Review: Pro Evolution Soccer 2016/2017

pes2017kicks_1796683pro evolution soccer 2016/2017
are two games developed by konami and
published by konami in 2015/2016
for the sony playstation 3, sony playstation 4, microsoft xbox 360, ms xbox one, and ms windows os

 

Pro Evolution Soccer 2016/17

is
“a crime against humanity.”

((2016) Two and one half out of five stars // (2017) one out of five stars)

[editor’s note: we here at the sea of perspectives are students of the philosophy of premier videogame criticism institution action button dot net and its eccentric videogame designer/gonzo journalist tim rogers. action button’s not around any longer, so we’ve decided to write our own psychotic diatribes on video games and pop culture. according to the google and basic mathematics, it takes the average person thirty five minutes to read through nine thousand words. give yourself an hour. anyway…the screen grabs are from the playstation four version of pro evolution soccer twenty seventeen. thanks!]

part one //

Now, I’ve played the demo version of this game on the PlayStation 3 Computer Entertainment System. That’s it. But, I promise you — I swear, on my mother’s grave — I am fully qualified to write this review.

Perhaps “have played” isn’t the correct passive verb we should be looking at here. How about “have sunken into..?” “have wasted hours of my life on..?” Or, my favorite, “have been systematically oppressed by?” Let’s go with the latter.

This fucking game is a crime against humanity. Konami – as I imagine them collectively — holed up in their atrociously sterile office paid for with Metal Gear dollars — a lesser crime committed by the subject, if it can be categorized so — their overworked, psychotic programmers toiling away at their bleeding edge NASA supercomputers like proverbial cinema villains – carrying out orders barked by salt-and-pepper-haired octogenarians on high to fuck my life up. But I’m not going for it. I didn’t pay for your stupid game! I didn’t tell anyone they should buy it, so I’m confident that I didn’t pay for it by proxy either. I kept it to myself! (Side note: what kind of online game goes down for hours at a time, every week, for “server maintenance?” If anything, judging by that — and the horrific lag during online play rendering a match against real live people (an exciting prospect, for sure. Perhaps for some (let’s consider the increasingly impersonal and busy world we live in and go ahead and say all), The Only Reason To Play This Game. No?) utterly unplayable — it’s entirely possible that the privilege of being able to play this game for free actually costed them money. (And I say: Good!))

Here’s a game mathematically designed to make you suffer. The concept isn’t entirely novel. The Western developer of EA Sports’ FIFA series takes similar cues from atop their respective hierarchy. You see, (and I’m espousing impersonally from a perspective of Dollars And Sense where) when millions of people are potentially buying up your product, it becomes a necessity to not only simplify its design, but often, to handicap it so that every single person that buys said product is able to excel at it. Your parents think you’re a computer genius after you installed Windows 7 for them on their eMachines desktop. And you fixed the “virus” (bloatware targeted at impressionable old people) they got two weeks later! Well, hot damn! But nah. You’re just clever enough to install an ad blocker for your Google Chrome setup. But, did you know; computers didn’t even have Graphical User Interfaces at one time, or even screens at another? All I’m saying is — the standards seem a bit low.

That isn’t even that great of an example. I’ll give you Mario Kart. Because Mario Kart is what they call a “party game,” it needs to be picked up with ease by its players. It also needs to be colorful and distinctive enough to be intriguing to passers by, who will in turn want to pick it up in succession, and, perhaps, buy it themselves at a later date for their own parties (read: sleepovers, LAN parties, bong circles). And finally (pay attention: this is absolutely pertinent in understanding what I’ll eventually be getting at here), it must effectively utilize the likeness of Something Popular, Familiar And Lucrative. Nintendo adheres to all of these principles rather swimmingly. They’ve designed a game that is pretty to look at and nearly impossible to be played competitively. And, look – I don’t mean competitive like the term is thrown around today (like another Nintendo game (Super Smash Bros Melee, **1/2); from its loins has unexpectedly spawned a rabid community dedicated to professionalizing its play — a party game, remember — to the extent of utilizing the game’s glitches as legal “techniques”) — all I’m putting forth is that it’s a bit silly to — with all your heart — play Mario Kart to win.

gif2.gifOn the surface, the glue that holds Mario Kart together is the items. You may have shells (to throw), bananas (to drop) and stars (to..embody? idk) at your arsenal by driving over the bright boxes adorned with question marks. These are fun, and yet they serve to equalize the playing field, giving everyone a chance to come out on top. This idea, of course, has been taken to its logical extreme as the years have passed, in the form of items such as Bullet Bill (your kart magically transforming into the classic Mario villain momentarily as you force through a half a dozen people back into the race — no direction needed by the player and their controller) and the Blue Shell (a special shell with wings that, when deployed, immobilizes the first place racer in a blast that knocks everyone within its radius — it cannot be avoided). The idea is that if everyone wins, everyone is happy. I’ll let you come to your own conclusions there.

