If there’s one thing that we’ve all learned from the Sky Sports coverage of the Premiership over the years, it’s that staring at a mock-up of a football pitch and watching a man shove replica players around with a light-wand is often far more entertaining than the game itself, and thankfully Konami has now seen fit to replicate this half-time analysis within a full-price football simulation on the Wii. Sure, this is Pro Evolution Soccer alright; it has the same animations, the same pace, the same audio as any other version; but the input? It’s about as revolutionary as any football game to come before it. Whilst it doesn’t get everything right in this initial inception, it’s nevertheless a bold attempt to move a staid genre forwards a little bit, and for that they have to be applauded.
Forget the special ‘one’
The novelty value of the Wii version begins shortly after kick-off, with the game booting you straight into a fairly lengthy tutorial that teaches the nuances of the basic control system. If you skip this, you’ll really have no clue what’s going on at all, so we’d suggest paying close attention and running through all of the drills multiple times in order to get the control scheme memorised as best possible.
Once in the menu you can also visit the ‘academy’ to gain insight into the more advanced lessons that bring back moves such as the one-two and calling for offside, and to brush up on anything you’ve missed. Make no mistake, this is a title suffers no fools, and expect to spend at least an hour or two gaining the necessary experience before even thinking about notching up that skill bar.
The reason for the informational assault soon becomes clear upon loading up any match type. Pro Evolution Wii doesn’t control anything like other football games to go before it, and indeed has more akin to an RTS at times than the traditional isolated simulation. This is a game that allows you to position multiple players at once, create tactics on the fly, and generally act as the magical overlord that all managers wish they were.
Stripping the control scheme away from it’s grass-roots control heritage is a bold move here, and thankfully succeeds to a large degree. Moving a player, for example, is undertaken by pointing the Wiimote at the player you wish to control, selecting him with the A button, and then clicking the location on the pitch that you want them to run towards. For closer control, simply highlight the player in question, and drag the pointer out with the same button. Dragging further in any direction will make the player run faster, and bringing it back in affords some much-needed close control on the wings and in front of the defence.
Passing, again, is a simple system, but one that affords a considerable amount more depth than any traditional game. Simply put, if you can see a pass that you want to make, then it’s down to you to select the exact location that you want to put the ball, and push the B button to send it there. Player AI is smart enough to run into space onto the end of any ball that you send, and for once the entire pitch becomes available for you to use. If you want to send that defence-splitting 60-yarder with Steven Gerrard that you could never quite pull off in other games, this is the version for you.
Shooting boils everything down a step further, and simply requires a flick of the Wiimote to send the ball flying towards the net. The AI takes into account shooting stats and player animation here to determine the best path for the ball to take.
Controlling individual players soon takes a back seat to the overall tactics, however, and thinking one or two steps ahead of play becomes essential. If rewarding a ‘football brain’ was the goal here, then this Wii version is at least partially successful. If you can see a move coming together, than you’ve usually got the tools at your disposal to make it happen, and sending peripheral players on the correct runs quickly becomes essential. It’ll take a while to get used to the idea that you really are in control of every player on your team at the same time however; and the idea that you can actually pull your central defenders into the position that you want is a completely alien concept to most football-obsessed gamers at this stage.
The same goes for attacking. If you can spot a run that you want Torres or Ronaldo to make, then click on him and send him on his way, followed up by the pass into space in front of the run itself. When it all comes together, it’s a glorious system to use, and really allows you to play the tactical side of the game in a manner that’s never been afforded to us before. It’s also a clever way to remove many of the gripes about formation AI and the like, as the intelligence is purely down to the reaction speed and vision of the players themselves.
Revolution not evolution
Unfortunately that isn’t to say that this Wii version is perfect, and as with most revolutionary products to come before it, there are a few revisions that can be made to benefit the overall picture.
Control, for example, can be purely chaotic at times. Whenever a midfield pileup occurs, the winner of the ball is usually determined by luck rather than any other notable measure of skill. Simply put, the control scheme excels at wide-open tactical play, but just doesn’t afford any decent close-quarters accuracy. It’s at those moments that you’ll miss the ability to simply flick your thumb in any given direction to move a player, and as this is a Pro Evolution title at heart, pinball physics in crowded areas of the pitch are still all the rage.
Shooting, again, whilst it feels perfectly natural at times, really doesn’t afford any degree of accuracy. You’re effectively completely at the mercy of the AI to take control of the shot for you, and it feels like an oddly divorced experience to drag players on runs and lay down a few precision passes only for your star striker to spoon the ball over from 40 yards, without being able to blame anybody but the AI itself.
In terms of the structure itself, you’ll find all of the usual Pro Evolution trappings here, with extensive career-based modes, training challenges and a fairly robust online component that seems to run particularly well in comparison to the 360 and PS3 iterations. The technical aspects are essentially ported directly from the PS2 game that came out last year, so expect some clean graphics and animation, and the same lacklustre audio that’s become a hallmark of the series at this stage.
A very promising start then, but overall, this isn’t a game that’ll suit everyone. The learning curve is incredibly steep, but it’s a mountain that you’ll want to traverse. Once you reach the top you’ll be able to see the entire pitch laid out before your eyes in a manner that’s not been seen before, and you’ll be thankful that you made the investment. Improvements can be made, and knowing Konami they’ll break the same amount that they fix next year, but as a completely unique experience, Pro Evolution on the Wii might just be worth a look.