Winning Eleven: Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 is set to hit shops around the world in the next few weeks (UK consumers will get their hands on it later this week), and we've taken the final build of the 360 version for one last spin before handing our final verdict down in our upcoming full review. We've had several hands-ons with the game already, but we're pleased to say that not only is the game looking better than when we last saw it at the Tokyo Game Show, but it's also playing as well as previous entries into the series.
Firstly, as this is the final build, we can now report exactly which licenses Konami has managed to snare in Pro Evo 2008. Fans of European football will be pleased to know that several of Europe's major leagues are in the game, including the official full teams, rosters, and kits for Ligue 1, Serie A, and the Eredivisie. The English Premier League is sadly a little under-represented--as with last year's Pro Evo, only two Premier League sides are "officially" in the game. While last year featured Arsenal and Manchester United, Pro Evo 2008 has instead Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur. Dozens of national squads are still in the game, however, as are individual sides from other world leagues such as Celtic and Rangers from the Scottish Premier League. Thankfully, this year's next-gen Pro Evo offerings include an extremely robust edit mode, which allows players to edit existing teams to their heart's content. For the 360, that even includes being able to use an Xbox Live Vision camera to capture images (such as logos) and use them on kits within the game.
Graphically, the game is looking impressive, and is certainly a great improvement on last year's 360 effort. Konami has obviously spent a lot of time trying to beef up the game in the looks department, and it shows right from the start thanks to a flashy intro sequence, which features some players kicking a football around various urban environments rendered in a highly stylised way (and which made us think of A-Ha's famous '80s video for Take On Me). Player likenesses are almost spot on, displaying some convincing facial animations throughout. The stadiums and pitches themselves are now also looking nicely detailed, with plenty of advertising boards and team-specific crowd signs adorning the stadiums. Pro Evo 2008 is still lacking some of those extra touches that its main competitor FIFA 08 has (such as player sweat as matches progress), but it's certainly the best-looking Pro Evo so far. That said, actual player animations in Pro Evo are--as usual--top-notch. Players run, shoot, pass, change direction, fall, and even bump into other players in a way which is quite convincing to watch.
Of course, Pro Evo's strength has always been its gameplay, and the 2008 version looks to be no slouch in that department. Konami has made much of a brand new AI system implemented in Pro Evo 2008 called Teamvision, which supposedly allows the game to learn and adapt to a gamer's playing style. Opposition teams in Pro Evo 2008 certainly seem a lot more savvy than in last year's version--AI teams will often intelligently switch play to the other side of the field if pressured too much, and will put in more incisive through balls to running team mates. AI defence seems sharper as well, with computer-controlled defenders no longer tricked as easily with simple feints. We've also noticed the AI to be much savvier when it comes to exploiting weaknesses in opposition teams. When we played as Australia against England, the AI seemed more than content to take on the Australian midfield with the likes of players such as Wayne Rooney or Steven Gerrard, something it usually succeeded with thanks to those players' higher speed and skills ratings compared to the Aussies.
There is plenty more to talk about with Pro Evolution Soccer 2008, including how the revamped Master League mode and online play shapes up. Check out GameSpot's full review soon for all the details.