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» GH Review: Pro Evolution Soccer 6 (XBOX 360)

With one of the very first video games created in 1958 called “Tennis for Two”, it was evident that sports were going to be a huge part of the video gaming world for many decades to come. Now, almost half a century later, wherever you look, whether it’s on the PC or on the various consoles; sports games are everywhere. Not only that, but for some companies, sports games constitute a large majority of their revenues, as is the case with the giant Electronic Arts who is well known for its impressive franchises like FIFA, which consequently, was recently released on Xbox 360. However, like in the real athletic world, the path to glory on Microsoft’s newest console isn’t without competition, and in this particular case, the opposition turns out to be Konami’s renowned Pro Evolution 6. Being a longtime supporter of the Japanese, I’ve decided to see whether PES is still a thorn in FIFA’s side, even as the genre moves onto the next-generation consoles.


PES? Winning Eleven?
It must be said, the history of Konami’s soccer franchise is a difficult one to follow, given the fact that depending on the region, the game launched under completely different names. For the Japanese market, the series was usually called Winning Eleven, while for Europe, it’s more commonly known as Pro Evolution Soccer. Nevertheless, under the different facades is an extremely polished sports game that has won over millions of fans worldwide, leading them away from the repetitive FIFA franchise.

Obviously, EA wasn’t going to sit idly and twiddle their thumbs, especially with the next-generation war heating up and as a result, a major overhaul was done for their soccer series, culminating in FIFA 07. Even though on the surface this game still looks the same as its predecessors, EA has been hard at work tweaking the fundamental gameplay by adding physics to the ball and players, in hopes that players fall in love with the franchise all over again. And of course, Konami wasn’t about to let this happen anytime soon, resulting in Pro Evolution Soccer 6 being released on the Xbox 360.

The Match
As with most sports games, what PES tries to accomplish is to bring the most realistic and authentic soccer experience to millions of living rooms. Alas, you’d be hard pressed to notice this the first time you try the game out, considering that the interface is absolutely horrid, particularly because of the cheesy music and incomprehensible layout. Not only that, but to my immense disappointment, the next-generation version of PES is lacking in many features and ergonomics that the Playstation 2 has. For example, on Sony’s aging console, you can edit pretty much anything you want (ranging from player names to entire team customizations), as well as play in an innovative International Challenge mode, quick-play feature for multiplayer and memorial matches (to keep track of your skills against friends). However, for some strange and peculiar reason, Konami decided to remove these features for Xbox 360 owners, leaving us bewildered and frustrated.

Thankfully though the Japanese have left behind the fact that the player can still participate in the usual Match, League and Cup modes. Whereas these will satisfy the average player for a few weeks, the real core of PES is hidden within the Master League segment of the game, which to be frank, will keep a dedicated soccer fanatic hooked for many months to come. Basically, you choose a team and help them rise through the ranks in various League and Cup tournaments for as many seasons as you want. In addition, you will earn revenue and as manager of the team, you’ll have to wisely learn when to make transfers and how to keep your club one of the finest in the world. Overall, what PES offers is sufficient enough to keep you addicted till the next game in the franchise, although it could have been even better if Konami hadn’t reduced half the game modes.


Visuals

I typically find that sports games need amazing visuals to help the avid gamers immerse themselves into these virtual worlds, trying to bring the same wondrous feeling that one would experience by actually attending an enormous stadium full of people, while witnessing their favorite team play for glory. Unfortunately, PES fails in this department since it just isn’t visually impressive at all, especially when compared to FIFA 07. When zoomed in, watching a replay of a spectacular goal, the game actually looks really nice since the animations are smooth, the stadiums alive and detailed, the players well modeled and the textures crisp. But one must remember that usually, you’ll be playing from one the pre-selected camera angles and here, the game looks remarkably different. In fact, except for the widescreen support and slightly sharper image, PES on Xbox 360 can almost be confused for the Playstation 2 version of the game.

What particularly bothered me was the way the textures for the pitch are handled while playing the game (not during the replays). Depending on the amount of zoom, you’ll distinctly see three different texture settings as the game blurs the furthest textures and renders the nearest ones detailed. This is understandable as Konami wanted to keep the framerate consistent (unlike FIFA sometimes) but why in all that is holy did they not apply any trilinear filtering or anisotropic filtering? The fact of the matter is that bilinear filtering was used in PES, giving a distinct and visible line in between different quality textures instead of a nice and subtle transition. If only Konami had spent a bit more time on porting PES onto the Xbox 360, we might have actually witnessed next-generation graphics.


