Version tested: PlayStation 2
It seems utterly bizarre that Konami chooses to produce two football games a year, especially when one is godlike in its genius and the other one is dandruff inducingly uninspiring, but the vague plan seems to be to produce a more arcade (i.e. FIFA-esque) oriented alternative. The concept in itself isn't a bad one; after all, not everyone has the time, the skill, or the energy required to become competent at Pro Evo. A pick up and play equivalent would seem like a worthy aim, apart from the fact that since the series made its PS2 debut back in the latter part of 2000 it has served only to highlight the yawning gulf in class between PES and ISS. Add to that the sudden return to form of FIFA, and suddenly Konami has much to do to compete. Third time lucky, perhaps?
Despite PES' obvious gameplay depth and brilliance, it features possibly the worst presentation of any modern videogame. It's as if Konami is doing it on purpose. Oddly, it seems to have saved all of its efforts to spring clean ISS, and from the word go ISS3 creates the right impression with an impressively clean, intuitive front end that puts PES to shame. Shame that Konami has to spoil the effect by continuing to commission tone-deaf monkeys to provide the audio, with a buttock-clenchingly cringeworthy intro tune that had us laughing long and hard into the night. Keep it up Konami; one day someone will induct the composers into a videogame Hall Of Shame. There's twisted humour at work here, surely.
The real player names! Praise be!
Another small but important addition to the latest ISS is the FIFPro license, allowing Konami to finally include real player names for over 90 teams. No more Oranges 007, or rip off data disks, or torturous editing to give the teams any sense of credibility. You can still edit, should you wish to, but at least the team line-ups now closely resemble real life - at least in name terms. The player avatars vary from the passing resemblance of the likes of David Beckham, to the puzzling (almost everyone else). It's hardly a major issue to pull ISS3 up on, but it would be nice if a publisher went to the same lengths as EA to make things at least look convincing.
The animation is nowhere near the standard of PES or FIFA, and therefore the range, flexibility and unpredictability of moves is restricted accordingly. While stringing passes and flowing moves across the pitch is far more straightforward, the game quickly becomes a comparatively straightforward affair. Scoring goals is certainly a whole lot easier. Within a couple of games we were routinely bagging at least six goals a game between us - a far cry from the endless, scoreless efforts that you experience when you first cluelessly pick up PES. Quick passing attacks were possible with the minimum of fuss, whether down the flanks or via neat midfield play. This might appeal to those frustrated by the endless bobbling realism of PES, but anyone with experience of footy games will start to pine for the more progressive approach of ISS' brother. It just feels like playing footy in a straightjacket. Or like how footy games were a few years back, except with flashier visuals.
Attacking is certainly straightforward, but that's mainly down to the fact that defending is made all the more difficult by some over-zealous refereeing. Almost every single sliding tackle is punished with a card, while the opposition gets away with cheating time and again. This inability to usefully employ the hard tackle (except as a last resort) means the opposition players can easily run rings around you, especially as the conservative tackle requires you to be virtually on top of your opponent to stand a chance of winning the ball back.
Close up and personal
There are a few interesting additions to ISS3, however. Chief of these innovations is the Close Up mode, which allows the attacking player to switch into a blurry slow-mo mode once you're near the penalty area by pressing L1 when it flashes up on the screen. At this point, the camera pans in directly behind your player, and gives you a few moments to pull off a special move with R2, be it a feint or spin, allowing you to slip past the defender and bear in on goal. Midway introduced a similar system in its scandalously underrated Red Card last year, but the effect is nowhere near as impressive here, and more than a little confusing to master to begin with.
Certain key players allegedly have distinct capabilities, such as being able to spray defence splitting balls, or being dead ball specialists. On the latter subject, the taking of corners and free kicks proves to be the usual lottery - and a massive step back from ISS2. When will a developer come up with a decent system that actually works? Wishful thinking, perhaps? In ISS3 it starts off confusingly and even several hours later you're almost better off not even bothering. Ho hum.
One neat addition, however, is the new Mission Mode, which gives players a series of challenges to overcome, ranging from straightforward "beat the opposition with just seven players on the pitch" to more tricky tasks such as scoring a free kick. Success in these missions awards the player with a set number of points, although it would have been nice to be rewarded for scoring more goals: a one goal victory is deemed enough. Once you've accumulated enough points, these eventually result in the unlocking of new content and options. It's certainly a novel feature and proves extremely challenging, but it can't hide the failings of the core of the game.
Even the commentary - always good for some unintentional comedy - fails to lift the game out of its trough. John Champion and Mark Lawrenson burble away, but it's repetitive, banal, uninformative, and often just plain wrong.
Not a bad game, just not good enough
It's not that ISS3 is a bad game by any means. KCE Osaka tries hard to inject something extra to the package, but in the end there will be very few people who could look you in the eye and tell you to buy this over PES 2. Even the most fearsome, EA Sports-bashing bounder couldn't claim that ISS3 was a better arcade-tinged footy title. Apart from the rather inspired mission mode, the whole package just lacks in almost every area when held up against its many rivals.
In the post match analysis, ISS3 neither looks anything special, nor has the flair to captivate you with its gameplay depth. It's a respectable game, and you wouldn't be devastated if you were bought this as a present, but it does little to justify itself as a companion title to PES. If you really want a companion title to PES2, just buy FIFA 2003, seriously.
6 / 10