Actually, no. This is communism. It’s not just a video game. If it were, it wouldn’t be making millions and millions of fucking dollars. Have you ever tried to count to a million? You’d die. I would hope — before you die — you’d get thirsty and end the experiment to attend to that imperative. When we go meddling in what is just friendly competition, at its friendliest (remember: video games are not real!) — we are micromanaging life itself. In life, some people get the returns they’re working towards and some don’t. Some aren’t working hard enough towards hitting the reward center on their brain.

Like, if you can’t break a score of 1000 playing Asteroids (*****), it’s because you suck. If you finish in 7th playing Mario Kart, it might be because you suck. More likely, though, that spot will be occupied by what we call the computer player. Simulated players have taken the momentary sting of loss for you. More likely, you were hit in the final seconds by a shell that allowed three people to pass you. Consider the fact there’s an assist present in the game that gives the player in second, third, or fourth place a speed boost near the finish line. The final seconds of a race in Mario Kart are often decisive. Because it’s not enough to facilitate some natural competition — insofar as it’s better, in the dollar-signed-eyes of the executives — the game itself manufactures moments in play that often become the highlights of the race. They do this because — once again — not everyone will be capable of winning, lest they strive to improve themselves. In our postmodern world; preoccupied and aloof as all hell – many people simply don’t have the time. But, once more: it needs to be fun to play. It needs to let everyone win at least once.

This is exactly the prerogative of Pro Evolution Soccer, a vastly different product, and yet I consider its everybody-wins implementation far more insidious.

You see, it’s easy to pick on a party game. No one is quite interested in staging skill-showcasing tournaments at a party. Party games were social games before Playfish or Zynga ever existed. You sit on a couch, drinking beer with a few other human beings, and you see the Nintendo 64 in front of the TV. “Hey, maybe we should play Mario Kart!” This is fine! This is commonplace. It’s the norm. Ergo, I’m not suggesting that anyone who doesn’t want to just play games for fun is somehow superior to the other gamers of the world. It’s all in fun, and I take no issue with it. What I take issue with, rather, is this notion that everyone has to win. No, they fucking don’t. Particularly with a game like Mario Kart — it’s not as if it’s Dark Souls or Street Fighter levels of learning curve and play. It’s Press A To Accelerate, Press B To Brake, and Press Z To Throw Items. Even if you include a concept such as drifting or whatever, the average human brain can do the deductive work in figuring and manipulating the game’s physics. So, on Mario Kart and the other Simply Fun games: that’s a whole different experience. As a company developing a simulation of the world’s most popular sport, it would seem that Konami carries a far greater responsibility.

I powered on my roommate’s Playstation 3. It just sort of sits there, collecting dust. “I have The Last Of Us,” he says. “that’s a really good game.” So I’ve heard. As it turns out, his ex-girlfriend had accidentally (or purposefully, if she’s remotely as nightmarish as he describes) taken it with her when she moved out. He owned that and MLB: The Show ‘16. Not much into baseball as a sport; let alone a virtual experience. I tried and failed to remember my PSN account details (why are there so many different password guidelines? I have like eight different passwords because the one I like the most cannot be used for some websites. Here’s a mythbuster: numbers and special characters do not make your password safer! An algorithm can easier guess a password with the former and latter than, say, a pass phrase of three or more words) and so I made a new account. I checked out the PS Store, where I looked into demos and free-to-play games. That’s where I found PES 2016: myclub Edition.

I’ll admit, it took me about two or three days of playing twenty minutes at a time to figure out how to shoot the ball without kicking it fifty feet into the air. Once I figured that out (light taps on the button!), I got hooked. You know what? Lemme talk about that for a second.

Of the three (not counting the Dreamcast) major sixth generation video game consoles, Sony’s Playstation 2 Entertainment System boasts the only controller with pressure sensitive buttons. Next to no games utilized this heavily underrated technology. One of them was Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer (nee Winning Eleven), wherein arguably the most clever usage of the DualShock 2’s pressure sensitivity emerges. Next to PES/WE would be Sons Of Liberty (****½), and of course, Snake Eater (*****) — its application of the PS2 feature used in its touted Close Quarters Combat feature. Tap “Square” lightly to grab an enemy; press it a bit harder to choke them out; fuccin smash that shit to slice his motherfucking neck shit yeah. Of course, being a Tactical Espionage Action game, you were subtly encouraged to not do the latter, it being something of a mark of pride to meander through most — if not all — of the game undetected. Some twenty or thirty years after Super Mario Bros. (*****), then, and some of us are still able to — with the visual language alone of the game we’ve designed — show the player what’s going on, rather than to tell them. In the case of Super Mario Bros. and pressure-sensitive buttons: “Inertia will send you either short, just over the bridge, or flying into the next river bank. Your choice.” In all honesty; where an entire playthrough of today’s Super Mario (Galaxy (***)) more frighteningly resembles an interactive instruction manual for functioning retards than a video game, this is what every video game should strive to do. In all honesty; if you’re gonna make a video game, you should be required to play Super Mario Bros. through to completion. At the very least, to World 5. No warp pipes. Fuck!

