Month: July 2009

Pro Evolution Soccer 3: playing it again, for the first time

I dug out my copy of Pro Evolution Soccer 3 the other day. I hadn’t played it for nearly five years.

PES3 looked much better than it has any right to. Most importantly, it played much better than it has any right to. I was really pleased by—and oddly proud about— just how well this game has aged. Granted, in the post-FIFA08 world PES3’s arcade handling now seems rather quaint (especially the instant 180-degree turns and dribbles). But considered purely as an example of great PES gameplay, there’s not much better than PES3 in my view.


I remember two things about playing this PES all those years ago. I remember its often explosive, deeply satisfying shooting mechanic. And I remember having a regen Hristo Stoichkov in my Master League team, who still remains the best left-footed striker I’ve ever played with in a football game (Malgani/Maradona included).

I filmed my 2009 ‘playing it again for the first time’ experience. I’ve split it into three clips: first the inital startup and menus, then very brief highlights from my traditional first fixture (England vs Scotland), and then a look at the Master League of 5 years ago—complete with extended footage of a match, and a goal.

First the intro, which shows me starting up the game on the PS3. I was nervous the old PS2 game wouldn’t work on the PS3. Although I have the fully backwards-compatible 60GB PS3, not all PS2 games work on it. Generally, the older the game, the more likely there’ll be a problem.

I played it with PS2 upscaling turned on. The PS3 didn’t seem to like the old game much. The cooling fans went into overdrive and stayed that way, although my PS3 does that all the time lately (I’m worried about it). My Xbox360 is the quiet console nowadays.

The game intro was haunting. I had goosebumps at times. Some truly Proustian moments. Who were you in 2003-2004? I know that I was somebody very different back then.

Link: PES3 - Startup and Intro

Onto the actual game. I was astonished by how great PES3 still looks and plays. I’ve edited this down to a watchable length, just enough to convey the flavour of the gameplay. There’s little duller than watching somebody else play a football game. I think the way that PES3 looks and handles is shockingly great. If you saw this footage touted as being PES2010, it’d almost be half-believable.

There’s some more  ‘eerie old menu moments’ for the first minute of the next clip. Then the gameplay kicks in (after more menu fiddling—I had to get the camera just right). The one good shot I had in the match comes from Gerrard, popping up in the ‘DMF hole’, at around 2:25.

Link: PES3 - first match

The game’s handling is superb. It feels so good to play. At times, admittedly, it does creak like a 6-year-old football game. But most of the time, it handles as if it was freshly-minted just last week. It’s a far superior game to PES2008(PSP/PS2) and PES2009(PSP).

One thing I’d forgotten all about, and loved rediscovering, was the shooting animation. Every player has a discernible micro-pause just before their foot strikes the ball, as they set themselves. Genius. What a magic formula PES was, and how far it has fallen. May it rise again.

PES3-Master League-Squad-screen

I had to take a look at PES3’s Master League. I’ve put together another video of my experience, showing the menus and most of the first half of a match. The clip is about 5 minutes long, and includes my one and only goal of the session. (Scored only on 2* difficulty.)

Castolo isn’t Castello in PES3! I misremembered that one. Castolo is a really great player in PES3’s ML from the start. This is the genesis of the myth of Castolo that so many just won’t let go of.

The same pretty much goes for most of the Default squad. They’ve all got pace and movement and decent basic skills. I take a detailed look at Castolo’s PES3 stats in the video. I also get over-excited when I score the goal, and seem to start filming Minanda’s crotch… but it’s just me picking up the camera. Honest.

Link: PES3 - Master League match

I was prompted to check out PES3 again by a few things. For all the bluster that surrounds PES5 as the ‘best-ever PES’, PES3 also has its fair share of worshippers. Indeed, it’d be my second-best-ever PES game. After this mini-playtest I was more impressed with PES3 than I was with PES5 when I tried out that game for a brief time last year.

All of which begs a question. If PES3’s so great, why not play it for a bit? Maybe start up a Master League career? It’d while away the couple of months between now and October. It’s not as if I’m really interested in PES2009 any more. Why not take up PES3?

I might. I just might. But, sadly, I probably won’t. No time, you see. I really want to find out where my FIFA09 career is taking me. I’ve just started Mass Effect on the 360 (for the third time, and I’ve finally got into it). I’ve got a busy life. I’ve got a couple of good books on the go. I’ve got a dozen films waiting to be watched. I might even be moving house in a few weeks.

But never say never. I might play a few International Tournaments on PES3 and see if the gameplay really pulls me in.

Breaking the spell

My belated infatuation with FIFA09 was never going to last at such a high intensity. It’s been an unforgettable, eye-opening few weeks, but a healthy splash of realism has hit me.

I went and had a few games of FIFA09 online. Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. FIFA09 online is a terrible game.

