We’ve never had it so good

I am continuing with my Master League in WE9LE, despite worries about the existing state of the player database and concerns about future Super-Regens and Mega-Youths unbalancing the ML ‘world’. I’m still a big admirer of the We9LE gameplay as it stands. It’s fascinating and rewarding on a number of levels. It plays like a cross between PES5 and PES2011 at their very best, with the instinctive old-school quality of the former and the methodical, break-me-down-if-you-can granularity of the latter. (Without any stumble animations or other glitches, needless to say.)

I want to explore WE9LE as far as possible before I start to fiddle around with other patches. The ‘steering committee’ behind WE9LE’s revival is rumoured to be preparing a much tidier patch for release in a few months. I’ll try to make it to then.

I am playing as Standard Liege, continuing my new tradition of conducting ML campaigns with Belgian sides for no particular reason. After several matches I’m mid-table in Division 2. I have almost been knocked out of the D2 Cup by Bruges. I lost 0-2 at home. I’ll need to play the game of my life to turn it around in the second leg.

Progress in this ML has been slowed by a side-project related to the forthcoming book I’m working on. As part of my preparation and research,  I am currently working my way through every single one of the ISS and PES games from 1995 through to 2011. I need to refresh my memory of them, particularly the ISS games.

I already have all the PES games and one of the ISS games (the original). Last week, I placed orders for the remainder with various eBay and Amazon sellers. This week, the games all started to arrive.

Here’s the full list of games I will be playing over the next week or two as the writing process for the book gets serious:

International Superstar Soccer, ISS Deluxe, ISS 98, ISS 2000, ISS Pro Evolution, ISS Pro Evolution 2, and of course all the games from PES1 to PES2011 (including PES6 for the Xbox360 and the PS2/PSP versions of PES2008, PES2009, and PES2010).

(NB: I won’t be blogging about the old games. It is just for the book.)

I ordered ISS 2000 by mistake, thinking it was ISS Pro Evolution 1. It’s not—ISS 2000 is from an alternate branch of the ISS family that I never actually played at the time.

When I saw the CD label for ISS Pro Evolution 2, I nearly had to sit down.

For most of 2001 that green disk on the left was a familiar daily sight in my old grey tobacco-stained PlayStation.

Seeing it again today is like seeing a picture of myself ten years ago, when I still had hair.

ISS98—the Ince-Ravanelli face-off edition—is, in my memory, the greatest of the ISS-era football games. But it is pretty shocking now.

I’ll save the close-up look at the ISS games for the book. For now, I’ll just say that the graphics are so bad that you can almost see the individual pixels that make up each player.

The commentary is laughable. Tony Gubba is the least worst of the bunch. Terry Butcher and Chris James seemed good ten years ago, but time and standards have changed. Terry Butcher’s flat reading-aloud of his scripted lines makes even Mark Lawrenson sound naturalistic.

There is good in the old games. After the shock wore off, I settled down. There is some good football to be played.

Perhaps the greatest shock was seeing Master League as an option in ISS Pro Evolution 2’s main menu. I would have sworn Master League didn’t start until PES1 at the earliest.

But there it is, bold as brass, with the old-school ML Default squad to boot.

There’s no choice about starting with the Defaults or not. You have to start with them. And there’s no PES United, no Editing, nothing. I started as Leeds United (this really is a game from ten years ago). There’s a full transfer system.

And of course that starting squad includes a certain classic player in his pre-Myth days…

So there’s a lot to like about the older games. But oh, how limited the gameplay!

There’s not even an aerial through-ball in some of the older ones. One-twos are completed automatically, with no choice about when—or if—to make the return pass. The delayed one-two and the declined one-two are key components of our modern football games. Missing these options is like missing a limb.

I got these old games to remind myself of what things were like back then, for me and for the game series that we all follow and love. Accordingly, I’ll be writing about them in the book mostly from a perspective of ‘back then’. I won’t be pulling them apart and judging them by today’s standards.

But speaking now from today’s point of view, it’s a timely reminder of just how fortunate we are. Even the most dubious football game from the current period is in a different class altogether. Even PES2008(PS3).

The 1990s, and ISS, are long dead. Long live Pro Evo.


  1. International Superstar Soccer on the Super Nintendo was my first exposure to the series. I can only remember playing with Brazil – they had Gomez and Allejo up front which I believe were supposed to be Romario and Bebeto. There was a bloke with a good long range shot on the bench I think called Sousa. Happy days.

