I got pretty damn good at Pro, usually by playing people who didn’t really like it. I couldn’t understand why my friends (just them, my brother was a Pro Evo fiend in those days too) were not getting into it like I was. But then it happened. Pro Evo 3 came along and things changed. By the time number four came out, these guys were with me, foaming at the mouth for a match and spitting blood at the thought of anybody playing FIFA.
As time went on, new iterations arrived and things got even better. I moved in with a few of my friends and we spent hours playing one another again and again, or teaming up to try and win the World Cup with England. This usually resulted in a pitiful display at the quarter-final stage, more often than not seeing us go out at the hands of Croatia. It was a blissful time and things were due to be sent into orbit with the release of the next generation of console.
I’d lie awake at night just dreaming of what Konami would conjure up with the processing power of the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 at its disposal. This was going to be huge, fantastic, wonderful, amazing, superb… You get the idea. I’d played Pro Evolution Soccer 6 on the 360 but not at any great length and, to be fair, it played the same as the PS2 version that I was playing constantly. This was just the beginning. What I wasn’t to know was that it was to be the beginning of the end.
FIFA usually comes out a couple of weeks before Pro Evo in Europe, and FIFA 08 was no exception. What was an exception was the fact that for the first time in a very long time FIFA was earning some stellar review scores, matching and even often trumping those on Pro Evo. I was horrified. Surely EA Sports had been paying off some of these magazines and websites? Actually, it turned out the best review that Pro Evo 2008 got was from IGN.com, who were, suspiciously, one of the main sponsors of the game; their billboard was all over the place and their logo in (I swear) one of the menu screens.
I played both games and witnessed my heart perform all kinds of strange dances. First of all, FIFA, which I played via my newly converted brother, made it beat quite a bit faster. It was like when you bump into that big-boned girl from the school that you left ten years ago and she is now as hot as hell. Then my heart decided that I was flirting behind my girlfriend’s back and guilt began to envelope me. I suddenly started thinking about Konami and the role they have played in the gaming life. I convinced myself that these feelings for FIFA were purely lust and that the love that Konami and I have shared over the years would definitely conquer all.
I was wrong.
I sat down with Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 a few days before it came out. Some game shop (it’s closed down now, incidentally) broke the street date and my flatmate had picked it up for his PS3 (the same console I had also bought a few weeks earlier). This time my heart sank. The game was lagging in SINGLE PLAYER. As for online, well you could well have been controlling Raiden from Mortal Kombat with the amount of teleporting that was going on.
These things were not the main problem for me, though. These could be patched no problem. It was the way the game played that really made my heart fall theatrically into a heap inside my chest. It just felt so last-gen. Everything I had ever dreamed of for this game was casually dashed away by Konami. Sex (I really need to dig my way out of these relationship metaphors before long) in the tried and trusted missionary position had gotten stale and EA had just bought a Princess Leia outfit and some silky sheets.
So, for the first time this side of the millennium, I bought FIFA.
Before FIFA 08, EA had always strived for realism and always failed. The game was slow, sluggish and too easy. It played into the hands of the people who only played games once in a blue moon, dazzling them with amazingly well-rendered stadiums, deafening them with pinpoint commentary and allowing them to pop the ball into the net whenever an opening occurred.
Meanwhile, Pro Evolution Soccer went for high-speed arcade fun, without the fancy shoes and dashing hat. It was a series that stripped away the graphical prowess, allowing for the pure sensation of football to take it above and beyond the competition. Yes, the commentary was awful, but, unlike FIFA, if you were any good at the game then there was no way you would be beaten by some noob. It was a game of pride and glory.
Since FIFA 08, most of my friends have switched from Pro to FIFA. I’m talking about around twenty people who were full-on Pro Evo fanboys – those who’d argue endlessly with the few FIFA fans they knew – turning to The Dark Side. The difference here though was that we all suddenly felt like footballing Jedi’s, turning against Konami’s inability to find change within the stubborn walls of their gorgeous but now rusting Deathstar.
The Pro Evolution Soccer’s that have graced the next-gen consoles have felt rushed and, quite frankly, inferior to those on the last-generation. I always thought that once the PS3 came along, Konami would be able to improve both the gameplay and the sound and visual elements. This never happened at all. Neither side of the coin has been polished. The commentary is still awful, the gameplay doesn’t know if it wants to simulate football or maintain its arcade roots and it looks like a PS2 game.
EA Sports have clearly poured a whole lot of love into their game. They have re-animated every movement, improved the commentary, introduced (amongst other great elements) collision physics to the genre and made the whole thing look and play like an absolute dream. This is next-gen football as I always hoped it would be. FIFA finally achieves their goal of being as close to the real thing as humanly possible, while Konami is wondering what the hell hit them and what the hell they are going to do next.
I’ll be waiting.
really; as a new fanboy
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