Pro Evolution Soccer 3
Konami ports its PS2 masterpiece to the PC. But forgets to change anything.
Pro Evolution Soccer 3 is in our collective opinion the best football game on any format to date. You can read why at obscene length here, and since this is a pretty straight port, I'm not going to rehash every last detail. Instead, I'm going to concentrate on the game's transition to the PC, which is a huge disappointment in a lot of respects. Pro Evolution Soccer 3 may be a high profile release for Konami, which is not historically associated with PC gaming, but it's clear it still has some way to go before becoming a regular fixture in Windows Start Menus.
For a start, it could do with hiring some PC developers, and not just assuming that every gamer keen to play this is going to be happy to fork out for a USB PS2-to-PC converter for a Dual Shock 2, which is a virtual necessity. Unless you have a dual analogue stick/ten function button controller plugged into your PC already, you're going to need to figure something out.
Playing the best footy game on the planet using the keyboard is like trying to perform ballet in clogs. The complexities of the controls demand all sorts of finger gymnastics, and the Dual Shock 2 was actually designed to let you comfortably grasp about six different buttons and directions at once. The keyboard was not. Even the menus are a pain to control. They function worse than plastic telephone toys for four year-olds. I had to stab the D-pad buttons for ages to try and get them to select the right menu option, the Enter key didn't seem to want to play ball all the time either, and given that you can't change resolution or detail levels during a match, it took plenty of fumbling with the menus to get the game set up the way I wanted it. The game also has this frustrating habit of forgetting that I want to use the pad, so the challenge of wrestling with the menus using the keyboard is a recurring nightmare.
Which reminds me of another thing - for a PS2 game that some would argue doesn't even push that console terribly hard graphically, PES3's high resolution PC debut runs pretty sluggishly, pausing regularly at anything over 800x600/medium detail on a 2GHz Athlon XP rig. Sure, most of the visual flair is in the minutiae - player animation is subtly detailed with tons of variation and tricky moves unfold clearly and precisely with no clumsy ball/foot relationship or collision detection problems - but when I choose medium detail at 800x600 on a modern PC I don't expect a PS2 port to continue to shudder when fading in and out of slow-motion replays.
Sit down with PES3 for a few minutes and it's clear what you're dealing with - a quick and rugged high resolution port with detail and button configuration pages and a "Quit to Windows" option strapped to the PS2 code. Even the buttons are still referred to in-game as X, square, triangle, circle, L1, L2, etc. This can be extremely confusing if you happen to play it with the keyboard (which is nigh on impossible anyway) because it's easy to forget which of the eight buttons you went for corresponds to what. But, really, keyboards are off the menu - you actually need two analogue sticks to direct the replays properly, and your efforts will be significantly hindered if you stick to the keys. To play this on the PC, you are either going to need a very good PC pad (rarer than rocking horse dung), or a Dual Shock 2 and USB converter, which brings with it improved menu response and effectively the PS2 version of the game exactly as it was on the PS2, albeit now with a chugging hard drive and sharper visuals.
Football's come home
All of which means that the PC footballing crown has been passed crossfield to Konami, despite its best efforts not to do anything with the game during transition, precisely because it's an identical experience to the PS2 version when played with the right peripheral. When I reviewed the PS2 version of the game, I called it the ultimate fan's game and gave it 10/10 - and to people who felt the game was less than 'perfect' (and let's not revive that scoring debate), the highest score represented the pinnacle of the footballing genre during what is arguably the peak period of current generation console releases. PES3 is so much more fluid, dynamic and satisfying to play than any of its contemporaries that it deserves that higher score. While others strive to reinvent themselves with gimmicks and clever marketing ploys, Konami's Tokyo studio continues to refine its vision of the beautiful game, and with each passing release it gets closer and closer to the real thing.
