Pro Evolution Soccer 3D – evolving in the third dimension

I’ll say right off the bat that not a whole lot has changed,  functionally at least, from Pro Evolution Soccer 2010 to Pro Evolution Soccer 3D.  As a result, what has been said before can be said again – if you liked PES before, you’ll likely enjoy it now.  Aside from the addition of the 3D in this portable rendition of the once great football franchise, it looks and plays  like the game that I came to know and love on the Playstation 2. But what can now be said is that if you haven’t played a PES game before, there is no better way to discover the series than through Pro Evolution Soccer 3D. I have always been a fan of the PES series.  To me it always felt that Konami wasn’t looking to push cutting edge-graphics technology or ooze production values with the series, but more to release a game that could satiate the wants of both the casual football fan and the player who wants the option to play a technical game of footy by learning the intricacies of its mechanics and controls, while customising formations and strategies that fundamentally change the way in which the AI would move around on the field.  And even though the game has seen better days, having been almost rendered completely irrelevant with the strides FIFA has taken in recent years, a game of PES is always a game of PES. And it is good. Unsurprisingly, none of that has changed with PES 3D for the Nintendo 3DS.  When on the attack, opening up space in the middle of the pitch and placing the ball onto the feet of a running Centre Forward who has broken through the defence is easy and feels exactly as it should.  Similarly, running the ball up the wing and smashing a lingering cross onto the head of a striker is as satisfying as ever, and even more so if the ball sees the back of the net.  Likewise, moving the ball around your own half while looking for the chance to move the ball swiftly through the midfield is not only possible, but also encouraged by the way in which the AI seems to just know how a real team of players would move on the pitch. Image: But while the attacking half of PES is still as good as it gets, the sometimes clumsy mechanics of defending your own goal can result in the pulling out of many-a-hair as things go awry, sometimes resulting in the loss of a match where you had a majority of possession for most of the 90 odd minutes of the game.  Putting pressure on a player is great  conceptually, but when it comes to moving in to tackle the ball from a player, things get a little more clumsy, with AI players often being unsure with what to do with the ball once it has been removed from the feet of the opposition.  Too many times a swift counter attack from the opposition from a  fumble led to my defence being unable to scramble in time to prevent a goal.  Setting an appropriate formation can mitigate this to some extent, but the defensive aspects of the PES series still aren’t its strongest and can often lead to the slamming of the 3DS shut in protest.

Luckily the game gives you the best reason to hold possession of the game, in that the gratification for scoring that rare goal is amongst one of the great moments in gaming.  Anyone that has played PES before can recount tales of that great goal, the one that was placed in the top right hand corner of the net, that culminated from a slow burn of passing the ball around the pitch until a hole in the defence opened up through which the ball was put to the striker’s feet, who controlled the ball, feinted right and then blasted it past the last defender and just out of reach of the goal keeper.  These moments have always been what keeps me buying PES games year after year, and am happy to say, are still more than intact in the 3DS version.

Miraculously, somehow,  these moments of brilliance that defined the series last generation for many players are made even more special with the addition of 3D, particularly in its default Player view camera setting.  When playing from this camera angle, every opening, every pass and every successful throughball or cross seems that much more poignent and the camera follows the ball across the vast area of the pitch to that perfectly positioned player.  With the 3D effect off, the camera is merely another camera angle that deprives you of a view of player placement behind you, but with the 3D effect turned on, moving the ball forward into your attacking half seems like an unattainable goal as the pitch stretches out for seemingly miles, seemingly even beyond the horizon at times.  Every opening becomes a tangible and urgent opportunity as you watch the opposing team’s players scramble to stop you from capitalising on sloppy defence by placing the ball on that seemingly acute angle straight through to a teammate.  Similarly, every tackle from behind is genuinely surprising, yet deserved, as you realise you weren’t aware enough of your surroundings to be able to outsmart your opponent and move the ball on quickly enough to avoid de-possession.  Being able to accept your mistakes as your own goes a long way to aid your enjoyment of playing from this view.

A game that was once about seemingly arbitrarily moving the ball around the pitch to a very clear end has now become something entirely different through allowing you to experience what being on the pitch is actually like as a player, not a detatched puppeteer outside of the fourth wall.   It is clear that while the more conventional camera settings are still available, getting the most out of the unique perspective that the addition of 3D visuals offers sometimes means persevering through some of the steep learning curves associated with the default player camera perspective.  For example, not being able to see player movement behind you can take some getting used to, but keeping an eye on the map at the bottom of the screen will go some way to alleviating the frustrations this can cause early on.  But after pushing through some of these teething issues, you’ll find it difficult to go back to the ‘vanilla’ wide horizontal view that has become an industry standard for football simulations, for fear of losing the immersion that the player view in this 3DS version offers.

Fundamentally, PES 3D is a solid portable football game that gains nothing in terms of functional gameplay from its predecessors, but gains a whole lot in terms of the experience it offers.  The Master league is still there, as is the ability to play an exhibition match or a consolidated  UEFA Champions League tournament, so the content mirrors almost exactly what the game has been pushing for a number of years on other platforms, including the sporadic inclusion of a number of licensed leagues and teams including the Dutch Eredivisie (my league of choice – go Feyenoord) and the Spanish La Liga.  So if you’re halfway interested in football, the game goes a long way to satisfying what you would expect from a game that depicts the sport.  Convincing you to buy this game for this system depends on whether you’re interested in trying something new and experiencing a football simulation from an entirely different perspective.  If you are open to enduring through learning to play a football videogame in an entirely new way or have been a fan of the PES series in the past, I can wholeheartedly recommend PES 3D.  For everyone else, it depends on whether you can find the game for the right price to justify in your own mind that you should give it a chance.