Pro Evolution Soccer 2008
Another year and another Pro Evolution Soccer game, but this is the first year that Konami have fallen in line with EA and added a year instead of a number to the title. PES 2008, otherwise known as Pro Evolution Soccer 7, has made a belated appearance on the PSP, quite a long way behind its console cousins, but we will forgive it its tardiness... just about.
Of course, the box art shows that it is a bit silly making an appearance so late in the day - Michael Owen's broody face peering out at you seems to be sulking about being stuck in a relegation battle rather than challenging for the top spots as expected. When competing in a market that is all about being up-to-date, you need to really work at releasing at the appropriate time.
Anyway, the gameplay is what the series is famous for, and it certainly doesn't disappoint. The action is nice and fluid, and will be good fun for fans of the series. The controls will of course be familiar to any old hands, and relatively quick to learn for newcomers. There has been a bit of talk about the "Teamvision" system - basically, the computer opponent is supposed to be able to recognise your tactics and adapt accordingly. Obviously, it's hard to assess if this is true simply by playing, but it certainly seemed that I couldn't score more than a couple of times in a match by using the same tactics. It all adds to a more realistic experience, and no one can argue with that.
At the end of the day, this particular release is all about transferring the PES experience onto the road, so let's assess that aspect of things. One thing that will hit you straight away - well, not straight away but actually very slowly - is the loading times. In fact, I felt led to time how long it takes to get from turning on your PSP to kick-off. I came up with the grand total of 3 minutes 17 seconds, and that is on the alleged quick start option, not changing anything and just clicking through the menus as quickly as possible. It is not really very impressive for on-the-go gaming, but there you have it.
The graphics wouldn't look out of place on the last-gen systems, as might be expected, but unfortunately there is still a lot of the slow-down that I experienced when there were a lot of players on the screen. Obviously this happens around the penalty box a lot, at fairly crucial points in the match, too.
On a lighter note, you can now take your favourite edited team from the PS2 version on the road - PSP to PS2 connectivity has been fully implemented, although it may seem a bit irrelevant soon as the PS2 slowly fades away. It might have been nice to implement a similar system with the PS3, but Konami have chosen not to this time. Perhaps next year, or perhaps the PS2 will struggle on for another season.
We can see that inter-system connectivity is possible, so it makes it all the more puzzling that online play has still not been implemented. Of course there is the ad-hoc connection that you can set up with other PSP owners, but it would have been nice to be able to really show off your skills to the world. Once again, perhaps this is something for next year.
I can't end a review without also pointing out the enduring irritation that is the lack of proper licensing - "North London" against "Manchester Red" still doesn't have the same ring to it, no matter how you try to block it out. This is something that it seems the series will never be able to rectify fully.
In short, this is a respectable transfer to gaming the road for Konami's series - I would advise setting up the title and then putting your PSP in "sleep" mode before you go out though, due to the prohibitive loading times. It certainly provides a fun portable footballing experience with regards to the actual simulation, but there is still a lot of room for improvement, and I feel that the PSP is still not being used to its full capacity. Roll on 2009...