Month: December 2007

Twilight of the Idol?

My most recent four games have gone like this:

Marseille 2 – 5 Singers FC (Elcherino scored 4)
Singers FC 5 – 0 Feyenoord (Elcherino scored 3)
Atalanta 3 – 5 Singers FC (Elcherino scored 4)

and I was particularly unimpressed with this one:

Singers FC 7 – 1 Tottenham – (Elcherino scored 5)

Here’s a clip showing what happens almost every time it’s my turn to kick off, whether at the start of a game or after the CPU team has scored:

I’m up to 7th in the table with just four games to go. I won’t be able to haul myself into a promotion spot. The resurgence came just a bit too late. The third place is mathematically out of reach.

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Elcherino is the top scorer in the Division by a long way. Despite only starting to play after the mid-season negotiations, he’s on something like 33 goals (<<< that’s one blurry picture). The next-highest scorer, Viduka, is on 14 goals.

I’ll at least finish this season, but then… I’ll see how I feel.

Knowing what I now know about PES2008, I cannot take it seriously as a PES game. Among the many reasons why PES came to be such a phenomenal force in the football gaming world was that it possessed an undoubted quality of realism. It was the discerning football fan’s football simulation. Until now.

In what kind of football is it possible for one player to score 16 goals in four games, with at least – at least – a hat-trick in each? It might be possible in Sunday morning football or in school football, but even then it’s still extremely unlikely. In professional football it simply doesn’t happen.

I know, I know. Yes, I did watch and enjoy the Spurs 6, Reading 4 game on Match of the Day on Saturday night. I know that Reading were also involved in a 7-4 result earlier this season. And that there was a 4-4 game at Stamford Bridge on Boxing Day.

But those are exceptional matches in real football. They account for considerably less than 1% of all games. Not more than 90%, as in PES2008

I suppose I could follow some sound advice and immediately place Elcherino on the bench, keep him there, sell or trade him at the end of the season, and limit myself to getting players of more modest ability thereafter.

I could do that. It might even be interesting, and fun, to try it out. But I don’t know if I really want to. I never had to resort to that kind of desperate measure before.

Severe disillusionment with PES2008 has set in. It has taken root in my soul and it won’t let go. FIFA08, for all its shortcomings, is a better football game than PES2008. I acknowledged this to myself a long time ago. Only now am I facing up to the fact. (Once again I have to stress that I am talking about the next-gen console versions of both games, which are utterly different from the last-gen versions.)

I no longer play PES2008 – I just sit there and work the controls. And I think of something else whilst doing so.

How did it ever come to this?

PES2008 is not a ‘proper’ PES game. That’s the awful truth. It’s not PES at all.

I’ve just about come to terms with it, but what terrifies me (frankly) is the possibility that PES2008 – with its arcade handling, its 100mph pace, its jet-heeled players, and of course its butter-fingered goalkeepers – is not an aberration due to the developer’s lack of time and playtesting (as most PES-followers assume), but instead represents a deliberately planned new direction for the entire PES franchise.

If that is the case, then we can probably forget about PES for the rest of this generation, in the same way that we used to automatically disregard FIFA. It’d actually be FIFA that would carry the football game torch forward. The torch that PES used to bear so proudly.

Don’t have nightmares.

When Castolo was great…

(The last time Castolo was truly great he was called Castello, but I’ll come to that.)

Yet another Elcherino hat-trick featured in a crazy game against Sampdoria that ended 5-5. That’s 17 goals for him since mid-season. He’s already second in Division 2’s top-scorer table. Caracciolo got my other two goals. I was lousy at defending in this match. Elcherino’s goals have made me complacent. I’ll have to work on that.

Elcherino was unfit for the next game against Spartak Moscow. I had to play Castolo up front on the left. I was quite worried about this game, as I was also missing Altintop, Camacho, and Jackson.

Castolo rose to the challenge of filling the Special One’s boots by scoring all three goals in an easy 3-0 win. Here’s the pick of them:

Ahhh, Castolo. There’s plenty of PES lore that I’ve yet to mention in this blog. The topic of Castolo as a PES phenomenon is a prime example.

Castolo in PES2008 – and in PES down the years – is a subject I will return to at greater length in the future. It’s going to be a long 10 months to PES2009.

For now I’ll just say that until PES4 – I think that was when he underwent the name-change from Castello to Castolo (why? this has never been established) – he really was as good as the first set of strikers you’d end up buying for your ML team, and sometimes better. He was definitely the last player you’d ship out on a trade or transfer, and you’d always get a good price for him.

Nowadays, though, I don’t see what all the Castolo-related fuss is about. He’s better than the other Default players, granted, but being the best of a bad bunch doesn’t make him a good player. In my opinion Castolo, like many real-life players, continues to enjoy a special reputation based on past exploits alone. He really hasn’t been ‘all that’ for at least three instalments of the game now.

Until he scored his hat-trick against Spartak, he’d only scored one other all season. In my first Master League he was just as bad.

And yet people still rave about him, to the extent that the entire Master League default team is often referred to as ‘Castolo & co.’

I don’t get it. Maybe it’s me.

Blackburn 1, Elcherino 5

When Elcherino plays, I score a shedload of goals and I win. It’s as simple as that. Sure, I might concede a few goals. I still haven’t got enough good players all over the park to shut out the CPU.