Everybody pressures everybody for the full 90 minutes without suffering any consequence. So much for the fatigue model. I turned up intending to play a patient passing game, and did so for a while. But after a while, my good intentions went out of the window. I started pressuring all the time as well. What choice do you have if you want to compete?

This has happened to me before on FIFA09. Even when up against somebody who wants, in theory, to play a ‘proper’ passing game, by degrees you both end up exerting more and more pressure, eventually both strangling the controller in a death-grip (Sprint+Secondary Pressure+Tackle) until the game is just like every other game of FIFA09 online.

I confess that I only went online to play FIFA09 because I wanted to see what it would feel like to score a ‘floater’ goal in an online match against another person. And I scored one in my very first match.

My opponent was Barcelona, naturally. I chose Manchester United. I always let the other player choose the teams, and I always make a point of choosing a similar team to theirs. I’m not one of these Accrington Stanley heroes.

Twenty minutes into the first half, I got the ball with Cristiano Ronaldo out on the right wing. I was in the golden spot where I’d scored all my other floaters from. I had a bit of space (somehow), and aimed, pulled the triggers, and shot… The ball flew as fast and true as anything, sailing over the keepers head into the opposite corner of the net. A picture-book goal from all of 40 yards. My opponent watched the replay with me. I wonder what he made of it. Or are these goals as common as muck online in FIFA09? I don’t think they are, somehow.

I had a few more games. Maybe 5 in total. All but one opponent chose Barcelona. The one who didn’t choose Barcelona chose Monaco, pleasingly, and I reciprocated by choosing Le Mans. Sadly, he turned out to be just another pressurising runner. That’s all FIFA09 is online, really, when it comes right down to it: pressurising, and running.

This is the game that’s been played online 10 billion times, or whatever it is? Good grief. All I can say is that its players must have Popeye-sized forearms from all the controller-strangling they must do.

FIFA09 offline I’d still say is a satisfying 9/10 game of football. FIFA09 online is a tedious 2/10 game of ‘who’s best at squeezing their controller’. Nice lag-free experience; shame about the game. I hate it and will never play it online again at all.

After all that it was a struggle to get back to any semblance of normality offline. I played a few more games in my Atletico Madrid Manager Mode career. I was unable to recapture the heights of a few days ago. Having had the awful, grinding gameplay of online rubbed in my face, it was difficut to find the beautiful game again. I did rediscover it, eventually, but I’m not as smitten with FIFA09 as I was a few days ago. Instead I’m back on a more healthier, even keel.

I’ve removed the Monster Hunter Freedom Unite UMD from my PSP for the first time in a week. I’ve put in the PES2008(PSP) UMD, and taken my Master League team out for a spin. I was struggling with them last time I played this career. Now? After a few weeks of FIFA09? I’ll tell all next week now. There’s some other business first…

Because another old-school PES game has seen some action again. I’m talking about PES3. Three. I don’t really know why either. I’ll tell all on Friday.

Floating on

I’m still playing FIFA09 and not playing any form of Pro Evolution Soccer. Not playing PES weighs upon me. I can’t shake the notion, wrong though I know it to be, that I’m rejecting an integral part of my own identity. I was always an all-year-round PES gamer. Last year and this year, I haven’t been one. This new pattern of abandoning PES after a certain time makes me damn uneasy. I don’t like it. But it’s a new reality, and has been for some time. I await PES2010 with a certain detached interest.

One thing I’ve learned from this year: I won’t be shirking my duties with FIFA10. It’ll be getting a seriously good play. What happened last year was that PES2009 came along, with its fairly decent PES gameplay, and effectively suspended FIFA09. I only got back into FIFA09 over the past month or so.

Nowadays, I see the great things about FIFA09 very closely and very clearly, and the small things very far away and very dimly. In the future they’ll swap places again, no doubt, but this is the present.

I genuinely look forward to playing FIFA09 every day. I experience the famed ‘just one more match’ syndrome that only PES is supposed to have. I also get the equally famed ‘special feeling’ from scoring many of my goals—again, only PES is supposed to have this special feeling. And only PES is supposed to be fun, according to the revisionist PES lore that has sprung up over the last two years.

FIFA has all of that too, for me, now. I’ve felt it and seen it and tasted it. I’ve sat up and punched the air whilst playing FIFA. I’ve hooted with laughter, gasped, shouted for fuck’s sake loud enough for my elderly neighbours to hear. Suddenly—and it’s completely crazy, completely unanticipated, and just completely crazy—I’m passionate about FIFA09. Will it last? Will it last? Will it last?

While I’m still scoring goals that satisfy me and while I’m still fascinated by the intricate things that can be done on the pitch, it’ll last.

Straight into my latest ‘floater’ goal.

