Pro Evolution Soccer has been hovering around the past few years on the Playstation 2 recording stellar sales, but EA with FIFA has had the edge. This has primarily been due to the fact that FIFA is across multi-platforms, whilst PES3 has been a PS2 exclusive. The third iteration of the series is set to be released on both PS2 and PC (with an Xbox version heavily rumoured) and is really going to take the fight to EA. We went hands on with the latest European build earlier today and EA had better watch their back.
Pro Evolution Soccer has always been about the utmost realism in a soccer game but has had a few shortcomings, primarily the fact that licences were scarce (except for a few major ones like FIFPRO) with the title. However after playing a few games of PES 3, it appears that some licensing issues have been sorted out. Playing with a variety of National Teams and Club Teams, it was refreshing to see the real names used in a PES title.
The presentation is superbly polished. The menus are now easier to navigate and more self explanatory and the options vastly expanded. The fact you can't turn bookings off (the FIFA behind the legs tackle red card rule is heavily enforced in PES) just shows the level of realism the developers are aiming for. Before each match you will be able to choose if you want to view the pre-game celebrations and activities and whilst after two or three times it may become repetitive, initially it's astonishing to see the level of detail put into the game. Players and referees will stand in tunnel waiting to be called out, crowds will cheer, players will have their national photo taken and the commentators will introduce the game. Aesthetic sure, but none the less highly authentic. It's like watching a Sky sports (or in Australia's case SBS/Fox Sports) broadcast in your own living room.
Pro Evolution Soccer 3 will offer a variety of game modes for players. Exhibition will be the standard choose two teams and go for it mode, master league is the league tournaments but unfortunately unlike FIFA, PES3 does not have licences to leagues such as the English Premiership and Serie A in Italy. Master League will task players to take control of a club team and play through numerous matches on the way to the championship whilst keeping players and fans happy.
As with all Pro Evolution Soccer games, the animation is looking stunning, they really look like they have outdone themselves this time. If you thought Pro Evolution 1 and 2 was impressive wait until you feast your eyes on the third iteration. Players move in a more fluid fashion and many of them have individual traits. For instance David Beckham (they even have the hair right for him, and yes in the current build he does play for Real Madrid) taking a free kick has a certain animation when compared to other players. Tackles look much more savage when late, and grimaces and other painful expressions can be seen on players faces. The referee has even had somewhat of an overhaul, with him now not only producing cards but writing names in the book and like other Pro Evolution Soccer titles, the fancy footwork and awesome volleys make a return.
One of the major changes would be the fact that the referee now plays the advantage. If a foul occurs but the attacking team has the opportunity to score a goal or progress further the referee will wave play on. However in the current build it appears they do not (like real referees) book the player (if the foul was particularly vicious) after play stops. Lets hope its added to the final game. The AI has also been refined. There are five levels of difficulty, the lowest basically has them standing around as dead ducks whilst three and up offers a serious challenge. In a match Australia vs England I was smashed 6-0 before half time.
The players have had a major overhaul as well. Whilst playing through a few matches, I was easily able to pick out players from their looks, not names. Kewell, Beckham, Ferdinand, David James etc all look like their real life counterparts and this isn't restricted to the superstars either. Players can also highly customise the situations that teams play in. It is possible to determine whether an away team has suffered a bout of jet lag perhaps and will be understrength whilst a home team may field a strong team. Even the amount of fans supporting each side can be customised and commentary can be biased to either side or fair to each team.
Visually Pro Evolution 3 is looking fantastic as with the rest of the game. The game features a few licensed stadiums such as the San Siro for AC Milan, Bayern Stadium as well as fictional stadiums. Like other PES titles, clubs for the most part are made up but its not hard to tell who's who. For instance there is a team called Merseyside which has to be either Liverpool or Everton. Even though the PS2 is starting to get on in years, Pro Evolution continues to be able to draw even more power from the system and provide better visuals year after year. Sound effects are great (and will be even better with surround sound). Commentary is provided by Peter Brackley (from the Sky Sports EPL magazine show) and Trevor Brooking (of West Ham United fame).
Multiplayer will not be online unfortunately but via two multi taps up to eight players can play at the same time. As well as this in the single player mode, players can choose to use only one player and let the AI control the rest of the team. It may turn out to be a little too gimmicky but it is a nice idea and may add some interesting strategy to the game.
As with the previous two titles, Pro Evolution Soccer 3 is set to reinvent the soccer game. The new animations and graphics are stunning and the new options such as advantage and individual play will bring this game even closer to the real sport. Start saving your pennies because it appears the developers are about to kick a real goal with this one.
Now a note from the Xbox
As you may or may not have heard since X03 the Internet has been rife with rumours that this huge title is headed to Xbox later this year. As of this moment nothing is confirmed and nothing has been mentioned but it would be a definite scoop for Microsoft. We will keep you informed as to the progress of this rumour as well as any other information about the game as soon as it comes to hand.