Aural
Again, I find that as in the visual department, the sounds must help the gamer jump into the sport and make him feel as if he really is experiencing everything onscreen in his living room. One thing is for sure though; FIFA is also still miles ahead in this department. Generally, most of the sound effects are decent in PES, whether it’s the chants of the fans or the cries of players as they run, but still, a far cry from EA’s latest soccer title. As I wrote a couple of paragraphs ago, the music is absolutely appalling, but since it’s mostly during the menus, it isn’t that much of a bother.

On the other hand, something that’s much more frequently heard are the commentators, and even though they’ve gotten better with each passing PES, no longer commentating on events that aren’t taking place, compared to FIFA, they still pale in comparison. As you play, you’ll soon realize that Trevor Brooking and Peter Brackley always say the same things over and over, which can become a chore after a couple of hours. It must be said, on the surface, it’s evident that FIFA is still a much more polished and complete product.

Pitch
But graphics and sounds aren’t even half as important as gameplay, which is the defining factor in every sports game around. Thankfully, PES is magnificent where it counts, proving that it’s still king of the hill, even as the battle for soccer supremacy moves to the next-generation consoles. The gameplay is, as always, notoriously difficult to master, with the first few matches against the robust AI turning into complete massacres. But slowly, as you persevere, you’ll soon understand the subtle dynamics behind each attack or defense, quickly resulting in amazing matches that’ll have you wishing you could save replays. Generally, if you are searching for an easy “Pick up and Play” game, PES is certainly not for you, but if you want the deepest and most realistic soccer experience available, this will be well worth the purchase.

The astounding different methods of passing the ball are an insight on how much detail has been put in the game. Same can be said about the different ways of scoring, defending and even running, all bringing a sense of reality to the game. My personal favorite touch of realism to PES is that the players can actually disturb each other on the pitch if you use them wildly. For example, I was once playing with Real Madrid vs. Bayern Munich, enjoying a steady but tense game when all of a sudden, the player I was controlling by accident ran into another player of mine, sending them both of balance and making them fall, which consequently led to a goal from the opposing team. It’s these kinds of details that you simply wouldn’t expect from a sports game that sets PES apart from the competition. Another great example was when I was playing Italy vs. Japan in the International Cup (PES has few official licenses, this is supposed to be the World Cup), with my Japanese rivals taking a corner. With the shot taken, I was saddened to see that Buffon had conceded a goal, but to my surprise, not by a Japanese player, but instead, by a mistake from one of my own players!


Everything is just so real and lifelike; you can’t help but be astonished. For any PES veterans (chiefly PES 5 veterans), you’ll also be pleased to hear that referees have been toned down this time around, resulting in fewer whistles. Consequently, this means that the matches flow much more smoothly now and no longer have that “stop and go” feeling that some previous PES games have had. And to top it all off, now you can take this amazing gaming experience onto the net thanks to the game’s Xbox Live capabilities, resulting in months (if not years) of unadulterated entertainment.

Final
Everyone knows that inner beauty is always better than outer beauty, and with PES 6 on Xbox 360, this is clearly true. Sure, graphically, aurally and ergonomically, this game is far from the same level of polish as EA’s soccer franchise, but when it comes to actually playing, it’s evident that Konami still is the best. The immersion created by the realistic actions and uncertainties during each match proves that PES is in a class of its own. The only major gripe I have with Konami’s game is that; regrettably, there are a plenty of things missing licenses that render the game slightly less satisfactory. While FIFA may have enough money to pay and hold all the soccer clubs and team names, PES simply can’t and as a result, you’ll notice that some teams don’t have any recognizable players, whereas others don’t even exist (like most of the German Bundesliga teams, except for Bayern Munich). But if you can overlook this and the less than impressive graphics, you’ll be in for a real treat!


Check out the game play video:

Gameplay
17/20
Graphics
15/20
Sound
15/20
Value
17/20
Preference
17/20
Overall
81/100

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