Month: August 2008

A nightmare before PESmas?

So, it’s been a few days now. A few more PES2009 gameplay videos have appeared. A lot more reports are filtering through from people who’ve actually played the game.

Today, as of right now, I’m deeply concerned about PES2009. I hope that I am wrong, but I can see a nightmare scenario unfolding before my eyes.

On Wednesday I was quite happy, with just a few reservations. I was happy about the early reports that PES2009 is PES5 with HD graphics (as I and many others wanted it to be).

I’ve spent most of the past year whining about the hideously wrong turn taken by PES2008 (on PS3/360/PC). That game was an arcade score-’em-up for the kids. PES2008 in fact sold a lot of units, but it did so on the franchise’s reputation alone. Right? Right?

Surely Konami doesn’t think PES2008 sold well on its own merits? Because if they do think that, PES is in big trouble. The kind of trouble from which there is no coming back.

The more I look at the videos coming out of Leipzig, the more worried I get. Yes, I wished for a Hi-Def PES5, and IF that’s what’s truly on offer then I’ll gladly take it. But I’m looking at these videos, and hearing these hands-on reports from players at Leipzig, and what I’m seeing and hearing is: welcome to PES2008 part 2.

This is the nightmare scenario: that Konami and/or Team Seabass felt no need to change what for them is a winning formula, and pressed on with a tweaked version of last year’s (in my view) disgraceful excuse for a PES game. My greatest fear all year has been that PES2009 would be merely a touched-up PES2008. Almost everything I’ve seen and heard so far from the Leipzig exhibition hall just reinforces that fear.

The only gleam of hope thus far has been the WENB hands-on preview. They also seem to be bemused by the appearance of the game at Leipzig. Debate currently rages across several PES forums as to whether or not the game at Leipzig is an older version of the game than the one played by WENB. And, if the versions are different, which version is the one we’ll get to play? Confusion reigns. There’s some extremely bitter in-fighting going on in the PES community right now. It’s like the Fall of Rome out there.

The acid test will come with the demo, which I now hear will appear for both the 360 and PS3 “in the week of release”. Hmmm.

It’s all very worrying. I don’t know what to think. On the one hand we have WENB’s (and others’) testimony that PES2009 is a next-gen PES5. Once again I have to say that, if true, I’ll take it and be very happy about it.

But is it true, though? Really?

Be careful what you wish for…

So. The word is out: PES2009 is PES5 with HD graphics.

That’s the consensus opinion so far, at 6pm on 20th August 2008. Today was—and still is—a very big day for Pro Evolution Soccer 2009.

A next-gen version of PES5 is what many PES fans called for. I called for it too. Now that it seems I’ll get what I wished for, how do I feel about it?

I don’t know yet. I’m still taking it all in.

I’ve been taking in all the news since midnight last night. Early indications were not good. WENB was down even at 1 am last night, which doesn’t really bode well for the next few months. Thankfully I was able to follow the latest developments on the various PES forums. (Or should that be fora? I’m never sure.)

A couple of websites leapt straight in after 12.00. One said that holding X+Square (clamping, as I call it) far too easily wins the ball back from the CPU. I really, really hope that doesn’t turn out to be true. Talk about a game-breaker.

This morning brought better news. I got up fully expecting that WENB would be down and would remain down all day. As it turned out, they’ve been up all day (disabling their forum temporarily eased the load on their server). It’s been a great source of information.

The WENB previews are positive, as I expected them to be. There’s more than a bit of discussion in the PES community about just how trusting we should be of the WENB coverage of PES2009. Their infamous preview of the PlayStation3 version of PES2008—“Three times better on Blu-Ray”—will indeed haunt them for some time to come. (How much wronger could they have been?!)

Last year they were just starting out, just finding their feet. Their connections within Konami were tenuous at best. But the WENB boys’ enthusiasm for PES cannot be denied, and they see the game through fans’ eyes. Casting my mind back a year, it was literally inconceivable that PES2008 could be anything but magnificent. That fixed pre-conception clouded lots of people’s judgements.

I’m disposed to view WENB’s output this year as being more or less trustworthy. No more or less trustworthy, anyway, than elsewhere on the Internet.