But that's not to say it's completely flawless. It may give you far more options on and off the ball than any other title, it may include some of the most accurate footballing behaviour ever programmed, it may accentuate shrewdly observed eccentricities to give players the all-round look of their real-life counterparts, from head to toe and every twist of limb in-between, and it may, through an inspired combination of scripted tactics and a genuinely football-ish dynamic, throw up far more real footballing equations and scenarios than any other game in the genre, but it is also guilty of a number of silly little crimes. Players still don't always react to the ball being played to them, often ignoring it and allowing possession to turn over, penalties and free kicks are still a bit non-descript (the latter taking months to perfect), the statistics and distribution of players is still out of date (it would be nice to think that having had a bit longer to polish the PC release of PES3, KCET might include some of the more important summer transfers, but no), and the refereeing is still a travesty at times, with a stupid handball rule that does nothing but cut up play even more, dodgy offsides and refs who penalise players for challenges that simply don't appear to be illegal on the screen - all of which is a touch ironic given top referee Pierluigi Collina's presence on the front cover.
But although one in every handful of so of matches will frustrate you, even when you lose a player to a harsh red card in the first few minutes, there's still something there which compels you to fight through the red mist and the satisfaction of overturning a deficit or beating 11 men with 10 is truly unmatched. Whether successful or not, you'll still come back to PES and there'll always still be some untold skill you haven't picked up, some new tactic you can use (I only recently started reaping the benefits of side attacks, for example), or some new scenario on the pitch. I've played literally hundreds of games of PES3 and I can still pick it up and see something new - in one of last night's clutch of games, for example, I had a Michael Owen screamer come down off the underside of the bar and bounce out again, my thumbs took a 40-yard David Beckham free kick sailing over the wall and into the very tightest corner of the goal (my finest to date), and I managed to keep a clean sheet in a penalty shoot-out.
Multiplied by one
It's more than just an Exhibition game too, with the ever-popular Master League on top form here with four divisions and the new PES-Shop giving you the opportunity to buy up some truly exciting players of yesteryear, and unlock new speed modes, teams and stadiums - it's full of things that stand to excite football fans, and you earn PES currency to spend there just by playing the game, however you choose to play it.
However despite a well-earned reputation as one of the finest multiplayer games on the PS2, PES3 on the PC fails to seize on the platform's potential, with no online multiplayer and no LAN options either, and this isn't so much a shame as a crime. It's also hilariously idiotic on Konami's part, because if anything was going to guarantee sales of this it was an online mode. Hell, most people who owned the PS2 version would have bought it again just to play it against other people on-tap. I was certainly looking forward to playing it with folks outside my usual crowd and to catch up on some old vendettas via the magic of the interweb, but, alas, it wasn't to be. That omission and the game's numerous technical shortcomings account for the light trim the PS2 score below has received.
Ultimately then, despite its undoubted brilliance, PES3 hasn't managed to stamp its authority by putting in a market-leading performance on the PC. Offline, it's the best football game on the format, but it's a cynical port designed quickly and cheaply to further line the publisher's pockets, rather than the updated and improved special edition that PES fans so deserve. To be fair there are some benefits of the move to the PC - like potentially unlimited storage space for goal replays (8MB doesn't run to such a premium outside Sony's crazy little world), sharper visuals and the inevitability of an unofficial patch sticking all the players in the right place that doesn't require a chipped PS2 or 15 quid outlay to incorporate - but it doesn't take more than a few minutes to realise what the game plan was here for Konami, and it's disappointing to see it treating their hardcore fans with such blatant disrespect. Then again, EA is bound to trounce it in terms of sales thanks to a bigger marketing campaign and higher production values - I guess we can call it street justice.
Dirty and yet beautiful
As long as you do the decent thing and buy a USB Dual Shock 2 converter (check Lik Sang) and buy or borrow a pad (statistically, you must know somebody who owns one), Pro Evolution Soccer 3 is the best and most rewarding single and multiplayer PC football experience money can buy. The rough and ready presentation, shoddy state of the port and tragic omission of an online or even LAN option cuts deep, but the fundamentally beautiful game still shines through.