UK REVIEW--Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer was already looking a little stretched last year, and the 2008 edition takes the series to the breaking point. Instead of improving on last year's game, it offers no noteworthy new features. Some of the smaller gameplay tweaks make the game more enjoyable to play overall, but an equal number are frustrating and feel unnecessary, while the subpar online mode of last year's game has barely been improved. It makes you wonder what Shingo Takatsuka and his team have been doing for the past year.
The biggest upgrade for the game is supposedly the new Teamvision artificial intelligence system, although its claims to revolutionise the playing experience prove to be overstated. Computer-controlled opponents are slightly more intelligent when it comes to changing playing styles, although defenders still feel a little bit superhuman in their ability to resist attack. Overall, the game feels more flowing than last year, but rather than feeling revolutionary, the improvement just feels like a return to the earlier glory of the series. In fact, the immediate changes feel so minor that even hardcore fans of the series will have trouble picking them out. The ball feels slightly weightier and players move with more physicality. They also tussle with each other more, pulling shirts and out-muscling each other over the ball. It adds up to a more natural-feeling game this year, and one that still plays an accomplished game of football. Anyone who hasn't played Pro Evolution Soccer will find that this is still a solidly playable game, but long-term fans may wonder what Konami's done this year to deserve the Â£50 upgrade fee.
Many of the new gameplay tweaks are actually more annoying than they are welcome. Goalkeepers now fumble the ball with infuriating regularity, and the fast pace now makes Pro Evo feel more like an arcade game rather than a simulation. Another new feature that betrays the game's simulation roots is the ability to make your players take a dive. It's something that undoubtedly happens in the real world, but its inclusion in a serious video game could be seen to tarnish an otherwise respectful representation of the sport. Used in the penalty area the dive can win penalties, and while it's only successful in the minority of cases, it could be used to tip the balance of the game. We expect that discerning gamers will shun the new skill out of sportsmanship, but it'll be a real shame if faceless online players manage to win games by effectively employing the tactic.
Last year's online offering was fairly lamented by gamers, at first for being unplayable and then for being slow. It's therefore disappointing to see how little things have changed in the new version. Lag still affected many of the games we played, and while it's nowhere nearly as bad as the PlayStation 3 version, the problems still need to be addressed. The only game modes are ranked and player matches. Thus, the complete lack of online leagues and tournaments is restrictive when compared with many other sports games on the market. Aside from the somewhat patchy performance and lack of game modes, Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 is also lacking when it comes to overall Internet functionality. There are no real-world score tickers, no news feeds, and no squad updates--features that the rival FIFA series has been offering for two years now. There are a number of very noticeable product placements for various Web sites, but this advertising-only arrangement has produced no content that's fed into the game. At a time when rival sports games feature an assortment of online multimedia updates throughout the year, Konami's complete lack of extras feels backward in comparison.