The Pro Evolution Soccer franchise is widely regarded as the best, most realistic soccer game franchise available on the market today. With two absolute smash hits already on the Playstation 2 in 2001 and 2002, the third iteration comes in with a lot of pressure on its shoulders. Can PES keep up its domination of the soccer sports genre on the PS2 or has it been knocked from its perch?
Pro Evolution Soccer 3 consists of four basic modes; match play, league play, cup play and master league. Match play is the typical exhibition where you can choose two teams and play a one off match. League play challenges you to take a team through a league to the championship as does cup play except in a tournament format. Most definitely the crux of the game comes from the master league. In Match, League and Cup play you will only have to deal with the actual matches and focus on winning them with the least amount of suspensions and injuries as possible, but in the Master League, its a whole new ball game.
Master League is a semi-management side of Pro Evolution Soccer. You start off with your selected team in the second division and must try and win promotion before being able to compete at the elite level. Along the way you as the manager will have to deal with suspensions, injuries and player trading. Don't expect to be able to grab all the superstars straight away, especially in the second division. You have to bid for players and hope that it is enough to entice that player to your club with varying better conditions. To do this you need transfer points earned by releasing and trading players to other clubs. However if managing players is not your thing, then as mentioned before it is possible to just play through a standard league.
The one area which has been half the Achilles heal in the franchise is licences, and unfortunately not much has changed. Although the developers have managed to sign a few Italian clubs such as Lazio, most of the clubs remain fictional such as Tyneside, which is obviously Newcastle from the English Premier League. The game has no official league licences, so when you choose your club from the list such as Juventus, it is possible in the league you will be playing clubs from all over Europe. On the International side of things licensing wise, the game is much more accurate with real player names (except for the Dutch) and official kits being used.
There has been a few changes to the rules used in Pro Evolution Soccer 3. Referees now play an advantage, although some of the decisions did leave me bemused at times. For instance I had just tackled an opposition player in an unfair way yet the referee called advantage even though I managed to win the ball and progress forwards. Most of the time the advantage is employed in a proper way, but unfortunately players are not booked at the conclusion of the advantage. This can allow some incredibly vicious and late tackles be performed without punishment. Referees are harsh but are sometimes very inconsistent. Red cards are doled out for last man tackles (as they should be) but also at times for seemingly tame tackles in the midfield. The handball rule is also enforced, and works better then fans could have possibly imagined.
Along with the International licences, the artists have done their very best to emulate the players on screen with some accurate player likeness shown. From a distance it is possible to pick out most players by defining features such as a hairstyle (David Beckham) or just their unique build and make up. Moving closer such as during celebrations exposes a lack of detail however and it is not quite as impressive. The on screen characters also look youth-like in comparison to the age of some players. The superstars look great such as Henry and Beckham but the others can look fairly average by comparison. They all contain all the fantastic animations present in the game however. There is also player specific animations such as the way David Beckham takes a free kick. A player editor has also been included as with previous titles in the franchise.
The superb animations and ball physics of Pro Evolution Soccer have returned. Players will use the ball or attack a player depending on where the ball is and shooting is a lot harder when running at speed or while being jostled by an opposing player. Some of the animations do repeat themselves quite frequently, such as when a player is tackled from behind but just when you think you've seen the entire array of animations, the game throws out a brand new one to leave you mesmerised. Some of the moves that players can pull off before shooting is truly astounding such as shooting for goal from the side of their boot.
Pro Evolution Soccer 3 is tough, very tough. Especially in the Master League mode. There is five difficulty settings with the difficulty ramping up quite significantly on the three star mark, which also happens to be the default. Passing is key in Pro Evolution Soccer 3 as is shutting down opposition when they have the ball. Once losing the ball it can be at times hard to regain it but on the flip side it is easier to keep control of the ball once you have it. There is usually only two or three decent scoring chances in a game and nil all score lines are quite common when you first play PES3.
Pro Evolution Soccer 3 also contains a shop where you can spend a currency called PES. This currency is earned by completing goals in the game. For instance winning the International cup will grant you 2000 PES to spend. You can buy famous players, famous teams, unlock a double speed setting and much more. The game is also highly customisable with it possible to have the commentary bias to one side or impose simulated tiredness from traveling on one side. Pro Evolution Soccer 3 definitely has the most feature rich option menu in any soccer game to date.
Pro Evolution Soccer 3 contains a few licensed stadiums but most of them are fictional. The licensed stadiums include the Del Alpi and these include the relevant advertising boards and structure. The other stadiums are quite generic but considering most of the game you don't actually see the stadium structure and the fact it doesn't affect the gameplay then it is not a major problem. The stadiums, even the unofficial ones are highly detailed with TV crews, dugouts, fans cheering and flags etc emblazoned around the structures.
Pro Evolution Soccer 3 won't get people calling it the next big thing in graphics on the Playstation 2 but they do the job well. It's a great model game for the saying "graphics don't make a game" because although the player likeness and animations are quite superb, the graphics overall haven't changed much since the original Pro Evolution Soccer. The frame rate is rock solid and the game supports 60hz for those who can utilise this feature. The matches are presented in a format heavily influenced by TV coverage, often using the same camera angles in replays.
The commentary is again average with mistakes being made, but it is a lot less disjointed. Mistakes such as when a team has just scored a goal, the commentators saying that they have had a slow start to the match or second half and as you might have guessed, the commentary is the other half of PES3's Achilles heal.
Multiplayer is only offered on the same console with unfortunately online play being left out for this version. Perhaps for the inevitable Pro Evolution Soccer 4. It is possible in matches to use only one player for the entire game. If you use this mode and happen to get sent off then you will be watching the rest of the game from the stands. This mode seems more suitable for large scale multiplayer due to the AI seemingly wanting to play their own game.
With all said and done, Pro Evolution Soccer 3 remains one of the best soccer games on the Playstation 2. The animations and superb ball physics which the developers have really refined over the life of the franchise are back and the smidgen of new licences are a welcome addition. If you want the most realistic and best playing soccer game on the Playstation 2, then you simply can't go past Pro Evolution Soccer 3.
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