They somehow chose the noisiest cafeteria in London in which to record their ‘videocast‘. Knowing how dismayed Suffwan was by his first hands-on with PES2008 last year, it was interesting to watch his facial expressions as he gave his (qualified) endorsement of PES2009. What do the little glances aside, away from the camera lens, signify? Reservations? Or simple camera-shyness?

Later in the day came the first gameplay videos. At the time of writing (just after 18.00) there are only two gameplay videos that I know of. Now I find this damned strange. Why aren’t we up to our necks in shaky-cam footage from the Leipzig hall by now?

Anyway. I clipped the below segment from the best video so far. The clip is around 20 seconds long, and shows two things. One, it is disturbingly similar-looking to PES2008. Two, the new heavier-looking physics (of players and of the football itself), and the slower speed, are very welcome.

It still looks too fast for my taste. It still looks pretty arcadey. But it’s early days yet. Best not to rush to judgements. This post is only my first impressions for now. I think it’s fair to say that I’m still suspicious of PES2009—what I’ve seen and heard of it. I wished for a new version of PES5 a couple of times, but never actually thought I’d get it. I’m confused.

I think a comment made by Adam in his article on WENB sums it up well. By reverting to an older, tried-and-tested set of gameplay mechanics, Konami has played a ‘get out of jail’ card. It was easy for them to do this. For that reason alone there are some PES players who will never forgive them. FIFA09 sure is looking mighty good.

The next few days will doubtless bring more revelations, videos, and hands-on impressions. (In particular I can’t wait to hear what Riot, a regular guest on the WENB podcast, has to say about PES2009.) I’ll hold off saying any more for now while everything sinks in. I’ll post again on Friday with a more considered reaction.

Hearts Of Irony

And so the Big Reveal is almost upon us. Leipzig is less than 24 hours away. The various non-disclosure agreements regarding previews of PES2009 will expire. Around this time tomorrow, we’ll be awash in information about the game.

I predict that it’ll be mostly positive. Understandably, the likes of PESfan and WENB will not want to jeopardise their relationship with Konami. Not yet anyway. Any misgivings that they have about PES2009 will most likely be buried between the lines, inferable from the tone of voice.

Other websites may not be so restrained. Last year’s disaster generated a lot of bad karma. Konami told reviewers that the PS3 version’s atrocious slowdown and utterly disgusting online play would be fixed before release. Reviewers obediently kept schtum. WHOOPS.

What does it all mean for PES2009? It means that a lot of professionally embarrassed games journalists will be looking for a reason, any reason, to balance the scales of justice… Yes, Konami have got a lot of making-up to do.

Personally, I expect a solid Pro Evolution Soccer game from PES2009. Nothing more, nothing less. I’ll be stunned if PES2009 is anything more than a placeholder for the promised revolution of PES2010. If it’s anything less… If it’s just a revamped PES2008, as many fear it will be… Well… that really will be the end for me and PES. After all this time. I do not want to think about it.

As for tomorrow, I have a confession to make. PES2009 is not the only show in town for me. Perhaps it’s a sign of the strange football gaming times we live in, what with the very good FIFA08 and the abysmal PS3 PES2008 and all. But I’m looking forward to Leipzig for more than just Pro Evolution Soccer…

I’m a keen PC strategy gamer and always have been. One of my favourite strategy game publishers is Paradox Interactive. It publishes such immense titles as the Europa Universalis and Hearts of Iron series. To call these games deep and complex is, for once in the world of gaming, a genuine understatement. I thought Civilization games were complex until I bumped into Paradox Interactive games for the first time. They can make the Civilization franchise look like Tetris. I’ve been playing Hearts of Iron II in particular for several years and I still have to consult the manual to check up on certain things.

Anyway, the point here is that Paradox will be announcing an all-new strategy title at Leipzig tomorrow. And I find that I’m actually looking forward to hearing all about that as much as I am looking forward to PES2009. This makes me feel sad. PES has been my #1 game franchise for nigh on a decade. Time was that nothing else—and I mean nothing else—would have got a look-in. The times really are a-changin’, and I’m not sure I like them.

But I have a strange feeling in my water. I’ve had it for most of this year. The more brickbats that have been flung at PES2008, the more I have had that feeling… Call it absurd, misplaced optimism, but I think PES2009 will be great. Not just ‘good’ (which is what we’d all settle for, I’m sure). Great.