Anyway, what makes PES the best with this pressure-sensitive business: well, for one, the entire game hinges upon it. With Snake Eater, I’m pretty sure you can get through the game without any close encounters at all. Even so, judging by how many copies the game sold (and, more importantly, how many idiots are out there), I’m certain that you can get through without knowing what the scoop is regarding the CQC. In PES, you can mash the shoot button all day, and you’re gonna make it into the cheap seats every time. It’s super precise. You can tell that when they first pioneered this a decade ago or whenever, they worked pretty hard on all the potential variables. Tap it ever-so-slightly and the player will — of course — tap the ball a couple yards away with his foot. Press down hard and — of course — the player will lean back and mash the ball across the distance of the field. Really — once you have it down, it’s perfect.

gif3So: I like things about this game! These combined things are shining testaments to What Could Have Been but Are Not. (side note: it’s interesting that Pro Evolution Soccer is touted as a sort of more realistic, tighter, respectable, and better simulation (people regularly refer to the game as a simulation) of soccer than EA’s FIFA. Take away all the numbers, and formation management, and substitutions, (and I pretty much did by paying minimal attention to any of them) etc etc etc, and this game gets quite arcadey. It’s very pick-up-and-play like an old-guard arcade game is in that, with a little primer on the controls, it’s quite easy to understand what’s supposed to happen next. From there are mountains of minutiae that come with the territory of a soccer game, and advanced button inputs that, despite their Not Being Useless, are also not necessarily needed to Do Well in the game. (Comparatively, I played FIFA 17 at a Best Buy and couldn’t figure out why — even though my player seemed to be moving in the direction I wished, was almost circling himself at the detriment of the ball movement (if that makes any sense at all(Edit:the controller was broken! (Edit: I still don’t like FIFA))). Very quickly I realized that, unlike its competitor, I was clearly Missing Something here, and yet I didn’t care to figure out what that was. Within a minute, I put the controller back. Great graphics though! Probably better than PES, so great job on that, EA!))

I feel as if — at this point, after all the tangents — I must remind you, the dear reader, that I am going off on the free-to-play version of Pro Evolution Soccer. Initially, thinking that only the limited exhibition mode was available, I would just play the same match between Brazil and FC Bayern Munich, the two best teams available. I was astounded by how different every game tended to play out as I controlled half of it. Not only could I not wrap my head around the game’s automatic shooting system, I also lost about every game I played for the following week or two. Regardless of my lack of mad skillz, I kept playing. “This is fun,” I thought. Eventually, I started winning. And winning by an inch came to winning by a mile, scoring upwards of three goals to an embarrassing nil from the other team. This is when I upped the difficulty, and found myself struggling for a favorable outcome once again. There are five difficulty settings in this game, I believe. I think I got to the third level and that is where I hit a strange plateau; and it took me (perhaps shamefully) another month or so to ascertain exactly what was happening.

Remember, I would choose Brazil, every time, and play against Bayern Munich, statistically the best team available in the free-to-play version. And they were good. There were times when I would skirt their incredibly aggressive defense, and there were times where no matter how aggressive my defensive tactics were, they seemed to be able to get the ball in the net, against all odds. I was especially privy to last-minute goals, and disappointing misses on my end. This is when I had a creeping suspicion that the game was bullshitting me.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2016, like the Nintendo party games, presents itself in a clean enough manner — the veneer of seriousness penetrates. Once you press the start button and the top menu comes up, it feels like you’re playing a Serious Simulation. The charm of a game like Wii Sports lies in its cleanliness and ease-of-use.

This falls apart, though, when you play the bowling game, and figure out that you can roll a strike every single time if you wind the Wii remote as far back as the game can recognize and let go of the B button as soon as the remote hits a 90 degree angle with the ground. Unlike the Wii Sports and the Wii Plays of the world, though, Konami are able to keep the presentation together with what looks and plays like a good game. With Pro Evolution Soccer, there is no perfect-strike exploit that I am aware of. In all honesty, it doesn’t need one. The game does the exploit work for you. Or the other player. Or both, in the same game.

