This is a special post for Christmas Day about my current (I have to stress CURRENT) opinions on the best Pro Evolution Soccer games since 2001. I’ve been posting about my Master League and my day-to-day experiences with PES for a long time now. A variation from my usual kinds of posts (“so yeah, I kicked it and it went in the net, and I was well happy, like”) is long overdue.
Below, in traditional ‘chart countdown’ reverse order, is my personal and idiosyncratic selection of the best PES games from the dawn of the PlayStation2 era until today:
This is my least-favourite PES for several reasons, but the main reason is that it’s my least-played. I didn’t get a PS2 until the year after it came out, by which time PES2 was on the shelves. That was the game I bought and played incessantly.
I only got a copy of PES1 much later in the year, out of curiosity, and I only played it for about 20 hours in total. I know that many PES purists really rate this game highly, but many also dislike it as crude and unrepresentative of the heights that the series would later get to. That was my opinion, overall: it was relatively stiff and uninvolving compared to the delights I was then experiencing in PES2.
Another big reason why I disliked PES1 was that it came on one of those dreaded blue discs! Those were the discs that made the PS2 sound like a vacuum cleaner… or an Xbox360. The noise always unnerved me and a play-session never lasted as long as it might otherwise have done.I remember the PS2 versions of Age of Empires II and Quake III also coming on blue discs, and they suffered a similar fate.
Most vivid memory: That damn blue disc! I used to grimace at the screen and lose all focus as I heard my PS2 doing a convincing impression of a lawnmower.
Okay, I have to say one thing immediately: PES4 was a great PES game and I enjoyed it thoroughly.
It’s only down here in 7th place because there are 6 other PES games that I think are even greater. Even the lowliest PES game is still pretty special. And PES4 is no different.
On the Wednesday of the week this came out (it was due to be released on the Friday), I remember reading rumours on PESfan that most stores had broken the release date. That was enough for me. I immediately went into town on the off-chance. I had no other reason for going into town. PES was the only reason.
And I found that everywhere had indeed started selling it early. A HMV staff member was writing the news on a whiteboard outside the store as I walked past. I have a clear visual memory of standing in a queue at GAME, holding the shiny PES4 box and hardly daring to believe it. There was incredible excitement among the community as word spread on the internet. Those were the days when PES’s lofty status was unquestionable. They were great times. Will we ever see their like again?
Most vivid memory: Heskey! Playing my traditional warm-up International Tournaments with England, I was astonished to find how good Heskey was in PEs4. Big and strong and skilful, with a powerful shot. I went on to purchase him for my ML team and he was just as immense.
6: PES2008 (PS2/PSP)
What a relief this game was for me back in February and March of 2008. PES was in the absolute doldrums. I had just given up on the long-awaited next-gen PES2008, which I think was so bad that I’m not even giving it the recognition of occupying bottom place in this list.
The last-gen version arrived like a cool drink of water on a hot day. The perfect tonic. Playing this game restored and sustained my belief that PES could still count for something.
Most vivid memory: Komol, a journeyman striker, half-volleying a screamer over the keeper’s head from 30 yards early on in my ML career.
Hang on. Let’s see that again:
PES6 is still the #1 PES game for a lot of PES fans. I think the main reason PES6 still rides so high in the fans’ affections is down to the calamitous non-game that was next-gen PES2008 [*hawks and spits*]. When the fans turned their backs on the catastrophe that was Konami’s first next-gen game, what were they left with? PES6, of course.
PES6 was—and is—a great game. But it’s never been right up there among the great PES greats, for me. My criteria for a great PES almost solely revolve around Master League. I found PES6’s Master League to be relatively easy. I won the Treble after 5 seasons—my quickest-ever achievement of a Treble until next-gen PES2008 came along.
Most vivid memory: One of my earliest Master League purchases was a nippy right back called Zoro. Struggling with the Default players (had they just changed from Castello & co.?), I’d hardly scored any goals from within the penalty area, never mind from outside it. Then with Zoro I went on a forward run, cut inside the CPU defender, and unleashed a soaring, dipping, curving thunderbolt from a wide position, 35 yards out. It nestled beautifully in the far top corner.
4: PES2009 (PS3/360/PC)
Ah yes, the flavour of the month. I suppose this will end up being downgraded. At the time of writing, the first cracks may just be starting to appear (more on this in January), but for now I’m sticking by my controversial assessment of PES2009 as a perfectly decent, perfectly acceptable PES game.
No, it’s not quite enough in the post-FIFA08 era. No, we will never forget PES2008 and the betrayal of the finest gaming legacy in the history of gaming (IMO). But I like PES2009 and I like playing it. At the moment it ticks all the right PES boxes for me. Having said all that, I know why some fans dislike it, and I join them in resenting Konami and Seabass for all they (haven’t) done over the past two PES releases.
