To true soccer hooligans the Pro Evolution/Winning Eleven franchise has traditionally been the most accurate soccer simulation. The FIFA series is an arcade representation of the world’s most popular sport, but Pro Evolution is a much more realistic take on the game. At least that has been the case in previous years. Recently the FIFA franchise has been improving and Pro Evolution has been becoming stale.
This year’s Pro Evolution feels like deja vu all over again. There are not many new features, and there are even some previous features missing.
Basic movement, shooting, passing, dribbling, and defending have simple controls. More advanced controls such as feints, step overs, and one-two passes require more complex controls that are very hard to pick up. In some previous versions interactive tutorials helped you learn the game’s controls. There is a tutorial mode for basic moves this year, but not advanced moves. All in all the controls lacked the precision needed for the realistic game play. The ball does not always go to the teammate you thought you passed to. The through pass is a complete waste in this version. No through pass ever goes through the defenders to space, every single one goes to the defenders.
The modes of play are Exhibition, League, Cup, Master League, and Xbox Live. Exhibition is a simple one-off match. You can play the COM, or with up to 4 players locally. League is the season mode of the game. You pick a division to play in, a team to play in that division, and then play through one season.
Master League is the franchise mode of the game. This is likely where players will spend most of their time. Master League allows players to take one club team through various seasons. Teams can be managed through player negotiations and condition regulation. At the end of the season your team can rank up or rank down in divisions depending on how well the season went. The user interface in Master League is not as user friendly as franchise modes in other sports games. Compared to the franchise modes in Madden and NBA 2k it is much harder to manage your team. Playing through the mode is fun, but there is no way to simulate any games. I would have liked to skip most of the preseason games and the less important season games, but was unable to. You have to play through every match.
Cup is the tournament mode of the game. There are various regional cups, and the International Cup, which is the facsimile of the World Cup. My nagging complaint with the Cup Mode is that there are no cup qualifying matches. This makes your tournament opponents feel very arbitrary.
Xbox Live mode is not very feature filled. You can choose a player match or a ranked match. A player match does not affect your points ranking, but a ranked match does. Similar to Mario Kart Wii you start with 5000 points and gain or lose them depending on your play. A neat feature of this mode is that you are placed in a division based on your ranking.
My big beef with the online mode is that there is no smart player match up. There is no easy way to search for a match with someone in your division or near your ranking points. You can create a custom match and then choose your opponents. You can see their stats when you do this, but it is an extraneous step you should not have to take. Most often I ended up playing someone much better than me, but that might have as much to do with the hardcore nature of the game.
The other problem with online play is the lag. At times the ball will skip a head a few feet. This almost always costs you possession. At least once I played someone who exploited the lag to a ridiculous degree.
The games graphics and audio are mediocre. The player details are decent, but not great. Beckham and Ronaldinho are instantly recognizable, but they do not have minute details. In most views the camera is too zoomed out to show distinguishing traits. The crowd looks ridiculous as it is some kind of terrible mix of 3-D and 2-D models.
The commentary is actually quite good. It keeps up with the action surprisingly well. The commentary could be improved even more if there was player and team specific sound bites. That is the highlight of the audio. No on the pitch chatter can be heard. The crowd is not as responsive as it could be. It cheers at the typical cheering times, but it rarely boos a bad call, and never breaks out in player or team specific chants.
Even though Master League and Xbox Live Modes have their problems, if you enjoy the game, you can enjoy it for a long while. Trying to move up the rankings in Xbox Live is appealing, and achievement junkies will have to complete a lot of games to unlock all of them. I have played the game quite a bit, and fully intend on continuing to play until I at least get that 100 games achievement.
All in all the game is not an improvement over previous versions. In fact the controls do not work as well as previous-gen versions. Online play, Master League, and Cup modes all need to improve to be more user-friendly.
If you have not yet played a Pro Evolution game, this is not the game that will convince you of the series’ merits. If you have been a casual fan of the series, an older version you already own will work just as well for you. If you are a diehard fan of this series, you already have the game and are kicking my butt online.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB. This game can also be found on: Windows PC, PS2, PS3, Wii, DS, and PSP.