And so, remember: these kinds of games don’t even have to be good. Now, I’m not saying that Pro Evolution Soccer is particularly bad; the foundation is there, and it’s being ruffled with by cruel computer algorithms. If these electronic entertainment products have to be anything, it’s a licensed representation of a cash-cow. Sociopathic executives, their minions of the press, and the consumers most eager to fit within the “gamer” label will use the dirty word “intellectual property” or “franchise” (terms, by the way, that only one of these groups have any stakes in). I like to say “series” because I have nothing to do with making money for shareholders.

PES, I believe — because they do not have the FIFA licenses — are missing out on some select football leagues around the world (this is likely one reason why EA’s FIFA sells more copies), but there are still enough real-life teams and players present. Imagine if PES or FIFA (which, in all likelihood, wouldn’t be called FIFA) had all generic teams and players. Would as many people buy them? Would we simply be happy with a fun, competitive simulation of the world’s most popular sport, or do we just play these things so we can pretend to be Ronaldo and score 5 goals unanswered? If the latter: God help the world.

Let’s go back to Mario Kart (and racing games) for a second. Critical analysis of these games have coined a term called “rubber-banding,” a concept in which the game assists players — who fall behind in a race — by either:

1. Slowing the winners down
2. Speeding the losers up
3. 1 and 2
4. (if a kart racer) awarding the loser with essentially game-breaking weapons
5. All of the above

Frankly, Mario Kart is a bit unfairly lashed at when discussing this sort of electronic affirmative action, because — as we said — it’s in a cute, candy-coated, fun little package. And while it’s clearly the most influential offender, it’s definitely not the most egregious.

The free demo’s myclub mode, a mode wherein you build a club from scratch in a specific region and use scouts to sign coaches and players: I had no idea it was there for two-thirds of the time I spent playing it. I spent my last third of time experiencing what has driven me to write this soon-to-be-scathing critique of this product.

You start with a crap team. Like, players-with-ratings-of-50/100 crap. No problem. You play teams on your level. And, quite honestly, it wasn’t as boring as I expected. It’s still a game of soccer. Let’s go back into real life for a moment. Put some amateurs together, and soccer is such a fluid, unpredictable game that not only will the same game never be played twice, it will be fun to watch – that is, if you’re into minutiae. I think you’ve gotta be, a little bit, to even enjoy soccer from a distance. So, anyway – I’m a shit team playing other shit teams.

gif4.gifThe myclub mode is a RPG-very-lite accompanying a tight soccer game. You sign players, with your uh — scouts, you sign coaches, you plan out offensive and defensive formations, you can rent superstar players for a few games (this jarring option weirdly being available to use from the humble beginning), you can sign better players with your uh — super scouts, your players have a stamina bar that depletes with every match played (important info, more on this shortly), other minutiae etc. etc. etc. You can play games against COM (which are ghost teams of human myclub players in The Cloud) or humans (which doesn’t work so well — it’s actually quite shocking, how well it doesn’t work — shocking enough to wonder why Konami even included online play in the first place). You win, and you get GP. You lose, and you still get GP (though not as much). Every day you log on, you get a Day X (out of 8-9?) Play Bonus! You’d think that means “play every day, and you get a bonus,” but it’s not consecutive days — it just gives one to you every new day you’ve played. New day, new play bonus. The game is rewarding you just for turning it on. Interesting!

I guess that — in a demo version with only four or five available teams to choose from — it is probably better that you can create your own team from scratch and build them up to be whatever they call great teams in the football world. Five-star? Gold? I don’t know! I don’t care! And it doesn’t even encroach the Americans’ Madden Franchise Mode territory, where, last I played, you could just turn on the “fantasy draft” option and get all of the best players you wanted! But still, all this Create-A-Team jazz is just weird daydreaming infringing too heavily on playing an Actual Game. And maybe to daydream is precisely the point of all these games, but shit — I had a decent time pitting the same two teams together for a good month and a half before I realized what myclub was even about!

So, anyway — the player stamina bars. Make no mistake about it — this is a clever little ploy to get free-to-play people like myself to fork out some cash. Except they’ve seemed to not have thought this one out so well. Insofar as that I’d sooner die than participate in the curious economy of videogame microtransactions (noun. def. – Publicrelationsspeak for “we will never compromise our business by actually offering things for free”), I’ll consider myself a bit lucky here. Here’s the skinny: in the Squad Management menu, we see a loose grid of all the players on the squad, in their respective positions on the field. Under their photos are green bars representing their stamina. These green bars further reach empty with every game played. So, what do we do? Well, we spend a currency called “stamina recovery” of course! There are “single” units of this currency (for one player’s recovery only) or one for all of them. The “all” one makes more sense to use, because, unless you’ve just completely replaced your team save for one or two players, all of them will generally fatigue at the same rate. And; for some reason, you’ll have a lot more “all” recoveries than you will singles. “Stamina recoveries” (I’ll continue to use quotes and forgo uppercase distinction here because these are not Real Things) will cost you myclub coins. Myclub coins should cost you real-life money. However, in-game GP will buy you coins as well. So, if you keep playing games, you won’t run out of coins to spend. Add in the fact that you are rewarded for doing anything from signing a top player for the first time to turning on the game, and you ask yourself — why are these fake currencies in the game in the first place? C’mon guys! How hard could this shit be? You’ve failed what is essentially the Easiest (and Most Evil) Thing To Do as a “freeware” designer — artificially blockade the consumer from being able to use it for free!

