UK REVIEW--Pro Evolution Soccer makes its third annual appearance on the PlayStation Portable with PES 2008. Konami's football game has long been a favourite with fans of the sport, combining deep and rewarding gameplay with the addictive Master League and wireless multiplayer modes. Although this is all present and correct in this updated version, the game also suffers from issues that have long plagued the series, and it ultimately does little to warrant the upgrade.
PES 2008 may be realistic, but crucially it's also fun to play. If you've played this year's PlayStation 2 version, then you'll find that the two games are very similar, although the lack of four shoulder buttons on the PSP does make some difference to the controls. Supposedly, the big improvement over last year's game is the new teamvision system, which learns to react to repetitive techniques to make sure you're rewarded for mixing things up and trying out different forms of attack. In practice, the system does little to truly revolutionise the game.
Perhaps even more disappointing is the fact that the numerous weaknesses in the game continue to go uncorrected. The biggest problem is the lack of officially licensed clubs. In addition to the lack of major club teams, the choice of teams that have made it in is strange. Newcastle and Tottenham now replace Arsenal and Manchester United, which have reverted back to "North London" and "Man Red," respectively. Things are better in the French, Italian, and Dutch leagues, all of which boast a full contingent of clubs, but Spain and Germany, like England, fare less well. Once again, PES lets you create your own team, and you also have the option to edit player names and import/export them to and from the PS2 game. Unfortunately, no similar functionality is supported if you own the PS3 version.
Also unimproved from previous years is an atrocious soundtrack that is a far cry from the standard set by FIFA, and it's serviced almost entirely by Japanese pop numbers and bland electronic ditties besides the Kaiser Chiefs in the intro. Commentary is minimal, with phrases offered up only when a goal is scored. At least the crowd noises sound authentic thanks to the cheers, whistles, and horns blowing.
The graphics in PES 2008 look crisp and quite good overall, with realistic character movements and mannerisms, recognisable real-life players, and goals that look even better when you control the replays. However, we did experience the occasional slowdown when there was a lot of onscreen action, and load times are a tad on the long side. The menus look reasonably nice but they're confusing to navigate if you want to get into the nitty-gritty of injury and suspension.
The game has plenty to offer in terms of game modes, with single matches, World Tour, leagues, regional tournaments, training, ad-hoc multiplayer, and the Konami Cup. Master League makes a comeback after its PSP debut last year, allowing you to play a full season and control the management of your team along the way. It's not a full-blown football-management program, but it breathes new life into regular league competitions, given that you'll need to juggle salaries and player transfers as well as keep track of your club's finances. It's not realistic, especially because of the in-game currency "P points," but it definitely brings a greater feeling of attachment to your team while offering a decent long-term challenge. If you'd rather not focus on the business side of the sport, you can always choose a standard league competition, or the World Tour mode, in which you perform a number of tasks around the world. These include winning a comfortable victory of two goals or higher than your opposition, getting a few last-minute goals in to cinch a win, or perform a hat trick of goals. Nevertheless, it's a shame to see that online play still hasn't been incorporated, especially considering that this is offered in the Nintendo DS version.
Pro Evolution 2008 is a decent football experience and offers a wide variety of game types, a heap of customization, and a solid game of football. On the downside, it hasn't evolved at all since the last outing and has failed to improve on past weaknesses, including the lack of both licensed teams and online play. If you're willing to overlook these omissions or want updated rosters from last year's, then PES 2008 could be worth the investment, but otherwise there's little reason to upgrade.