Pro Evolution Soccer 3 Hands-On Impressions

We check out a European preview version of Konami's upcoming soccer game for PlayStation 2.

Konami's booth at this year's ECTS is undoubtedly one of the most crowded at the show, but while the new video of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater can take the credit each time it's shown, the real draw is Pro Evolution Soccer 3--being shown for the very first time. The game is currently in development at Konami's Tokyo studio, yet very little information has been released on the game to date, so we were more than happy to stand in line and wait for a turn on one of the eight consoles running it.

Unfortunately, we weren't able to investigate any of the new gameplay or shop modes that were announced last month, but taking control of the England team in a match against Germany was still an exciting prospect. Within seconds of the ball leaving the center spot, it became clear that Pro Evolution Soccer 3 represents far more than an evolved version of its predecessor. All the player models are new, the stadiums look better, the commentary is less repetitive, the gameplay is faster, and, more importantly, the ball physics are even more realistic. The ball bobbles along the ground rather than just rolling, and should players attempt to control the ball when it's slightly off the ground, there are flick and turn options available that aren't if the ball is on the floor.

Like the ball physics, many of the numerous improvements that have been implemented are very subtle. Players no longer stutter when they lose possession of the ball, strikers will follow their shots toward the goal just in case the keeper spills the ball, players are much more competent at volleying the ball without needing to control it first--the list goes on and on. There are also a number of more-obvious changes we were able to see in action, not the least of which is the referee's ability to "play the advantage" by overlooking fouls if the team on the receiving end would only be further inconvenienced if their attack was halted so a free kick could be taken. The ref's judgment on the two or three advantage situations that we saw seemed a little inconsistent, but the new feature is definitely a welcome one, and fans of the sport will know that anything other than inconsistent refereeing would be unrealistic in the modern game.

The other major change that we got to experiment with a little is the new right analog stick function of performing tricks, turns, and the like when you're in possession of the ball. We were able to use combinations of directions pushed on the stick with varying degrees of force to activate all manner of different turns, chip shots, lobs, and tricks. Pro Evolution Soccer 3 will obviously feature a greater number of such maneuvers than any of its predecessors, but in keeping with Konami's reluctance to offer players a single "trick button," they'll certainly require a degree of skill and excellent timing to perform effectively.

Pro Evolution Soccer 3 is currently scheduled for release in Europe in November. For more information, check out our previous coverage of the game.

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