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Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 (Playstation 3)

This is a solid and deep outing for Konami's successful franchise. The game feels very much like previous installments with a similar set of controls and techniques that allows veterans to jump right in. There are some minor gameplay tweaks that help the overall feel of things, but the changes aren't too significant.. An extensive selection of modes including cup, tournament and online modes adds some depth to the experience, but PES 2008's signature mode is the Master League, where you can control every aspect of your team from trades to training over multiple seasons. While it's not flawless, PES 2008 offers an authentic and deep soccer title that should please fans of the series.

Konami has been consistent over the past few years, gradually building and tweaking their soccer series, which used to be called Winning Eleven, until it has reached a finely tuned, incredibly deep and satisfying experience in the form of Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 on the PS3. This installment marks the series' long-awaited Playstation 3 debut and aside from the HD graphical makeover, the newest edition doesn't stray too far from expectations. As you'd expect from the series, it offers a mixed bag of licensed teams and players, which gives you a sampling of top club and national teams, such as Newcastle and the Portugal. Most of the rest are generic, though somewhat accurate, versions of real life teams disguised somewhat. Most players should be able to figure out who's who with little effort, so the absences aren't as distracting as you might expect. There are a few licensed teams in comparison to FIFA, but the extensive customization features help to mitigate this. You can edit each team's players, kits (uniforms) and colors to your liking and create your own strategies to reflect your team's actual strategies if you like. With all these options, it would be easy to get lost in the menus and configurations, but this is only a part of the PES experience. When you get onto the pitch, the real appeal of the series becomes apparent in its intuitive controls which allows for a great deal of control over the action. Most of the basics haven't changed from previous games that allows you to jump right into things. Passing is accomplished through a single button press with standard short passes mixed with through passes, to other players and longer shots that can be used to clear the ball or make a strike at the opposing net. Players can select which team member to control at the press of a button using manual control or have the AI choose which one to use. The game generally does a good job in automating some of these tasks, and the goalie's AI is very good as well. Scoring is difficult but not impossible, becoming more intuitive with practice as you learn just the right touch to hit the ball into the net. When you're players come under pressure, you can press the shift button to make them sprint and use combinations of buttons to perform stunts and skill moves to keep your opponents guessing. Mastering the game's intricacies requires you to go a bit deeper, but learning to set up plays and use defensive passes between players is essential to success. While the game generally offers a great deal of strategic play with multiple strategies for each team that can be adjusted on the fly, it's not inaccessible. You can change many of the settings for a simpler, more straightforward game as well.

Obviously, the game wouldn't be authentic if it neglected to maintain a good defensive posture, and this is where the game's realism really comes through. PES 2008's defensive moves are just as simple and easy to use with an array of moves such as sliding tackles and pressure moves designed to keep your opponents off-balance. You can use these techniques to take the ball from them and keep the momentum on your side. As in real soccer, PES' games are generally low scoring so you'll need to defend any leads you can get. The game's AI is quite sophisticated and the opposing teams generally play with a great deal of aggression and defensive abilities, which helps to keep the action tight and fluid without becoming dull. You can choose a variety of formations and strategies at the menu options screen and these help to decide how the game will turn out, with placement of defenders and strikers a critical element to the gameplay. When you've got everything set up, your players will have to deliver the goods, and a lot of this depends on their abilities and skills. Before you begin each match, you can see your players' skills and attributes and can substitute or change their positions to make them more effective on the field. As you defeat lesser teams and moves up the brackets and play matches against tougher opponents, you'll notice that mastering these strategies becomes even more important. Each match is generally a fast, fluid affair and PES 2008 does an excellent job in simulating the feel and pacing of real-life professional soccer matches in terms of strategy and action.PES' on-field gameplay is superbly tuned and feels fantastic, but the game's many deep modes are quite impressive as well.

Players can choose to play in a variety of modes including a single match between teams of their choice. You can also compete in league mode against up to twenty other players. This is structured like the real league and features different divisions with appropriate levels of skill and challenge, allowing you to work you way through the standings with your club. If you don't want to play through each game on the field, you can also switch to manager mode where you can issue commands and watch your team play them out. In addition, you can compete online against other players in real-time in these modes, which makes for a generally exciting and competitive game. The centerpiece of PES 2008 is its much-vaunted Master Cup mode, where you can take complete control of your team's every aspect over multiple seasons. You can choose which players to use on the field, set the budget for your team, transfer, purchase and trade players, and much more. As you play through matches, you're success will determine how popular your teams gets, and as you win matches, you'll be rewarded with points that you can use to upgrade your players. Players can choose to begin this mode with a pre-determined roster of super-stars, which allows you to jump into the action right away or gradually build your team starting with a roster with no-bodies. When you win matches, your standing in the league grows in many ways, which allows you to have a bigger budget, grab higher profile stars, which make it easier to win matches and gain even more popularity. However, there are several downsides as well. You'll have to keep an eye on your budget at all times, and be careful not to spend more on player salaries than the revenue they produce. In addition, there are only two transfer windows available per season, which gives you a short negotiating window, so you need to pay attention when these weeks occur. There are other factors that can affect your on-field performance as well. As your players become fatigued and age, they'll gradually drop off the roster and need to be replaced via trades. In addition, going on a losing streak negatively affects your popularity, which is dangerous. If you're overall popularity declines into negative territory, you'll lose the game and need to start over. Master Cup mode is probably the deepest and most challenging portion of PES 2008. It's not something you can play through right away and it can become a little bit detached from the football itself. Playing through it is worth the effort because it offers simulation level depth that allows you to see the game from another perspective which makes for an interesting sideline to the more standard action.

Speaking of perspective, most players probably won't be too terribly surprised by PES 2008's graphics and presentation which stay true to the previous titles in the series. The game engine has been upgraded slightly to HD level, though the same camera angles and similar levels of animation are used to previous games. The animation is mostly fluid and there are some slick menus, but the game does tend to look a little choppy during the heat of the action. Unfortunately, the game engine also suffers from occasional bouts of slowdown which is annoying but doesn't detract from the overall experience significantly enough to ruin the experience. Konami's character modeling system is impressive and each player looks lifelike as they run down the feature. Players can choose from several different camera angles including side views, down field and zoom angles, which can be changed during each match. PES 2008 also includes extensive replay feature which allows you to zoom, rewind and change perspective on the fly is quite impressive. While it doesn't have quite the polish or style as the FIFA games, PES 2008 still looks very good on the PS3 and makes an adequate overall appearance for the most part. Overall, PES 2008 scores more than it misses thanks to its intuitive controls, easy to understand interface and fantastic pacing. An extensive array of cup and tournament modes allows for longer battles, while the deep Master Cup mode allows for an impressive level of detail. Despite some minor issues here and there, Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 delivers an authentic and enjoyable soccer experience with plenty of depth that effectively brings the series' authentic and highly playable gameplay forward to the PS3 to deliver a solidly entertaining sports title.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: A

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