At first, Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 is a hateful, hateful game. No other game elicits quite so many words with asterisks in as this one. Everything that you honed, refined and embedded in your subconscious with PES6 is no good to you now; those hours you spent mastering free-kicks and corners, intricate passing triangles and sure-fire tactics that would guarantee goals whatever the circumstances are worthless. More than any other Pro Evo, this one spits in your face and laughs at your pathetically predictable attempts to play it, and again and again, until your old ways are eventually stamped into the dust.
Of course, as soon as that first obscenity is screamed at no one in particular, you know this is going to be a good game - you care. You'll put the time into it, you'll embrace the new way to play, and you'll appreciate the changes and tweaks, some more subtle than others. Hell, this is PES man! Those initially infuriating changes always work out all right in the end. It just depends how willing you are to adapt.
Take your regular match in PES6. You're playing your mouthy know-it-all mate and you really, really want to tonk him. So you shuttle the ball out to the wing, run it down the line and cut it in to the edge of the area where Frank Lampard's waiting to belt it home. You'd probably be able to get away with that a few times. In PES2008, try it once and you might pull it off, yet try it a second time and you'll find your run blunted by a defender lurking in a previously empty patch of grass.
That's TeamVision, see - the sharpened AI system which wises up to your tactics and moves quickly to snuff them out. Even when playing a human opponent, space is filled and players are closed down, and you find yourself flinging the ball to all areas of the pitch just to try to hang on to possession. It's tough, but it makes for a cracking game.
The pressure is ramped up, then, but that simply means you'll be that little bit more alert. The game encourages a considered passing approach, rather than the head-down, bulldozer style often seen in the last one (think Arsenal rather than Bolton Wanderers), and the work that goes into carefully threading passes, varying play and giving defenders the run-around to eke an extra inch of space for a shot makes scoring that much more satisfying. That's not to say PES2008 is stingy with its goals - it's not, but you'll appreciate each one like it's your first.
So what's new? Well, that's the sticking point, and that's why that score over there is not a mark or two higher. There are no stand-out new additions or features as such. Improvements are buried in the deepest recesses of the code and make themselves known the more you play. There's a wealth of new, ultra realistic animations which make players even more recognisable than before, which combined with some stunning facial detail makes this a real step forward visually. And there are other enhancements like being able to call up your towering defenders for corners, and sticking more men into your defensive wall at set-pieces. Passing two feels much more organic, with where you point the stick and the position of players deciding where the ball goes and how it's received.
There are still some old bugbears: EA continues to outmuscle Konami in the licence field, so there are still precious few Premiership sides (only Spurs and Newcastle this year); defenders still go AWOL on occasion (but then they do in real life too, so that's no so bad) and Master League is almost exactly the same as PES6's.
But it's all about the 'feel' for football with PES, and this newest version hasn't lost its touch. It still plays a beautiful game.
Slick, stylish and trickier - this year's Arsenal to last year's Chelsea.
- It's still very definitely PES
- AI is much more of a challenge
- Much more emphasis on passing
- Best looking PES ever (even Ronaldinho!)
- Not enough obvious new features