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PSP  header logo

Pro Evolution Soccer 2008

For: PSP   Also on: DS

PES! In your pocket!

Product: Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 | Developer: In-house | Publisher: Konami | Format: PSP | Genre: Sports | Players: 1-2 | Networking: wireless (network) | Version: Europe
Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 PSP, thumbnail 1
Video games are all about suspending disbelief. You're a mercenary, an alien fighter, or someone in charge of tidying up an endless stream of tumbling blocks. You're an assassin, a ninja or – the height of aspiration – a very hungry yellow blob. Whatever you are, you're not you. You're not the person who's rubbish at football.

We play to escape, to be entertained, to forget. So football games, in my opinion, should be about extraordinary goals. Thrilling five-all matches, full of passion and flair. Okay, some dogged one-nils, now and again, maybe, but always entertaining, always exciting. Always important.

The options crammed into modern-day simulations certainly hint at such potential – numerous button-presses and D-pad flicks that promise to enable ordinary Joes the opportunity to mimic the arrogance of Ronaldo or the audacity of Ronaldinho. But the opening matches of Pro Evolution Soccer are the opposite of that.

They are, in fact, awful.

Impotent, amateurish, goal-shy: you could exhaust a commentator's thesaurus describing your first few competitive matches in PES 2008. In that sense, fans of any previous PES will feel right at home – pretty much every iteration of Pro Evo has always been a tricky game to score in, no matter what difficulty level you pick.

Three games it took me to get the ball in the net during a match billed as 'regular' level. Frustrating, impossible, annoying, it was a miracle the PSP survived. The shooting seemed erratic; even thinking about pushing the corresponding button would typically send the ball into row Z. Passing was – literally – hit and miss, particularly when attempting a through-ball.

Yet when that goal finally came, it was much more satisfying than losing my actual virginity.

And that's when everything changes. Score once, and you can score again. Experience breeds confidence, and once you've got your head around how things work in PES – don't always sprint, flick on when you receive a ball, create space by switching play, control the ball – it's an extremely attractive game of football.

It's the antithesis of FIFA. Dogged, dirty, and often unlicensed, PES is a game whose confidence in gameplay negates the need for authenticity. The teams are a strange mix of real-life players and teams coupled with squads and players which appear as if they've been collated by a dyslexic playing a game of Articulate ('Berkshire Blues', anyone?) – but if you're that bothered, a quick Google reveals a host of user-generated save games which make everything official.

Commentary, too, is non-existent, save for a couple of words blurted whenever a goal is scored – which is odd, but definitely better than the constant repetitive ramblings of Andy Gray. In terms of presentation, it's very much League One against the Premiership.

It's one of the smoothest games on the system, though. Players run, turn and move with a degree of realism that could compete easily with home consoles. The protagonists look broadly like their real-life counterparts – ironic in the case of some players, who accurately resemble characters from Dawn of the Dead (Wayne Rooney) – and the cut-scenes and replays are lifelike enough to convince those looking over your shoulder that you're watching a match through Location-Free TV. There's the very occasional slow down when too many players are onscreen, but nothing that's game-affecting.

PES is gritty and unwashed – and unashamedly so. Real football fans don't care about 100 licensed songs, daft ball-juggling mini-games, RSS feeds from radio stations nominally talking about sport. It's about persistence, progression and mastery; each of which PES demands in spades. The array of moves crammed into the PSP's controls is certainly daunting – imagine trying to write a novel whilst typing with mittens on – but the reward, when you do manage an upper body fake, for example, is immense.

And there are plenty of opportunities to develop your skills. From quick matches to leagues and cups, through to the staggeringly deep PSP/PS2-sharing Master League mode (where you can take progress made on the home console away on your travels – just be wary of shouting obscenities when you forget you're on the Tube and not actually sat on your sofa) and the inspired World Tour series of bite-sized challenges, you're unlikely to tire of games to play.

That's all providing you can score in the first place. PES when it clicks is an incredible game. PES when it doesn't is just plain annoying. Two-player matches are inherently more fun – games are more open than against the computer AI, who I suspect, cheats a lot of the time – but playing alone is initially a grind.

But do stick with it. Once you master the basics and add in some flair, Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 cannot be beaten. Well, it can. But it takes a lot of practice.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2008
Reviewer photo
Simon Byron | 7 March 2008
What it lacks in authenticity, it makes up for in gameplay. Arguably the best football game on the system - once you've mastered the basics
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