It’s the 87th minute and Tynside (Read: Newcastle United) are 2-1 down against arch-rivals Wearside (Sunderland). It looks as if it’s slipping away from them when suddenly, out of nothing, some space opens up for Joey Barton. And this space opens up in a 3D realm, with far more depth than normally possible in previous football games. And as Barton begins to dribble up field on his own, it feels good, just running with the ball is so, so satisfying thanks to the new player cam, meaning you can see just over Barton’s shoulder, giving the added depth a reason for existing. Now being able to tell exactly how far away his strikers are, Barton goes to put forth an inch-perfect lobbed through ball.
Thankfully, young Joey is a previous Pro Evo fan, meaning that he’s use to the weighting on shots and crosses so he can get it the distance he wants it, rather than just identifying where abouts it should go and being powerless about it. As this reviewer watches the ball fly up to Andy Carroll, (who’s yet to fall into the dirty Scouse money-trap) he sits in awe. Not normally a Pro Evo man, unable to pull off such a ball, even after over 200 games on this handheld title. It’s practise, practise, practise that opens the high skill levels up for Barton, just like real football. There’s a similar level of accessibility to the beautiful game itself found in PES, you’ll have no problem hoofing the ball, but when it comes to more delicate skills, you might be out of luck.
Which is also a fitting description of the Sunderland defence, suffering from the rather annoying jerky camera and desire to change the controlled player just as they’re rushing up to make that vital interception. Carroll begins to carve them up, going through them with a wiggle of the slide pad. The 3DS’ unique analogue stick works excellently, offering the kind of leg control a D-pad couldn’t offer in previous handheld efforts. (Many of which, we’ll admit, have been quite good despite this problem.) As Carroll goes through, he links up with Peter Løvenkrands, who sends it straight back to him on the effortless one-two by just tapping the shoulder buttons, tying in the reasonably realistic AI defence towards the big Dane, creating a big more room for Carroll to get his shot away...
The goalkeeper’s covering only the bottom left hand corner as Carroll targets to opposite side, turns to face it and puts his foot through the ball, literally thanks to a glitch. It’s going... It’s in! The crowd erupts, the players roar and even this reviewer, normally so non-plused by scoring in sports game, lets out a cry of excitement. The biggest achievement Konami have made is putting the nervous excitement of every single shot that normally comes part and parcel with Football not only into a video game, but into a handheld video game- It feels as though every goal matters, often there is no ‘Ah well’ as you slip behind, as you’re aware that may be the matches only goal. PES feels far more like real football than any other simulation we’re ever played. We were almost hoping for an arcadey handheld experience, and certainly expecting it, so it’s a nice surprise to find that the feel of the game is spot-on. In fact, in many ways this is the first PES in years that feels like a true accomplishment. It’s a full-on Football sim, on a handheld. For the first time, it doesn’t feel inadequate compared to its bigger PS3 brother. In fact, the game plays like the PS2 glory days when Pro Evo was the way to go in terms of football video games.
Anyway, thanks to the awful goalkeeper, Newcastle (As they shall be, once you’ve renamed all the unlicensed sides to have their proper name they’re usually quite obvious, although ‘Booktale’ as Blackpool is a bit more obscure. The customisation options are pretty large, letting you rename all leagues, stadiums, players and teams as well as change players attributes, meaning you can finally turn the actually licensed Rooney into a useful player.) have levelled the match, but with no time to find a winner in the standard 90 minutes, it’s into extra time. As Sunderland kick off, Newcastle suffer from the same defensive issues as Sunderland did back down in their box, with the 3D and the player cam actually proving a hindrance, causing it to be turned off and moved into the more familiar side-on approach, no doubt the angle seasoned PEs players will take anyway. Sunderland could have something on here when –BAM!- Fabricio Coloccini comes thundering in with an incredible slide tackle, winning the ball back and giving Alan Smith a chance to pump it down field, and he obliges. Carroll, again, wins the ball in the air, and finds himself in clear red water. He surges forward, just the one defender tracking back. He’s in on goal, readying his shot, when –BAM!- an equally good slide tackle comes in from behind- It’s a penalty! The cutscene in which said defender is sent off is skipped in an awkward fashion as thumbs move considerable distances to press start, but we still find out thanks to the rather nice summery on the bottom screen. Barton, who started the fight back, steps up, and moves the slide pad ever so slightly to the right and presses Y, while the goaly moves it miles to the left, completely missing the ball, Barton gets the goal he deserved that puts Newcastle in front, and it’s all thanks to the nicely rewarding Penalty system that unfortunately comes into use all too rarely. The Toon kep hold of the ball by running up and down the touchline for half an hour and manage to win the game. (We’ve actually used this tactic, it works. We once did it for the entire second half in a cup final.)
A remarkable result. What do you think, Alan? “Well Gary, I’d say that they’re supringly fully featured and have enough big names onboard to get by, even if it hasn’t got the complete star rosters of their rivals, they’re certainly the best available at the moment.” That said, Alan, don’t you wish the sprint controls weren’t so awkward? “Now you’re not making any sense, Gary.”