation laid down in prior series iterations and replaces it with a completely motion-sensitive control system designed from the ground up for Nintendo’s hugely popular little console. To put that expansive interface overhaul into proper perspective, the game’s accompanying instruction manual contains a staggering 24 pages of gameplay instructions and illustrations to help players grow accustomed to a totally new control approach.
Everything is different in Pro Evolution Soccer 2008. From the intuitive point-and-click pass and tackle dynamic, to the point-and-drag initiation of off-the-ball player runs and the Nunchuk-shake shooting, players need to check their Pro Evolution knowledge at the door here, because nothing is as it once was. While basic controls and strategies are explained during a helpful tutorial mode, which will aid acclimatisation, players will also need to hone their Wii Remote and Nunchuk abilities to master the game’s more involved tactical and skilful elements, such as one-two passes, dribbling, man-marking, and even manually operating the offside trap. All in all, the new controls are never anything less than challenging, but return rising to that challenge with whoop-inducing satisfaction.
The need to improve Pro Evolution’s old control system was hardly something critics have been crying out for as of late, but it would have been a potentially fatal mistake on Konami’s part not to draw every drop of inspiration from the Wii Remote and Nunchuk control combo on offer via Nintendo’s Wii. And, happily, that’s exactly what Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 on the provides for faithful Pro Evolution season ticket holders — innovation executed to near perfection and a whole new take on the game of football as a result.
Indeed, what initially feels like a confusing muddle of new control combinations that factor in physical gesturing, reaction-based motion, and well-timed button presses, soon becomes a system of wonderfully fulfilling exercise of mastery and reward that pushes the player to learn more moves, more skills, and more technique in order to ‘evolve’ across the game’s seemingly endless wealth of on-field possibilities.
Words simply cannot convey just how well Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 plays when going forward and tactically striving to break down opposition resistance ahead of billowing the net at the end of a truly beautiful and well-worked move. However, the control system’s one borderline failing resides in its point-and-click player marking and defensive tackle structure, which will leave many players cursing the screen as opposing strikers repeatedly carve through the final third and rack up yet another goal in yet another score-fest.
Moreover, the control accuracy offered in an offensive sense often allows players to enjoy fleeting moments when they’re able to ravage rival teams, but sadly only the most patient of Wii lovers will reap a similar reward when attempting to foil A.I. progress. Specifically, pointing to and clicking on opposing attackers causes a defender to closely track them, applying physical pressure to the ball as they do so. However, leaning an attacker off the ball or stepping into an effective and non-aggressive tackle is often a difficult technique to apply, especially when attackers distribute with pace, meaning the player must once again point to another thrusting receiver and set about closing them down before they unleash a shot — something a little more instantly pliable on the existing home console versions of the game. Of course, when in close proximity, players can perform a much more effective sliding tackle but, unsurprisingly, such desperate tactics usually result in a free kick to the opposition and a yellow (or red) card for the offending team member. This reviewer can only suggest sticking with the defensive stresses as they eventually (and I stress eventually) click into place and help to keep final scores on the right side of realistic.
Aesthetically, Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 (Wii or otherwise) is a sledgehammer to the groin of disappointment. While the series has long-since relied on superb gameplay to paper over its graphical and aural failings, the performance possibilities opened by the appearance of next-generation hardware are now making Konami’s series seem almost lazy in its efforts. Sure, the Wii doesn’t exactly cast itself in the same well muscled light as its Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 counterparts, which makes the game’s shoddy presentation a little easier to forgive, but Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 is unfailingly heavy on the eye and ear whichever way you slice it.
Specifically, player models are laughably poor — and have not moved on in years — while in-game animation is occasionally jerky and lacks an integral sense of human fluidity. Stadiums and crowds are poorly rendered, while crowd atmosphere and reaction is almost non-existent regardless of what is actually happening on the pitch. Factor in the traditionally dour and inaccurate commentary (“The crowd are in a state of ferment!”), and the Wii’s outstanding control mechanic really shows itself to be the only foundation of reliance the game can rest upon when looking for pure quality.
In terms of game types, Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 is sadly lacking the customary Master League, generally considered the mainstay pivot point of any Pro Evolution title, but it does offer up a pseudo progressive “Champions Road” mode. Here, the player chooses their favourite team (populated with no-name footballers, a la Master League) and then tackles numerous regional Round Robin mini-leagues set across the world, taking on a wealth of international club teams and gradually evolving squad players in the process. What’s more, Champions Road also rewards victorious performances by allowing the player to blindly select one or two members of a beaten team to be optionally added to their own squad roster. Pot luck most of the time, but the occasional superstar can be snapped up this way if the player wants to bolster their burgeoning team beyond mere skill point gathering.
Another mode of note is the standard “League” option, which enables the player to take their favourite, unedited team and strive for glory in any one of numerous representative leagues from around the world. Granted, the lack of complete FIFA licensing in a number of those leagues (English Premier included) means that any sense of real team authenticity must first be manually applied. For example, while accurate player names are more readily provided in Pro Evolution Soccer 2008, the majority of team names will still need to be altered so that the likes of “North London White” become Tottenham Hotspur and “Merseyside Blue” become Everton, etc.
Beyond the usual dip-in-and-dip-out convenience of single or two-player “Free Play” mode, the one true test of any given player’s Wii Remote and Nunchuk footballing abilities comes into question when facing the relatively unknown challenge provided by the Wii’s online multiplayer service. Taking newly polished motion control skills onto a non-A.I. multiplayer pitch is a tantalising prospect that doesn’t disappoint, with the Wii’s burgeoning online service managing to sustain the same kind of lag-free and reliable connection experience provided by the likes of Microsoft’s Xbox Live service — which has had plenty of time to iron out its operational kinks since launching back in 2001.
All things considered, the only contributing elements dragging back the overall review score for Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 are the unforgivably bland presentation, outdated graphics and ugly animation. It really is well beyond the time that Konami finally listened to its faithful series fans and followed FIFA’s lead in the aesthetics department. Pro Evolution has looked sub-standard for far too long now, and with the FIFA series taking giant, dare we say ‘evolutionary’ leaps in recent years, Pro Evolution purists can no longer claim that Konami holds a distinct advantage in terms of (standard console) gameplay.
Beyond that easily addressed criticism, Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 certainly lifts the cup this year as the most progressive football title available on the market. Its Wii Remote and Nunchuk control system is as intuitive as it is challenging and — defensive difficulties notwithstanding — succeeds in helping Konami infuse its longstanding series with a genuine sense of forward thinking, something that has been sadly missing from successive offerings in 2006 and 2007.
While Pro Evolution for the Nintendo Wii is a unique and impressive addition to the series, if Konami wishes to wrestle back fanboy bragging rights from FIFA it needs to yank the faded laurels from beneath the backsides of its development team and honour the once undisputed ethos laid down by the series’ title. And it has to do so across every applicable console platform, not just the Nintendo Wii. Keep evolving Konami, keep evolving.
Verdict: 88%Note the date on this article may be incorrect due to importing it from our old system.