In what world does spending real money on fake money to spend on resting your players fall into a video game? We could talk about the mindset of “social game” (or, social “game”) designers applying parallel systems in their own products, but there are enough good articles written on just that (google insertcredit.com’s “videogames, a ghost story”). Ergo, in summary: you can play these games without spending a dime. Most people do. However (and this is the really interesting part); the paywalls are built for the odd player that spends enough money to push the Average Player Spends statistic up to $100. The “whale” social game designers lovingly refer to. This player doesn’t really want to play the game. They want to win. So; at a price, the game lets them win. You see this philosophy applied in $60 games just as well; RPGs with $1 “level up” cheats, shooters whose marketplaces sell The Good Guns. In those cases? Pretty tacky — but whatever. In the case of social games? Zynga, EA, and the like are aware of the fact that they don’t even have to have a good game in order to lasso their fair share of income streams emanating from the digital pockets of a few psychotic vampires, of whom are perpetually and indiscriminately sending Farmville 2 invites out to their Facebook friends (the psycholabryinth designers simultaneously benefiting from further user engagement and free advertising — courtesy of the player).

It seems that Konami was on the lookout for some whales themselves, but utterly failed in designing an even halfway sophisticated math trap. And, I dunno; maybe I’m wrong. Maybe people did fork out money right away to get the best players and a bunch of coins. Maybe they’re right: giving away something for free — no strings attached — is just bad business. Whatever way you spin it, actually (I was able to play this game for a long time) they’ll be halfway right and I’ll be halfway wrong. A simple fix (don’t allow GP to buy myclub coins) and Konami would probably be looking at some more zeroes in their revenue.

Eventually, you play enough games and trudge through enough menus to have a Pretty Good team. And, perhaps I’m Missing Something, but, it’s like; so what? I enjoyed playing the game as much as I did with a crap team as I did with a good one. There doesn’t seem to be any seasons, or tournaments here. You just keep going and going, I assume, until all of your players are 99OVR. Even then, I’m certain you’d still lose as much as you’d win.

Man, speaking of covert stat padding, I haven’t even gotten into that proper yet! My apologies!

In myclub mode, if you’ve just recently played a COM match, the first box you will see at the top menu will display the difficulty of the next game you play and the “strength” of the opposing team, at three levels relative to you; weaker, stronger, and “medium.” Leaving out the giggle provoked by the latter caveat lost in translation, this is another thing we can ponder the existence of. It seems like irrelevant information — or, better yet — something that could have been replaced by a more useful statistic; perhaps a team rating or a win/loss record. The game never allows us to know how much “stronger” or “weaker” our opponent is.

gif4

And anyway, it seems to not matter much! You can still lose to a team weaker than you just as easily as you could a team stronger.

In the myclub mode of both of these iterations, there is something of a sliding difficulty that modifies itself in response to how much you’re winning. In my many hours logged on this game, I’ve seen the difficulty bumped twice, both up and down. I play the game for an hour or so, and my win/loss pattern rarely changes: I win two-three games in succession, and then I lose one. I cannot change the difficulty on my own, because the game does not allow that. And why is that?

I sort of feel dirty that I was trapped within this particular labyrinth for so long. It is utterly convincing. Like gambling, you lose until you win and you win until you lose and you rinse and you repeat. The smart player is not spending any money. I’d like to think, though, when you gamble (I’ve bought a couple scratch tickets in my day), you lose a bit more than money.

This is my theory: for all their luster and yearly incremental steps towards one-to-one simulation (which, likely; they will never reach — we’ll let them keep trying, though), these games are not getting as clever as they should be. You may say: they’re not there yet. However, we’re gonna chalk it up to laziness, at best — at worst; outright malice. Think Deep Blue. Think Watson. It’s not that we’re asking for supergenius master-level computer AI, but, I mean — IBM were cranking these things out over twenty years ago! Play any single one of the litany of sports games that have been made for the video game consoles and you’ll find that nothing much has changed.