When Elcherino doesn’t play, I still win – most of the time. My other new players are pretty good in their own right. Altintop and Caracciolo have scored a couple between them. Jackson got a header from a corner.

I haven’t lost a game since the mid-season negotiations. I’ve lifted myself up to 12th in the league – mainly on the back of getting just one player.

Espanyol, one of Division 2’s strongest teams, fell victim to the Elch. He ran riot for me, scoring another hat trick in a 4-0 demolition.

Due to fitness, the man of the moment was missing from a game against Celtic where I struggled to get the ball for long, long periods. I drew that one 0-0 – one of the very few 0-0 draws I’ve ever had in PES2008.

Elcherino was back on the pitch and still on form in a 3-0 win against Genoa – this time he ‘only’ got himself a brace.

To round off this set of matches, Elcherino returned fully-fit to the starting line-up against Blackburn. Here’s the score, and the scorer:

Blackburn 1-5 Singers FC (Elcherino 5)

Below is a single short video showing three of Elcherino’s goals from these matches. The last goal is a nice straightforward wonder-strike. The first two are bog-standard dribble-and-shoot goals. I barely even watch the replays any more. I have to re-emphasise that I really am playing this game on the hardest difficulty settings. Behold this tangle of thorns:

That’s 14 goals in four games from Elcherino. After scoring five against Blackburn, he was rated 9.5 in the post-match screen; again, no other member of the team rated anywhere close to him.

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The standard Elcherino goal: get the ball anywhere on the pitch, then run at the opposition, dribble insanely in any and every direction, twist out of dead-ends, double back, loop the loop – and score.

The sad thing about PES2008 (next-gen) is that these goals are not peculiar to the Elcherino-style superstar players. They can be scored with too many players too often for comfort.

I’m not really enjoying the game at the moment.

I could introduce a very strict House Rule. I could allow myself no players of above-average ability.

It would mean having no good players at all. None. And I ask myself: what’s the point of Master League without the various thrills of struggling to improve, and nurturing young players, and then guiding them through their years of superstardom? Why should I have to play in shackles just to accommodate this game’s deficiencies?

I could abandon PES2008 altogether. I should abandon it. I’ve only hung on this far due to stubborn sentimentality. Behind the gorgeous next-gen facade, the game’s a broken, arcadey mess.

It hurts but it’s true.

Newcastle 1, Singers 4

It was my first game after the mid-season negotiations in my new Master League career.

I’ve had a pretty torrid time of it (again) with the Default players. In the transfer window I bought a clutch of pretty good players, among them one Elcherino, a star striker.

After the game kicked off I won the ball from Newcastle and fed it forward to Elcherino on the left. It was his very first touch in the very first minute of his very first game for me. Well. It’s probably better if I just show you:

If you can’t look at the clip, what happened was that I went down the wing with Elcherino, spun around, cut back inside, and sent an unstoppable rocket of a shot high into the top corner of the Newcastle net. The replay doesn’t do justice to the sheer bullet-like unstoppability of the shot. It was a true net-buster.

I was pleased. It worked off a lot of frustration after my terrible first part of the season. Elcherino, I thought, you little beauty

The game went on. All except one of my other new signings were on the field (Postma was unfit).

For a 17-year-old rookie, Jackson acquitted himself admirably in the centre of defence, heading everything away and tackling efficiently. Camacho was slow but adequate out on the right wing. He picked up a booking but passed the ball well. My other two strikers, Altintop and Caracciolo, were strong but unspectacular.

Elcherino, though… Different class.

Before the first half was over he’d got another one. Again I basically just gave him the ball, dribbled until I had a shooting chance, and scored.

After that I started trying to do it all the time. My whole game was a) get the ball, b) give the ball to Elcherino, and c) try to dribble through the entire CPU team to score.

If you have ever played PES2008 (next-gen) online, you will know that roughly 95% of all online players choose to play with either Brazil, Barcelona, or Inter Milan. Their entire gameplan consists of feeding the ball to the likes of Adriano, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo & co., and then simply running with the ball. I am usually pretty good at defending against this ‘tactic’. Taking a minute before the match to set up an alt 5-4-1 formation and map it to a strategy button usually stops them, and makes them whine afterwards. But that’s not the point. It’s cheap and it’s ‘gamey’. It’s just one of the reasons why I am less than enthralled with PES2008 online.

But here I was, in my humble Master League, doing exactly the same thing with Elcherino.

Half time came and went. I kicked off in the second half. Caracciolo tapped the ball to Elcherino, and I raced him upfield to score. No effort involved. Hmmm.

3-0 to me, and cruising. Then I got Camacho sent off. I was down to 10 men. Then Newcastle put one into my net. Ouch. Was this the start of a collapse?

No. It wasn’t. From the kickoff, I raced upfield with Elcherino again, and scored again…

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4-1 to me, and Elcherino had scored all 4 of my goals. That’s how it ended. I substituted Elcherino after his fourth goal, hoping to keep him fresh for the next game.

I never usually bother to look at the player ratings after a match, but I was curious this time. Elcherino only a 9? What do you have to do in this game to get a 10?

My next highest-rated player was only 6.5. That alone speaks volumes.

The next game, and the ones after it, were very interesting indeed. There may be repercussions for the future of my troubled relationship with PES2008. I might be playing PES5 – and FIFA08 – again sooner than I thought.

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