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.
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.
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.
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.
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.