ISS Chronicles

Speak, memory… An extra special Saturday post for this Bank Holiday weekend, to mark a very special occasion. In town the other day, I popped into one of those ‘Cash Generator’-type stores on the off-chance that they’d have a copy of NHL09, which I’m still hunting high and low for. On my way out, for some reason I glanced at the store’s Retro games shelf. Among the Mega Drive FIFAs and the Dreamcast Ecco the Dolphins and the like, I saw a lone PlayStation game.

It was… International Superstar Soccer Pro. The legend itself.

iss-box

I picked up the box and looked at the price on the back. £1.99—bargain. I thought that even if I got it home and only played it once, and then never again, it’d be worth two quid. Let me put it another way: if I was walking along a street, and I saw a magic door with a sign on it that said ***STEP INSIDE AND PLAY ONE MATCH ON THE ORIGINAL PLAYSTATION VERSION OF INTERNATIONAL SUPERSTAR SOCCER PRO FOR JUST TWO POUNDS***, I’d be straight in there.

I took the game to the counter and paid. The usual kind of spiky-haired kid behind the counter bagged it up. I couldn’t contain my delight. “Two quid for this is a bargain!” I said, with what may have come across as psychotic glee.

On my way home I realised I should have checked the state of the disc. It had to be over a decade old. How many owners? Likely dozens. And, unless they’d all been the kind of gamers who scrupulously held their discs by the edges and never left them lying around and always replaced them in their own boxes (gamers like me, in other words), this ISS Pro disc was likely to be in a fearful state. And, sadly, it was:

iss-disc

The picture doesn’t do it the full (in)justice. The surface was probably the worst condition I’ve ever seen a game disc in. What do some people do with their discs? I once lent a much-loved copy of Tiger Woods 2003 to a work colleague for a single weekend. When I handed it over it was in spotless, mint condition—literally as good as the day I bought it. When I got it back it looked like the cratered surface of the Moon. I just don’t get it.

Was I really going to put this thing inside my PlayStation3? Would it work? I would have to see.

The instruction manual triggered faint memories. I remembered, very dimly, chuckling about the pitch diagram, with its ‘corner posts’ and ‘goal nets’…

isspro-booklet

Tee-hee. Ohhh, memories. Speaking of which. Here is the intro. Turn up your volume for an instant nostalgic trip back in time:

There was no need to worry about the state of the disc. It worked perfectly.

And now here’s a gameplay snippet. I played my traditional opening fixture, England vs. Scotland (still the classic International fixture, and in dire need of a revival IMO). Using my new camera I recorded a whole half of play. The resulting AVI file was about 350MB. Er… So I snipped out this 30-second clip from the start of the second half:

Hey, I hadn’t played this game for 10 years or more. ISS98 and its successors, and then the PES series, have all taken me to other places in the meantime.

The graphics were the most shocking thing at first. These clips actually make its graphics look a lot better than they are. I watched the teams coming out, and then the first few seconds of play, and felt utter dismay. Were graphics really this bad on the PlayStation? I’m certainly no graphics snob, not really, but I’m clearly not a born Retro gamer either.

The prototypical ISS gameplay is there. You remember it (you feel it) within a few seconds of starting to play. ISS Pro, in its day, was a huge paradigm shift in football gaming. It’s the Citizen Kane of football gaming. After ISS Pro, nothing was the same again. It took FIFA over 10 years to catch up. That’s how good ISS Pro was.

So many things feel weird about it now. Aerial through-balls… maybe it was me, but I couldn’t work out how to do them. Maybe they didn’t exist in ISS Pro. And for another thing, you can’t change direction whilst sprinting. That was very weird. Early on in the clip you can see me running at the Scotland defence. I try to change direction, but nothing happens and I just run into a defender.

I lost this match 1-2. It was on the Medium difficulty level (there are only three). Here’s one of Scotland’s goals. My keeper gets a hand to it, but it goes in anyway. The pause at the start is due to me trying to figure out which button did what in the replay controls. It turned out that the Replay playback button was Triangle in ISS Pro. Ten years consumes a lot of memories…

I did score a goal, just to make me feel good. Shooting in ISS Pro feels HEAVY compared to the latest PES games. I had quite a few shots but just couldn’t seem to hit any sweet spots. I barely managed to get any shot above knee-height. Here’s one that I at least placed reasonably well—well enough for the keeper to fumble it into the net. The keepers were pretty solid overall. The two goals I’ve posted here make them seem like PES2008 keepers (the version that must not be named), but they were actually pretty solid:

And that was that. I finished the match, removed the disc, put it back in its box, and it’s still there now. I’d like to be able to report that my brief game inspired me to start playing ISS Pro on the PS3, but it hasn’t. I’ve got too many games to play, great games, modern games, and I want to play them. Retro gaming is all very well as an occasional one-off, like reading a classic book, watching a classic film, etc., but I’m far more interested in contemporary games and would never pretend otherwise.

