Back in the heyday of soccer video games in the mid-nineties, players had dozens of titles to choose from each year, offering a complete spectrum of playing styles and speeds. Sensible World of Soccer was the playability king with a wealth of career options; Kick Off offered a slower, more realistic pace; Manchester United: The Double used an innovative isometric view; and Super Sidekicks offered pure arcade game-play.
As we moved into the 32-bit era, many of the previous challengers fell, while new games such as Actua Soccer, Sega Worldwide Soccer and World League Soccer emerged. These titles then all but disappeared when the 128bit era came along, replaced by titles such as World Tour Soccer and Club Football.
With the move to the next-generation of consoles, those titles have also fallen by the wayside, leaving only two challengers to the soccer throne, two games which have survived all of the aforementioned eras and are still going strong today; Pro Evolution Soccer and FIFA Football.
For me, the Pro Evolution Soccer series has been vastly superior to EA’s FIFA Football, ever since ISS Pro 98 and I have always championed it as such. Unfortunately, with this latest version for the Playstation 3, it seems that Seabass Takatsuka and his team at KCET have fallen into the same trap as their contemporaries at EA and have failed to eradicate any of the flaws that were becoming prevalent in the last few PS2 versions of the series.
The main single player experience is still offered through the Master League, where the player takes a team of their choice and starts off in the second division of a two-tier fictional league system, fighting to gain promotion to the premier division. The foremost issue that fans of the series have always had with this mode is the inability to keep the leagues in line with their real-life counterparts. Whilst this has been improved on slightly by allowing for twenty teams per division, after a couple of seasons you will see teams such as Spartak Moscow or River Plate taking part in the English League, or whichever championship you chose your team to enter. In addition to this, there is always a major league that gets randomly left out as only four can run concurrently, meaning that players from that league are available to purchase for free. Not only is this unrealistic, but these players are usually gobbled up by the A.I. teams whilst your team is still in the second division and unable to attract such players.
What really adds to the frustration over the structure of the Master League is that in the last two Japanese PS2 Winning Eleven titles (the name of the series in Japan), the leagues were structured exactly as they are in reality. Players chose a team and started off directly in the top division of the country of origin of their chosen side. Qualification for the unlicensed Konami equivalents of the Champions League and UEFA Cup were also handled in a much more realistic way and it is truly disappointing to see that such a system has not been implemented in PES2008.