The bitter battle between fans of the two next generation consoles can at times be a nasty exchange. Supporters of Microsoft's Xbox 360 take great pleasure in pointing out, at every opportunity, the PS3's failings - the lack of exclusive triple-A games, the high price and the late ports. The PS3 camp claims a more powerful console, HD movie playback built in and the ability to fit more on a Blu-ray disc compared with a DVD. But one thing that PS3 and 360 fans alike must admit is that developers are, on the whole, finding it hard to get to grips with Sony's console. Some have pointed out the complexity of the system, while others speak of issues with the way the console handles memory. Either way, we have seen some very high-profile PS3 games that have suffered from slow-down, less than impressive graphics and glaring drops in frame rate. Unfortunately nowhere is this more apparent than in Pro Evolution Soccer's debut on the PS3.
Put simply, the game suffers from horrible slowdown and drops in frame rate that happen too frequently to ignore. The first thing we did when we booted up the game was start a two-player exhibition match between Newcastle (one of two licensed English teams, the other being Tottenham) and Barcelona. We randomized the stadium and the weather effects. It turned out we played in Estadio Da Luzii in the rain, in the wide view of course, and this is what we experienced.
Whenever the ball gets more than a few feet above head height, you'll notice the frame rate drop to worrying levels. Goal replays are a jerky mess. The game will slow down to what feels like a snail's pace whenever more than half of the players are on screen at the same time. There's quite significant and frequent tearing too. Perhaps you can get used to the slowdown, if you play long enough. But the annoying thing is that when the game inexplicably and implausibly slows down, it puts you off your timing. Well-timed sliding tackles turn into dangerous lunges, and, with the new super harsh refs, usually result in a red card. Split second decision making and well-judged shots are made almost impossible when the penalty area is crowded because the game engine suffers a stroke. PES has always had issues with slowdown, but I'm sad to say that PES 2008 on PS3 is the worst for it in the series. Quite frankly, this isn't the next generation, silky smooth, high-definition interactive experience PS3 owners were promised when they handed over their hard-earned cash.
We were so shocked by the slowdown and frame rate problems that we dropped the resolution from 720p to standard to see if it had any effect. All it did was take the HD sheen off proceedings. Then we tried using the AV lead the PS3 comes bundled with to see if that helped. The only difference here was the graphics looked even worse than they do normally. Stunned, we plugged the HDMI cable back in and put the resolution back up to 720p just to give the game one, last chance. PES has given us so much pleasure down the years that it at least deserved that. We set up a game just as before, in the rain, in the same stadium and with wide view, and we experienced the same problems again.
'... graphically the game is distinctly average. In a wide view (the view any serious PES player plays in) that game looks poor compared with the same view in Fifa 08.'
While we did manage to improve matters a little bit by turning off the stadium effects, knocking off the commentary and playing without weather effects in a different stadium, we can't be expected to game under these conditions just to get a playable match experience. It's simply not on. And yes, the game was installed on the PS3 hard drive, before you say anything. Suffice it to say, whatever way you play PES 2008 you'll instantly notice its glaring technical performance flaws. Could this be why we haven't seen a PS3 demo of the game?
Even if you discount these issues, graphically the game is distinctly average. In a wide view (the view any serious PES player plays in) the game looks poor compared with the same view in Fifa 08. Perversely however, where FIFA's graphics get worse during player close-ups, PES 2008 gets better. The player faces are superb, despite the odd hiccup. Chelsea striker Didier Drogba is spot on, as is Newcastle brute Alan Smith, Barcelona sensation Lionel Messi and Spurs goal getter Robbie Keane. Player animations are again superb, with nice additions like players waggling their fingers or throwing their fists at refs when a decision goes against them. Shooting, passing and tackling animations are, as is expected with PES, flawless. But you just can't get away from the feeling that the game looks like PS2 PES with a HD lick of paint. And while you won't really notice it until you see a frame rate crippled replay, the crowds look terrible - a pixelated shambles from a by-gone era.
Phew. That's a lot of negativity about the latest iteration of a series I absolutely adore. It can't all be bad, right? Well, when you do manage to get a period of smooth play, you'll love it - it feels like beautiful, classic PES. The best football game engine the world has ever seen has undergone a few, subtle tweaks, but nothing has been implemented that will fundamentally change the way you play the game. PES fans will instantly feel at home, and it'll not take you more than half-an-hour before you're spraying cross-field passes and splitting the opposition's defence in two with killer lofted through balls like a Brazilian master. We've heard a lot about the new Teamvision system, a sophisticated AI that adapts to how you play to stop you running riot. Well we didn't notice the computer adapting to our play style. On the hardest difficulty level, the game is very hard, as you'd expect. But my tried and trusted tactic of playing long balls out to wingers who then cut inside for cool finishes seems to work just as well as it always did. An over-hyped learning AI notwithstanding, it's a definite improvement on last year's disappointing Pro Evolution Soccer 6, that's for sure.
It's harder to tackle. Pressing the dribbler with X gives away fouls more often, and slide tackles need to be absolutely spot on, or you'll get a red card from the totalitarian refs. Players keep hold of the ball much easier, and feel like they carry more weight. It's much easier to go past players now. You can get away from players once you've done them like a kipper too. Unlike in the last game, fast players are actually fast. Chelsea's Andrei Shevchenko has super pace, unlike in real life, and is really useful for bursting into the penalty area. Pace is now a much bigger advantage than it was before. The engine has been changed so that now the camera view doesn't always change when the ref is giving out a card, or you get fouled and take a quick free kick. This is a lovely touch that ads to the pace and flow of an average match. One thing that does annoy, however, is having to wait for the ref's whistle before taking free-kicks. It causes unnatural and annoying stops in play.