    There were only about 5 ways to score, one of which was flicking the ball over your head and keeper when he came out.

    Did the first 6000 words flow easily enough?

  2. Liam—I’ve played that SNES version quite recently, on a handheld. I mentioned it on the blog too. The video clip has been lost to sevenload, but is that the same game? I thought it was pretty decent, but the small screen and cramped buttons on the handheld that I was using meant I only played it for about 20 minutes.

    All of the ISS years were happy ones for me, looking back now. I thought the games were superb, and for their time, they were. The ISS games sadly haven’t stood up to the test of time IMO. After a while of playing them they do have this peculiar appeal and immersion, but they remain crude in comparison even to the early PES games. Which is only right and proper, really!

    Those 6000 words for the book came easily enough, but I’m not entirely happy with them. The figure will stay as it is for a few days while I review and rewrite etc. Still well on target for October, though.

  3. I seem to remember that on one of the ISSs that I played the camera was so close to the action that a lot of passing was done by radar.
    PES1 just took things to a whole other level. I can still remember my friend buying it on release day and we were absolutely blown away.

  4. I’ve recently started playing Winning Eleven 2002 on a PSX emulator. I believe it’s basically ISS 2 with a fan-made patch with 2002 rosters and kits. I was also surprise to find Master League and have started a ML with Arsenal. My only signing so far is Beschastnykh from Spartak Moscow. He was always a beast against me when I was playing against him in PES 2 on PS2 and he’s not let me down.

  5. Grilled Seabass—if I appear at that site, it’ll be next week sometime now.

    As for PES1, it’s my least-played of any PES or ISS game, as it occupied a point where I was still on PS1 and couldn’t yet afford a PS2. I got a copy, of course, sometime in 2005 or so, for completeness’ sake. I remember it was one of those blue discs that made the PS2 sound a lot like a lawnmower. Scary. I’ll need to find some way to play it again though.

  6. bkmelendez—what amazes me most about ML in ISS 2 is that I remember so little. After playing a bit I did start to recall vague memories—I think it was very easily ‘completed’ and essentially just a League+Cup mode mashed together. I don’t remember anything at all about the transfer market. I do remember Castello, of course, as beiing a huge part of PES folklore. And that’s the oddest thing. I always remembered Castello as a PES player, not an ISS player.

  7. PES1 was my first experience, indeed virtually my first computer game for over a decade as I didn’t do any gaming in the 1990s. It didn’t really register much, just played a few half hearted games during the 2002 World Cup on 2* or 3*. PES2 was the first one that really clicked and the addiction kicked in which has claimed 1000s of hours since then!

    not-greg let me know if you want my copy of GBA Winning Eleven as part of the research project. Although it is probably on a par with the games you’re describing I still view it as a classic, partly because of the way it crams full PES gameplay onto just 2 face buttons, and also fits a decent ML onto the cartridge

    BK, yes I remember Beschastnykh fondly, he was my star striker on PES3. Long ball from the back, Beschastnykh would push the last defender out of the way and then chip the keeper. Never heard of him in real life though, not sure if he was any good

  8. abbeyhill—PES2 was my first true PES as well, and for that reason will always be a special game to me. It was the game I bought a PS2 for, and was the first game I played after setting up the new console. I’ll never forget the We Will Rock You intro. The gameplay seemed amazing to me, a true quantum leap from the ISS games on PS1 which I’d been playing until the day before that long-ago day in 2002… I’ll save the rest for the book (which is paused for the moment as I take stock of various things).

    Thanks for the GBA Winning Eleven offer, but I have one of these to play it on. I’m only supposed to be revisiting the games I’ve played since 1998 or so (I took most of the 90s off gaming too). The Wiz is helping me revisit FIFAs 95, 96, and 97 (indoor football!). It’ll also help me try out that Winning Eleven game for the first time.

  9. PES2 was also my first experience of the game and i was truly amazed. The thing i found really amazing was how individual the players were compared to Fifa in those days and i have really enjoyed this game and the many challenges i had with friends and family playing pro evo.

  10. Pazz—I agree, everybody’s first PES remains either their favourite, or the one they have a sneaking regard for. E.g. I liked PES4 but would never put it in the top tier of PES games, but for many it was their first PES and occupies the same place for them as PES2 does for us.

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