Link: Rodriguez Floater

That one was scored with Maxi Rodriguez. It’s from my current Manager Mode career with Atletico Madrid. I’ll talk about my changing attitude to Manager Mode another time. Suffice it to say for now that if the gameplay is good, you can make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

This next one is another floater, but it’s a bit different from the others:

Link: Floated Curler FIFA09

It was scored whilst the player was facing sideways, and from a slightly more central position. All the others were scored from a particular zone beyond the outer corner of the penalty box and facing the far corner of the net that the ball was destined for. I had a moan a while ago about never being able to score these sideways-facing shots from just that position. So I was happy for this one to go in. Happy, too, about the curl on the ball, which neither of the camera angles showcases very well. Never mind.

Over the past few weeks I’ve posted a few of these ‘floater’ goals, as I call them. This shouldn’t be taken as a sign that the ‘same old FIFA’—with its utterly routine, meaningless, empty long-range goals—is lurking under the skin of next-gen FIFA. It’s definitely not.

These goals are still a rarity. This cluster came over the course of roughly 100 matches. I’ve really been playing FIFA09 a lot, and trying to score goals like these a lot. After months of never scoring them, I’ve bagged a few and I’m happy. Is that a crime? Oh, PES! Don’t look at me like that…

Because the music they constantly play

Three more replays of notable FIFA09 goals today—and a special compilation, at the end, of many of my recent goals too.

Rumours of FIFA09’s demise are greatly exaggerated. What happens with me is that I have a poor session or two, and immediately think that the game’s up. Then I go back for another session, and find a football game that could almost have been made in heaven, such is the sublimity of the things that can be done on the pitch. A big difference between next-gen FIFA and classic PES is that I don’t remember having poor sessions on classic PES.

When FIFA09 is good, it’s great. I mean really great. It’s the best football game I’ve played on a next-gen console, bar none (well, FIFA08 at its best possibly excepted).

PES2009 on the PS3, at its height, was a pretty enjoyable football game and I got a lot out of it, but it lacked longevity. FIFA09 (a bit like its many online fans) just keeps running and running and running.

It remains an extremely hard game. Every match is a unique challenge. By now I consider myself a veteran, but my current season record in Manager Mode is something like P20 W6 D6 L8. Of course my difficulty settings have a lot to do with it. I’m still playing on the second-highest difficulty level (World Class), and using my favourite mix of manual and semi-assisted control settings. These settings are the Goldilocks settings for me at the moment: neither too easy nor too hard, but just right.

One of the major criticisms of FIFA09 is its shooting. I still partly agree with the criticism. I still think FIFA09’s shooting system is bewilderingly inconsistent too often for it not to be a fault in the system.

Having said that, it’s possible to work within the system, such as it is. I’ve got the frustration factor down to a manageable amount. I’m knocking them in from all over the place, and often enough to keep me happy and coming back for more.

Here’s a goal scored from outside the box. ‘Outside the box’ is a sensitive phrase in FIFA09 shooting discussions. It’s so tough to score them that even fairly straightforward ones like this feel really special:

Link: Aguero 25-Yarder Fifa09

Now here’s a goal from ‘me’—my created player. I made him for Be A Pro, but never got into that mode. When I set up this new Atletico Madrid Manager Mode career (after losing my Coventry City savegame) I was again given the choice of importing ‘me’ into the squad. I did so, and once again the player is developing nicely. I’m an attacking midfielder, and this goal is a pretty rare first-time shot after a delayed one-two.

Link: Not-Greg one-two FIFA09

I learned the dark art of the delayed one-two on ISS/PES, of course, but you often get punished for attempting it on FIFA09. It’s just one of the reasons FIFA can feel ‘wrong’ to somebody from a PES background. A defender usually just nicks the ball off you before you play the return pass. This time, I had bags of time, and it paid off.

And now for something a bit special, if I may say so. It’s another pace control+finesse ‘dual trigger’ side-footed shot, from an angle, from about 30 yards, that loops over the keeper into the far ‘postage stamp corner’ of the net:

Link: Another FIFA09 floater

(There are two pitch-level replays of this goal at the end of the compilation below)

The trick with these is that you have to get the shot away in the split-second before the defender closes you down.  That means you have to press all the buttons almost together, in that half-second. These shots are fairly easy to get on target once you know the trick (both triggers!), but rarely actually go in. [nb: I scored another one of these floaters just this Friday morning, too late for it to make it into this post. It was from further out than the two already posted, and the ball seemed to fly a lot faster. It looked very good. I’ll chuck it into a post next week.]

I’ve compiled all my recent notable FIFA09 goals into the two-minute-long movie below. There’s a few goals near the end that I’ve not posted before (including a rare, classic centre-forward’s headed goal from a corner). The movie comes complete with an appropriate musical soundtrack. It’s definitely not a commentary on the music in just about every other goals movie… Ahem.

Link: FIFA09 goals nomusic