Still, it’s nice to have ISS Pro there if I want it. I have no idea what happened to my original copy all those years ago. I must have traded it in for ISS98. I was poor back then. There was no sense in keeping a game on the shelf when it could be traded in. It’s always possible, of course, that this copy of ISS Pro is my original copy, returned to me via a devious route….

Why isn’t this game (or ISS98) out for download on the PSN yet? If I had ISS Pro available to play on my PSP I think I’d draw a big fat line under my gaming history so far, and declare myself completely satified with everything.

14 Comments

  1. Ahh the memories. It’s always good to go back to a classic retro game and give it a bash, especially when they can be picked up at such a low price, nice to have just for nostalgic purposes. As you say even if you only play it once, it’s well worth it.

    On a related note, I also am chasing down a copy of NHL09 but am yet to find one. Im not a hockey fan by any stretch and the last NHL game I played was NHL97 on the PS1 but I’m keen for a new sports game, I haven’t played a sports game that wasn’t football for a long time now.

  2. stinger—I could have written loads, loads more about all the memories, feelings, fleeting impressions, and waves of nostalgia that came over me just during the one match. I could have done a single post on the commentator, Chris James, all on his own. (“It’s yellow! That’s an early bath!”) Amazing how happy we were with so comparatively little. We’re spoilt nowadays, I suppose (graphics, features, commentary etc.), but that’s progress.

    I’ve heard so much about NHL09 that if I don’t find it preowned soon I’ll probably buckle and get it new. I haven’t played an NHL game since about 1997 myself. It was on the MegaDrive, and it remains the best ice hockey game I’ve ever played. I’ve tried a few since then but they’ve never grabbed me.

  3. Fantastic Stuff, that really took me back!

    My biggest memory of that game is the god awful commentary.

    ‘The Sun is beating down on the pitch and the wind is shooting through the stadium!’

    I remember finding ways to score easy goals as well, my favorite being hitting circle as soon as you kick off and trying to lob the keeper from the half way line.

  4. ISS Pro is still a brilliant game, the best thing i remeber is the refs, you could hack players down all the time and not even get booked, its great to play the “roots” of PES as we play it today, so old, and still so similar in many respects…

  5. Andrew—Playing ISS Pro again was a bittersweet experience. With more time to post at length I’d have gone on (and on) about how time plays tricks on us, colouring our memories, playing with our perceptions…

    I never rediscovered my own easy ways to score (I remember I had some). I found the game more than adequate after all these years.

  6. Max—I picked up a couple of bookings with some of my vicious scythings-down from behind… Overall it was amazing how well the gameplay holds up after more than a decade, and how true to its roots PES still is today—for better and worse. If ISS Pro appeared on the PSN for download tomorrow I’d pay a tenner for it, easy. As it stands I might look into hacking my PSP and getting it onto there that way.

  7. a great post not-Greg: those were the wonder years eh?

  8. Reminds me of a football game I played on a friends Sega Megadrive. (could it of been that very game!?)

    Anyway, on the NHL09 search, dont know if you’ve checked CEX or not but heres the listing from their site.
    http://tinyurl.com/notgreg

    It lists a bunch that have it in store, don’t know where abouts you are but hopefully close enough to one of those! (Looks expensive though :s)

  9. diego—yes indeed. Ater ISS Pro and ISS98, it was arguably a case of Konami milking the original winning formula for everything they could. I think the series peaked with PES2-PES6, with my personal favourite, PES5, as the best one (so far).

  10. Paww—NHL09 is freely available from a number of online stores, but at that price I’m not (so far) tempted. I keep looking for a preowned copy in a shop on my visits to town, and expect to find one eventually. I might just give in and order it full-price though. I hear it’s worth it.

    I don’t think ISS was ever out on the MegaDrive. Could be mistaken, but I’m pretty sure.

    I take it from your comment that you’ve never played any of the original ISS games on the PlayStation. If you see a copy of one in your travels going for a few quid, I advise you to snap it up. If nothing else you would see where PES has come from, and how much of the essence was there right from the start, and of course how things have vastly improved.

  11. Quite right, the earliest PES I’ve played I think was PES5, that was the first game I was introuduce too, and caused me to buy PES6. Even those days seem nostalgic too me!

    The clips you showed reminded me of the Sega game I played, most likely it was a Sega production as well, so certainly unlikely it was PES. Did a little searching on it and appears it might of been a FIFA offering. Oh how things have come full circle.

  12. Paww—I remember the FIFA games on MegaDrive very well. Did your half-remembered game have an isometric perspective, i.e. viewed from the corner flag – like this? If so then it was definitely FIFA.

  13. Unfortunately my half-memory doesn’t go quite that far, it does however look vaguely familar. I’d go and track down an emu and play it to find out but such things always seem better rose coloured!

  14. Paww—there’s probably no sense in making any special effort to track down the original ISS now. If it was before your time it was before your time, and you probably wouldn’t be able to make yourself admire it. Still, if you do happen to spot a copy going for a few quid anywhere, and you can afford it, I recommend it as an historical curiosity if nothing else. See where PES came from, and how eerily PES-like it already was at the start.

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