Time will tell. And that time is shrinking rapidly. I’ll post a special entry tomorrow evening on my initial reaction to the news, and then a more considered follow-up on Thursday or Friday. Exciting times indeed.

Winning ugly

There’s a great air of excitement this year as we draw closer to the October launches of FIFA09 and PES2009. I think about it every day. I spend more time than I care to admit checking all the various websites connected to the two games. It’s intense. I thought last year was pretty intense, but this year is intenser.

This time last year, as a proud new PS3-owner, I was gearing up for my first-ever next-gen football game experiences. Like every other PES fan on the planet, I was certain that all I had to do was somehow stay alive until the end of October 2007. Then, football game Nirvana would surely be mine. Oh dear

FIFA08 was first out of the traps last year. As it will be this year. We’re now less than a calendar month away from getting our hands on the FIFA09 demo. The full game will be out not long after, in six and a half weeks… I’m by no means a fully-converted FIFA fan (yet), but I’m pretty excited.

And I’ve recently started getting (back) into FIFA08 again. I went off and mostly played the PSP/PS2 versions of PES2008 this year. That distracted me from FIFA08—the best next-gen football game yet. I’ve rediscovered the joy of FIFA08. One of those joys is hinted at in the title…

Real football is often not a very good game to watch, or play. The thing about FIFA08 that has attracted the most criticism from its opponents (diehard PES fans and others) is its slow, stiff, almost too sim-like character. Chains of 0-0 scorelines are not uncommon at certain times. Usually these runs of goalless games come along when you’re trying to settle into a new skill level. But they can happen at any time.

Over the past few weeks I’ve really struggled to adapt to World Class. Back in January and February of this year (feels like centuries ago now) I was playing FIFA08 almost every day, and not having the same difficulties with the game. I was finding it challenging—I can’t imagine FIFA08 not being challenging—but I wasn’t really struggling to adapt to the rhythms of the game. I wasn’t constantly trying to do things that are really not possible in the all-new FIFA. I mean the kinds of things that are done in PES almost as a matter of routine. (Yes, it really did take a FIFA game to show us just how arcadey Pro Evolution Soccer has become. Irony is not the word…)

I was mired in mid-table with my Manager Mode team, Dagenham & Redbridge. I was playing my home games on Professional and my away games on World Class. Even so, I was only scraping wins at home (on a difficulty level that I conquered almost a year ago). I was drawing half of my away games, and losing the other half by 0-1 or 0-2 scorelines.

The problem was obvious. Even now, after all the many times I’ve gone on about it on the blog, I was making a huge error… I wasn’t trying to play FIFA. I was trying to play PES in FIFA. I was trying to reproduce all my signature PES moves, my favourite PES routes to goal, and even my PES defensive methods (i.e. just squeeze a button or two until I get the ball back). They don’t work in FIFA08. None of them. Treating the new FIFA as if it’s PES (or even as if it’s the old, arcadey FIFA) is not a good approach to have. I firmly believe that this is what fully 90% of all PES fans who have played FIFA08 and hated it have done. They’ve tried to play PES, failed, and judged FIFA08 a bad game.)

I dug in, and played FIFA08’s brand of the beautiful game. Sometimes it is indeed beautiful. Sometimes it’s indifferent. And sometimes it’s downright ugly—hence the title of the post.

Winning ugly for me meant being content to sit back and let the CPU have the ball when it wanted it. It meant defending with concentration, sometimes for long periods. It meant snatching scruffy goals in the midst of otherwise torrid matches. This went on for a few games—then it all clicked again. I started playing with the same flair and intuitiveness that I used to have before I slightly drifted away from FIFA08 back in March.

I picked up draws in games I should have lost; I also picked up wins in games I should have drawn. The highlight of this period was a great 1-3 victory away from home against Ipswich, a top 6 team in the Championship. Scoring three goals on World Class difficulty—one of them a classic FIFA08 scissors-kick from a high, looping cross (your timing has to be spot-on)—was a delight.

All these results I’ve picked up have moved me into 4th position in the table heading into the January transfer window. Sticking my neck out, I’d say I’ve got a good a chance of promotion this season. I’ll ruthlessly exploit FIFA08’s extremely dodgy transfer market and see what top strikers I can pick up with my whopping £20 million budget.