Most vivid memory: It’s too soon for there to be one, really. PES2009 is ‘live’. It’s now. The standout moment for me so far has to be a certain goal from Kim Cyun Hi. Even after 100 hours’ play I still haven’t come anywhere near scoring another one like this:
Having this one at #3 in my personal list is partly down to sentimental reasons. The game itself was pretty solid, as I recall, but it was also my first ever ‘proper’ PES. And you never forget your first.
PES2 was also my first-ever PlayStation2 game. I got it bundled with the console in November 2002. I remember getting home and unpacking everything in a frenzy. I set up my new PS2 and put in the PES2 disc… and entered a new gaming world.
I loved everything about PES2. I was amazed by the PS2-quality graphics, and blown away by the gameplay, which was a whole order of being greater than anything I’d come across even on the PS1’s late-era ISS games.
Most vivid memory: That first day. I took a taxi home from town with my new PS2 and PES2, I was so excited. It was a Sunday. I remember eating Sunday dinner in a complete daze, hardly tasting it. I played PES2 all day, and then had to go out that night on a prearranged drink with some friends. I was so reluctant to go out, but I had to. I couldn’t stop thinking about PES2. I’d brought the instruction manual out with me, and I kept taking it out to look at it. My friends were gamers, but not PES gamers, so they took the piss a little.
For many purists, PES3 is the best-ever PES. It’s my #2. After a year of playing PES2 into the ground, I really struggled to adapt to PES3, but I cracked it in the end. It was a great game with a fabulous shooting mechanic. You could really ping them in in PES3, I recall. PES2 had a floaty shooting mechanic by comparison.
Most vivid memory: Stoichkov. Still the best left-sided forward I have ever played with in PES. I had him as a Regen in my ML team and he was brilliant. For some reason, the only goal of his that stays with me after all these years is an ‘eyebrows’ header from a cross at the near post. Remember the way the real-life Stoichkov used to attack the near post as a cross came over? It was exactly like that. I remember going into work the next day and loudly telling everyone about it. There was a silence afterwards.
My #1 choice isn’t really controversial—it’s lots of other PES fans’ favourite version of the game too. It’s no accident that when the pre-publicity for PES2009 started to appear, it sought to position the imminent game as an updated version of PES5. Because PES5 is a genuine classic, the Konami marketing men knew they’d be on safe ground. Trusted ground.
Why was PES5 so great? Lots of reasons, really, but the shooting was a big reason for me. PES5 was noted for its spectacular long-range goals—something I later made two movies out of, thanks be to MaxDrive (remember that!).
PES5’s Master League was another delight. This was the first time in Master League where, even after I had a team of Galacticos, I was never sure that I would win anything. In 40+ seasons, I only won two or three Trebles. That career was the source of my most enduring Master League myth: the open-ended career that simply goes on and on and on… I have spent four years trying to recapture that magic.
There were minuses. There was a hugely irritating ‘auto-stepover’ that your players often did when receiving the ball near the touchline. The ball would run out of play, conceding a throw-in. Most annoying. And the stadia were all empty. And when making one or two substitutions, the game would take an age to load up a cutscene. You could be staring at a black screen for half a minute or more while your PS2 chugged away. After a while I twigged that there was no cutscene for three substitutions, and got into the habit of making all 3 subs at once—a habit that has persisted to this day.
But compared to the perfect balance of PES5’s gameplay and the immersiveness of its Master League, those are all nitpicks.
Most vivid memory: Dennis Bergkamp. The best striker I’ve ever played with in Master League. I don’t know what it was, whether it was just a quirk of my individual ML or what, but nearly everything he touched turned to gold. I got him twice, both times as a Regen (that was one long career). If he wasn’t scoring spectacular goals for fun, he was putting in sterling performances for the team. See both of my PES5 movies for examples in living motion.
The PSP versions of PES5 and PES6 don’t appear on the list, not because I think they’re bad games but because they weren’t ‘proper’ PES games. PES5 had no Wide camera view, and no Master League at all. PES6 had the Wide view, and it had Master League—but there was no player development, which kind of missed the point of ML completely. They were both fairly decent games of football on a handheld device, but they don’t belong in the list above. It wasn’t until PES2008 that we finally got a worthy PES on PSP.
I’m having a mini-break for the festive period. I’m going to try to have a break from PES as well, although experience tells me that probably won’t happen. It’s far too much a part of my daily routine—especially when I’m into an ML career, as I am now—for me to abandon it for even one day.
Regardless, my next Master League post will appear on 2nd January 2009, and it’ll be business as usual with daily updates (except on Sundays) from then on.
Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year.