Pro Evolution Soccer 3 PS2 Review

Since 1996, I have bought every ‘FIFA’ football game available spreading across the Sega Megadrive, Playstation 1 and the PC. In my opinion, the games have gotten more frustrating with every release that has passed since the 1998 release, in conjunction with the World Cup. FIFA 2003 was the last straw and, in 2004, I wasn’t going to be fed another basic, frustrating football game which pathetically tried to cushion the blow by serving up great sound, commentary, graphics and delivering the knockout punch by bombarding us with every license thinkable. With the highly anticipated release of Pro Evolution Soccer 3 I had to bite the bullet and give it a try. A week after Santa left it under my Christmas tree; boy am I glad I did!

Graphics

Pro Evolution Soccer 3’s graphics are good; nothing more nothing less. They don’t blow me away but on the other hand they don’t leave me wanting. During the build up to the game where the players run out of the tunnels the graphics are good and the players are modelled very nicely indeed and, thankfully, this stays solid throughout the gameplay. As with many other aspects of this game, it seems that Konami has paid all its attention to the players and what’s happening on the field and hopes prying eyes don’t look at anything else but the action. As a result the scenery, such as the stadium and the crowd can sometimes look a bit bland. The game doesn’t leave the PS2 screaming for mercy like Gran Turismo 3 but they’re nice and solid – nothing to complain about so far.

Gameplay

Oh, where do I start!? I would love to just sum this area up in one phrase because however much I write I don’t think I can truly express how astonishingly brilliant the gameplay is. A phrase that springs to mind is “The greatest football game of all time” or “The best by a country mile”.

Pro Evolution Soccer 3 brings a lot of new innovations to the world of football gaming as well as tidying up some of the annoyances and ragged edges that its competition failed to do so year after year.

Shooting inside the box is not a foregone conclusion anymore, granted you have a strong chance of scoring but maybe two or three times out of ten the goal keeper will pull off a world class save or a defender will put in block and clear the ball – totally destroying your chances of a goal. And because of Pro Evolution Soccer 3’s unsurpassed realism you cannot, time after time, pass the ball to your best player and have him take on every opposing player then drill in a 30-yard shot. On the rare occasion that optimistic 30-yard shot will hit the back of the net and on an even rarer occasion you’ll take on 5/6 men and slot a well timed shot past the keeper; my point being – it can happen. How many times have you seen a player have a shot at goal from the half way line? Probably quite a few, providing you watch a lot of football and have been watching it for years. But now ask yourself how many times you’ve seen them go in? Personally I’ll only need one hand to count them – but they’ve still happened. And it’s this ‘anything can happen’ attitude, which adds a fantastic element to the game and makes it unrivalled in every area of gameplay.

A little extra I also liked was the fact that players can handle the ball – accidentally. If a ball is bouncing waist-height and you run into it there’s a chance it will hit your hand and the referee will penalise you accordingly. Some people may find it annoying but personally, I think it’s fantastic that Konami have bothered to add so much realism to the players instead of the ball just hitting your hand and you’re off and running. As you play the game you’ll find that this area of realism about the players will crop up again and again; predominantly in terms of shooting and passing. If it’s raining the players don’t kick the ball as well they would if it was dry and sunny. Also you can no longer change direction with blistering speed under any condition because as far as the game is concerned ‘they are human beings’ and therefore you will change direction like a human being.

I think the referee also deserves a special mention, but, for all the wrong reasons I’m afraid. If there was one little snag amongst this minefield of brilliance it’s without a doubt the referee. Konami have decided that the referee will be strict, but the guy programming the referee’s decisions must have fallen out of the wrong side of the bed that morning. Unless timed to absolute perfection a sliding tackle will give the opposing team a free kick and the referee’s overzealous use of the red card can be at best annoying. He is also too harsh with very simple interception tackles but that can be bearable as he tends to keep his hands out of his card pocket during those “fouls”.

Even if a foul has taken place the referee no longer has to stop play and award the team a free kick. Now he can let you play on if you are in a good enough position, which is a nice feature especially when you’re in a very strong position you can keep the pressure on and not allow the opposing team to regroup. ‘Play On’ is indicated by a little man inside a yellow box at the top left-hand corner of the screen.

Even counting the referee’s ruthlessness about tackles the game’s still so far ahead of the competition it’s laughable.

Sound

The in-game sound is pretty good and does give a realistic effect to the game. There’s nothing more satisfying than the crowd erupting into cheers when you pull off an extraordinary pass, break free from the defence and are dashing towards goal. A good save from the goalkeeper and a shot which drifts agonisingly past the post will also get the crowd on their feet cheering their team. You are even accompanied by two well known men in the commentary box, Peter Brackley and Trevor Brooking. As a result the sound is a pleasure to listen to – even through the mono, portable TV in my bedroom!

Lifespan

Increasing the depth of a football game is not very easy because once you have ‘Season, Friendly and Tournament’ in your game modes what else is there to do? Well, Konami seem to have a good offer, namely the Master League Mode’. You start off by selecting a club team from one of the many leagues around Europe. With your team selected you are put in Division 2 with about 20 other teams. You then play every team in that league, home and away, just like a regular season, but you also have cup matches in between. Now you must work your way up in Division 2 and with all going according to plan you’ll finish first and then gain promotion to Division 1. If you do well in this league you will be entered into the WEFA Championship and from here on it gets a little boring to explain because of all the different areas you can qualify for in the WEFA Masters Cup. So I won’t bother bombarding you with all the criteria needed to qualify for all the different leagues. As well as being promoted you can also be relegated from the respective leagues. After you have finished a season you have a time space the equivalent of eight games where you can play practice games, line up players for transfer and so on. While in the leagues there’s also plenty to do aside from just playing games such as arranging player transfers to and from the club, organising the players’ salaries and drawing up strategies such as teamwork, formation etc. The Master League mode is certainly very good and can keep you engrossed in front of the television for hours on end.

Another nice addition to the game is a training mode where you can hone your skills in different aspects of football such as general play, set pieces etc. I found this very good, because if you’re like me, and don’t like reading manuals and would rather work it out yourself training is very useful.

The lifespan and replayability factor of Pro Evolution Soccer 3 far exceeds what is expected for a football game and for £30 on console and a shocking £16 for the PC this game is an absolute steal!

Overall

Pros: Mind blowing gameplay, realistic sound, graphics and commentary.

Cons: Not all of the teams, players and leagues have the correct names. The GUI could be a bit better compared with it’s rivals.

I’m sure many people, including myself, thought that Pro Evolution Soccer 3 would have very good gameplay but be full off little snags and annoyances, which would keep the balance of power strongly in the grasp of the FIFA series. This has certainly not been the case – the game has been a pleasure to play, review and write about. In all honestly the competition, namely Electronic Arts, are going to have to pull something pretty special out of the bag to top this game. You can plaster the front cover of your football game with all the licenses in the world but they are meaningless when you can experience football as realistic as this.

9 out of 10
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