When Pro Evolution Soccer was at its peak it was hailed as the king of football games, offering great depth of gameplay and realistic ball physics. Recent updates of the franchise however have been accused of getting stale, seeing only limited tweaking and perhaps not being worthy of forking out the cash for. This all changed with the late release of the Wii version of PES 2008. With PES 2009 for the Wii just around the corner, we thought this would be a good opportunity to take a look at the 2008 version released a few months ago.
Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) on the Wii had been hotly anticipated by gamers for a number of reasons. Firstly because of the lack of a decent football game on the Wii (FIFA 08 with an outrageously over-sized Ronaldinho anyone?) and secondly because of the speculation of what motion-sensitive control might deliver. Fortunately, Konami ruled out strapping a Wii Remote to your ankle relatively early in the piece (although it was apparently considered). Instead, they set about developing a (r)evolutionary soccer sim from the ground-up that would shake-up the series and deliver a gaming experience with an unprecedented amount of control.
PES on the Wii differs from other soccer games in that you can control all players on the pitch independently, but also at the same time, using your Wii Remote's pointer. Rather than just controlling the player closest to the ball, you are the all-seeing team Manager, controlling players with a series of arrows that you drag and click all over the pitch. The actual implementation and functionality of this system is a lot more fluid, intuitive and enjoyable than it might actually sound initially.
Being able to hold up play while you move team-mates into better positions, or send them on runs into space to receive your perfectly timed crosses works beautifully. The amount of control you are able to exercise in your attacks means that resulting goals are a real thrill, making you feel like you have elegantly crafted them yourself.
Gameplay when you are in defence is a different story. Gone are the days when you would control the player closest to the ball, applying pressure to the ball carrier and executing well-timed tackles. Now you control the defence more as a 'unit' - moving defenders into positions, selecting which opposition players they are 'marking' and dragging players near the ball carrier to apply pressure. Of course you still can apply tackles, but not quite as easily in past machinations of soccer sims. At first, the defensive control may seem like a real let-down, but over time you'll get used to it and may even prefer the more team-orientated approach it creates. Some gamers, familiar with more traditional controls, may want to return to the safety of the old way of playing, but this title will reward those with some patience and willingness to embrace something completely new and ultimately very exciting.
Essentially you use your Wii Remote to move your coloured cursor around the screen. Press 'A' to select a player and move him into space. Or, if he has the ball, hold 'A' and drag him around the pitch, dribbling the ball. 'B' is used to pass, either direct to team-mates, or into space for them to (automatically) run onto.
A shake of the Nunchuk will cause the player with the ball to have a crack on goal. There's no sensitivity in the swing at all - the type of shot, accuracy and power are all determined by the Wii. This doesn't actually affect the enjoyment of the game at all however - in this incarnation of PES, it's more about building the offence through deft passing and tactical manoeuvres then the sensitivity of the final shot.
As previously noted the defensive controls are somewhat limited. Use 'A' to again move defenders around - hold 'Z' to apply pressure and shake the Nunchuk to apply slide tackles. Watch out for yellow and red cards however - on one occasion we were forced to forfeit the match after having too many players sent off for over-enthusiastic tackling. Subsequently we utilised the more refined 'pressuring' technique with more selective slide tackling for a much-improved and more effective result.
Needless to say, given the new control system, the training and tutorial modes are pretty much mandatory. Spend a short amount of time completing a few of the introductory lessons though and you should be ready to give a real match a go, in which case you've got the usual plethora of options at your disposal.
In single player mode these include Match, League and Cup games - which allow you to play a one-off game with the teams of your choice, or participate in a chosen League/Cup respectively. At this point you will become aware of the lack of official team-names and Leagues/Cup titles. Fortunately all the players are accurately identified, and there is an editing function which will allow you to correctly name the teams if you wish.
The old 'Master League' has been revamped and is now called 'Champions Road'. The idea is similar to what you might be familiar with - start with a team of nobodies and knock off the competition to acquire a selection of players from those teams. Frustratingly, you're forced to choose players blindly based on a vague description of their capabilities such as 'Never tires' or 'Put him in an attacking position' (this does however enhance the sense of achievement in developing your team over time). Hoping to pick up a Cesc Fabregas or someone of his ilk and instead ending up with a second-string spud can become a bit tedious, but persevere and you'll have an all-star team in due course. Adding a new dimension to this mode is the inclusion of in-match challenges, such as completing a succession of passes, scoring from a corner kick, or keeping three clean-sheets in a row. It's a fun mode of in-depth play, which will keep you entertained in single player mode.
An appeal of soccer games has always been the multi-player modes, and PES on the Wii only lets you use two players, recognising that having four players' arrows all over the screen would probably be just too busy and not work at all. Two player mode is as fun as you'd expect - just don't accidentally throttle yourself with the Nunchuk cord with over-exuberant celebrations when you score. If you don't have a willing partner to play, you can go on-line to play against a friend or stranger, and this also works well, although it can take time to find an opponent.
As expected for a third party Wii game (sadly), the in-game graphics aren't great, but they are serviceable and the action is clear and sharp. The replays and extra scenes are actually fairly impressive but the cardboard cut-out crowds are laughably bad. With gameplay like this however, we think you'll find you won't care.
Being a Wii game, of course the omnipresent 'Miis' make an appearance (if you wish), running around the pitch with their bobbly heads. While probably not appealing to the serious soccer aficionado, it is a great way of attracting the interest of more casual players, or even passers-by - particularly if they see their doppelganger score a goal in-game.
In short, PES on the Wii has been worth the wait. It's a refreshing update on previous soccer-sims and hopefully it will really set a new standard for soccer across all platforms in the future. If you're willing to take a chance on a different soccer experience, then don't hesitate to pick it up.