Pro Evolution Soccer 3
Licenses be damned. Konami lavishes upon eager fans the latest in what is unequivocally the best playing football title ever conceived.
By Kikizo Staff
Try as you might, referencing Konami's Pro Evolution or EA's FIFA series, without in turn making mention of the other is a virtual impossibility. Like it or not, the two are inextricably bound; FIFA, the reigning incumbent, Pro Evolution the champion of the people. At least, those people who crave the definitive football experience. For all their relative strengths and weaknesses, when excoriating the veneer of both titles, one is left with little more than gameplay, an area in which most will readily concede, Pro Evolution reigns supreme. Every year, Konami makes a series of tweaks and improvements, and Pro Evolution Soccer 3 is no different, having been suffused with a host of changes -- some bad, mostly good. Knowing the sublime nature of the gameplay, as only fans of the series do, it seems only apt to first delve into the changes one can expect to find upon starting the title.
Most obvious is the marked improvement in visual presentation, a direct result of the KCET team having shed the Renderware engine in lieu of an in-house developed system. Player motion, one of the series' many hallmarks, is decidedly more intricate, and as a result players will encounter a far greater number of disparate situations -- be it the ball bobbling ungainly through a defender's legs, a striker dropping a shoulder before spinning past an awestruck defense; the list goes on -- than ever before. The ball, it must be said, is also more 'alive' than that of previous titles, and its behaviour is almost unerringly realistic. As far as control options are concerned, it is with mixed emotions that many will encounter the new manual passing.
Whereas before players needed only to flick the right analog stick with the desired intensity in order to send the ball careening in the direction of choice, now, players must depress the stick while doing so. On the surface, a minor change, but in actuality one that requires a great deal of practice and skill in order to use effectively, and even then it takes a fraction longer to pull off than in past revisions. What this does do, however, is free up the analog stick for other uses, a 'trick button' as the case may be. Through careful manipulation of the stick, players can perform various tricks and moves, often more for show than effectiveness, but when they do work, expect a coo of admiration from the peanut gallery huddled around the TV.
In terms of actual gameplay, it is the ability for the referee to now play 'advantage' when deemed appropriate that stands out. A laudable addition, but one that ultimately fails for its inconsistent and vague interpretation of the rules -- just like the real thing, then, is it? Of these, the most annoying is the fact that once advantage has been played, seldom will the referee return to the original foul if no advantage is gained, often placing the player in a worse predicament than had the foul just been called in the first place. Also noticeable is the more integrated feel of the actual in-game presentation. No longer do phrases such as 'Corner Kick' and 'Goal Kick' appear on-screen, instead, the game does a quick fade, an awkward segue that can, occasionally, lead to momentary confusion as players wait for confirmation of a goal that might just have whipped past a post, but instead nestles gently in the corner of the net. All things said though, the experience is an entirely more cohesive one.
The reconfigured Master League structure makes for a more interesting solo experience, and one that in the absence of human competition, is not only enjoyable, but on the higher settings, highly competitive as well. Still, it is the multiplayer experience that defines PES3. The number of disparate approaches adopted by human opponents is what makes this portion of the game infinitely playable. Simply seeing the various styles of play employed, to varying degrees of success, by different people is astounding. Some will effectively counter, preferring to score on the break; others will play the long-ball with a fair degree of success; others will attack down the sidelines; and still others will dribble and jink their way through defenders in a manner only the Brazilians will ever fully understand.
As touched upon above, the new engine behind PES3 has resulted in an astounding increase in both, animation and detail, and more importantly, a significant leap from that offered by its predecessor. While a point heavily belabored, the animation is truly remarkable, an aesthetic change yes, but one that has had far-reaching consequences on the playability of the title in the process. Player detail can perhaps be best appreciated via the comprehensive player and team editing facilities that illustrate the vast selection of facial features and styles the game makes use of; for the first time in the series' history, a title possesses a degree of 'splash' that rivals its substance, the only tradeoff being the incessant load times that permeate the title.
Commentary, as has become the norm in many sports titles, is dire. Canned banter between analysts is repeated ad naseum, with only a modicum of actual relevance to the events on the pitch. One can appreciate the difficulty of creating insightful commentary when by definition its appearance in a videogame is entirely to the contrary, but as the gameplay and presentation improves, one would certainly hope that this would improve with it.
Usual complaints such as the lack of an all-encompassing license remain pertinent, but really, it's something that fans of the series have come to terms with, most notably because the gameplay remains utterly sublime. The very existence of PES3 seems to confound, like a unicorn, its very presence an impossibility, seemingly too pure for this world. Pro Evolution Soccer 3 is as nigh an immaculately conceived football title as one is ever likely to find. At least until next season, anyway.