If we can write off the fishiness in COM matches as slapdash bandages on shoddy AI, we absolutely cannot forgive this invisible meddling in exhibitions controlled exclusively by human players. This, in particular, is not warranted.

When we play a game, whether that be backgammon, or pickup basketball, or Pro Evolution Soccer, we accept that there are certain rules that derive from those that created the game — and the forces that created the planet. With the brain games — we cannot veer outside of the de facto rules. With sports — we cannot place the ball-in-play anywhere that gravity and kinetic energy won’t take it. In the real-life game of soccer, the ball is round and the game is ninety minutes. From there, anything — that falls within the rules of the game, and the laws of motion and gravity — goes. In the simulated soccer product in question, the emulation of real-world physics only serve as a glamour to be manipulated to maximize excitement and engagement. Or, you know — you could have just trusted us with the round ball for ninety minutes. Konami should play Rocket League, if they haven’t already.

Here’s what’s happening during the average game of Pro Evolution Soccer: players are stealing the ball from one another like it’s nothing. Other times, players can’t seem to get rid of the ball, no matter how many other players are trying to assist them with that. Players will run away from the ball if it means facilitating for the opponents a break down the middle towards the box for a replay-worthy shot. A goalie will inconspicuously stumble over an easy-to-save ball and allow a goal. A goalie will also save the ball — yes, they will save the ball — but they will inconspicuously knock it out of bounds, allowing for another chance at a score via a corner kick. I don’t quite feel like running everything down; just look it up or play it yourself — it’s free, I need to finish this shit up, and I need to not have an aneurysm.

The corner kick, by the way: what a weirdly perpetrated mess this set piece is! There seems to be a way to curve the ball, but the feedback seems to be so minute as to render said finesse a non-issue. The closest thing I can compare the corner kick to is trying to beat a piñata with a stick — through a glory hole — while another person behind an adjacent wall with a stick tries to beat a piñata — through a glory hole. Of course, like most other things you can do within the confines of this product’s simulated soccer match, the corner kick is often manipulated by the game itself in favor of Whomever They Need To Be Winning Right Now. You may find yourself playing defense to the opposing team’s kick, relentlessly switching players and putting cover on every inch of the box. Three seconds later (I haven’t counted, but I’d bet Actual Money that the CPU idling time before the kick is exactly the same every time), the kicker places his kick to the player in front of the goal, who manages, somehow — no matter how tough the contesting from the other team — to get in open position and head butt the ball in the net. That’s right! A moment worthy of highlight reels for weeks to come, happening in almost every game of Pro Evolution Soccer! Now look, I understand that this is a video game and all. It has to be fun, for reasons we did and didn’t already cover above. But, this is the best patchwork we can do, in the name of making sure The Game Is Still Realistic? Realism? Here’s what I have to say about your realism — in Pro Evolution Soccer, when your team is sent to the corner for a kick, your player can kick the ball completely out of bounds; on purpose! Even more puzzling; the computer player will sometimes do this as well! What the hell is that?

part two //

Ah! It was good to give this thing a breather! I probably started writing it two and a half months ago, and then left it alone. Sorry. I was playing Pro Evolution Soccer 2016.

A few weeks ago, my roommate bought a PS4 and a copy of Horizon: Zero Dawn (short review: fun! pretty! redheads! not finished yet! will report back later!). Somehow, he left it alone for two days and I was the first one in the apartment to use it. After a few minutes of perusing around the menus (short review of PS4 OS: good, with one niggling issue: stop Xboxifying these fucking interfaces, dude! searching one letter at a time while scrolling through a marquee of letters is atrocious. making me scroll through large-scale box art categorized by letter is borderline-spiteful. this kind of design philosophy emanates from people that fetishized minority report’s vision of the future — fifteen years ago!! widget makers — do not take your graphic design inspiration from Xbox and Windows. christ!), I meandered over to the PSN Store to look for a demo of PES 2017. I found it. This one’s called PES 2017: Trial Edition (*). Give me a few minutes and I’ll talk about how perfect that title is.

So, I downloaded it, waited overnight for it to finish (Comcast sucks) and booted it up the next morning.

It’s not much different than the previous iteration, leaving out graphics. In that respect, the game does look really good. In a game like this, that doesn’t rely too heavily on closely and accurately portraying facial and body animation outside of the kinetic context of a soccer match, I’m nearly ready to say we’re close to climbing out of the uncanny valley. Nearly. Play a story-driven game with human characters, motion capture actors and all, and — depending on how far away you are from your TV — the mushmouth android occasionally peers out from behind the photorealistic human facade on the screen. In PES2017, the closeup glimpses you get of the simulated humans are sporadic and fleeting enough to suspend disbelief. The new hardware allows an incremental advance of the physics engine that is pretty neat when it’s not confusing accidental collisions with fouls. I imagine this will take more than a couple iterations to get right.

Wait — did I say it’s not much different in that last paragraph? I’m sorry. There’s a few crucial changes in the next-generation versions of Pro Evolution Soccer. One, I just mentioned Literally A Second Ago. Another, I will begin talking about now:

gif4Because Sony has omitted pressure sensitivity from the face buttons on the Dualshock 4, we are now left with a minute — but noticeable enough to be jarring — delay between player input and game feedback when attempting long passes or strong shots. Obviously, this is Sony’s fault. And I can’t even imagine how this fucker plays on Xbox. Or the goddamn FIFA games. It’s like; if we removed analog sticks and replaced them with parallel d-pads, would you wanna play Call Of Duty? That’s how important pressure sensitive buttons are to the smoothness of this game, and their absence is enough to make me almost not want to play this game. There’s a couple more reasons that push me from almost to definitely that I will get into in a few moments. We are finally going get into the meat and bones and tear this fucking scam apart.

Look — was it hella expensive to produce these buttons or the algorithm in the dev kit that recognizes the button presses, or something? There may be a valid reason; there may not be. I’d do some of my trademark professional google research but I’m linked up to my iPad in hotspot mode, and the section of the shopping mall I work in must have the walls lined with aluminum foil or something, because the 4G in this spot is weak as hell.

Pressure sensitivity was such a great idea that it’s kind of mind-boggling that it wasn’t used more often. In cinematic, challengeless slog God Of War (½*) and its copycats; you could have had light button presses for light hits, and hard, sticky button presses for heavy hits! In a first person shooter like Killzone, perhaps the jump could be modified by pressure! Or, in —

you know, in my head, I’m really only getting scenarios like the power behind an attack or action, but I’m also not a Genius Game Developer. And yet, I think that the Genius Game Developers really missed out on something unique here, and could have sold their fair share of Sony consoles! I have a few theories:

  1. The audiences for the games I mentioned are too broad. Their creation is so gate-kept by men in suits — who may only bow to numbers — that the idea of adding such subtlety to the experience would probably be laughed out of the meeting room. They need these games to sell. When businessmen get involved, unfettered creativity dies.
  2. The inclusion of a feature like this may bleach out the necessity of mapping out other buttons, and in the world of Modern Videogame Design, everything must be used!
  3. The inverse of #1, and probably an addendum to #2 — maybe it is too simple a concept for the number fetishists! “People might get the idea that our game is not complicated or deep enough,” one of them might say, completely oblivious to the fact that he lives in a different universe where those two words, apparently, are synonyms!

I used to think, “Dudes, if you keep this shit up, people are gonna get tired of video games and the bubble of your ‘industry’ is gonna burst on Nineteen Eighty Six Levels!” That was pretty naive, no? If you’ve read this far, you and I both know that I am Not A Businessman, and that the last five or six years of corporatespeak keynotes — delivered by the utterly detached figureheads of entertainment giants — have proved that I was Definitely Wrong. I wish it would all crash and burn, though. You see, disaster is what brings the cream to the top of the mug. Peril and desperation forces you to do something new; to never make the wrong decision. Alas — for now, it’s Twenty Seventeen; and yes, there will be a new Call Of Duty this holiday season, and a new Mario, and the graphics on Madden will look a little better than they did last year.

So, PES 2017 Trial Edition. The reason the last free-to-play iteration was not called Trial Edition is because the last one wasn’t a trial. This one is. Capiche?

myclub is back in PES 2017 Trial Edition. It’s even more annoying and grindy and in the way of Playing The Game. They’ve streamlined some of the menu-trudging (which is probably the right thing to do after you’ve convoluted them even more than before).

It seems that they have figured out the whole “Stamina recovery” dilemma, and are rightfully collecting their dollars. Myclub coins are much less abundant here. So; when your player runs out of energy and he can’t realistically play in another match, what else is there to do but get rid of him? Uh, I’m sorry — is this the realistic soccer simulator everyone is talking about? Where the players apparently go on eight-day sleepless benders until you sub them out for a few games, or write an electronic check paid to the order of God so they can Finally Get Some Sleep? What the fuck is this shit, man?

Now personally, I don’t have a problem with swapping players out and giving them a shot to do their own thing. But I do mind being forced by the game to do that. PES2016 — because of what we’ve previously determined as a pretty laughable oversight — never gave the player a reason to sit the athletes out. Why should they?

There’s another game my friend got with his PS4 (craigslist trade for a Wii U (what a rip off on the other guy’s end!)). That game is called NBA 2K16: Featuring A Spike Lee Joint (*½), and within the licensed saccharine content of its disc is a game mode similar to myclub: MyPlayer Mode (great names, guys. do not believe for a second that these god-fearing middle-aged losers wouldn’t name them iClub or iPlayer if Apple would allow it). And, to keep it short (because this is getting too long (because I’m also drafting up a little number for that game)), these game modes popped up in sports games around ten years ago, allowing the player fruition of their real life rags-to-riches daydreams. You have a player (or a team) who — after a lot of hard work and ass-kicking — makes it to the top, or whatever. A problem arises the moment we’re not playing a fun video game — or we’re not playing a video game at all! In 2K16, your player can — based on your performance in a few key games in his college career — be drafted to the NBA after his freshman year, within the top five picks of the first round, no less; and end up playing his first NBA game with a 55OVR rating, effectively bottlenecking your player who — after a dominating presence in high school and college, corroborated by the banter of the commentators and the faux-newspaper-headlines of the loading screens — all of a sudden…sucks? And, uh — you want me to just stick it out; to just play against professionals, after heavily cycling whatever is the opposite of performance enhancing drugs? Fuck you!

Ten years ago, Japanese role-playing games and their orgies of numbers were the scourge of cool in an entertainment market on the verge of a transformation befitting frat dudes and grandmas alike. Fast forward to today, and apparently the marketers/delicensed psychoanalysts have figured out how to make even cool black guys want to endure eighty-plus-hour grindfests to get a shiny item (in this case, a championship ring(you know, most of the time I see cool black guys playing 2K, they are playing an exhibition game. there is hope yet)). I’m sorry…am I fucking nuts or something? Is this what we want out of our video games?

Ultimately, these sorts of games are always disappointing on some level; the more features and life-like graphics they try to cram into these things, the more jarring inconsistencies rear their ugly heads. In the same way that all games are liars, Pro Evolution Soccer’s biggest lie is that it’s a soccer simulator. In a way, yes, they are telling the truth. What you see on the screen is, in fact, a simulated representation of a football match. You, on the other side of the screen, hold a controller in your hand; and you use it to issue commands to your team on the field. However, the game’s pinocchio nose starts to lengthen when when that control is momentarily taken away from you.

If we can’t design Complex Enough intelligence algorithms for the computer player yet, at least don’t fucking lie to me about it, dude.

At a certain point, it becomes harder to call these things games. In a game, there is an objective — and, often — more than one person competing to accomplish it.

As you’ve noticed, they’ve changed the name of this free-to-play offering: Trial Edition. And here’s where the term “free-to-play” itself reveals itself a red herring, rather than an act of generosity on the part of the publisher. As mentioned beforehand, they’ve ironed out some kinks in the fabric of their own little microeconomy, preventing the player from having too much fun without forking out some cash. This is deliberately by design. Buy the best players and win a lot with them to up the difficulty, or outright buy the full game. You are on a trial. It may not last for a specific window of time, and the game may not boot you from playing it. You will, eventually, just boot yourself.

gif1Soccer is quite obviously the sport of the proletariat; its popularity primarily residing in the third world and with its migrants to the Western world. These people have game consoles, I guess, but do not have upwards of sixty to eighty US dollars to fork out for a full game and an online play membership. So, Konami has done a good deed in allowing their yearly product to be played for free. Okay, fine. But we can’t play online, either because the ping is utterly atrocious or that we need to be a paying member of a service to do so. We can’t run our fantasy team through the gamut without a suspiciously disappointing loss on the hour. We can play the computer as a real-life team — or our friends — and even then, too often is something not quite right. Me personally, I think: I’m not gonna buy this. I’m not gonna give these people any money. What do the others think?

You should definitely take a look at the Youtube or Google results for “PES scripting.” Or, the Steam community reviews for the 2017 free-to-play edition of PES.

Somebody in an arcade bar one night called me an elitist because I wouldn’t talk to anybody (I was in a bad mood!) and I complained about the Asteroids cabinet being removed (“Asteroids is one of the best games of all time. They’re dumb for taking it out.”). That was a few months ago, but I remember it. I guess that it was one of those things that people tell you and bells start ringing. Perhaps I am an elitist. But I don’t think I’m better than you. I do think, however, that most people — especially as the world metaphorically spins faster and faster by the day — don’t even want the best. They just want the bare minimum. They couldn’t care either way. This, to me, is unacceptable: it’s emptiness. It’s yearning for nothing, and a sign of a culture that needs something to live for other than living. These are not just games; they are vehicles for people to express themselves and learn about themselves and others. I want what’s best for everyone. Reference the links above and there are definitely normal people (that don’t write fifteen page “reviews” of video games) that at least indirectly agree with me.

The thing about Asteroids, and I’ll say it again: if you suck at Asteroids, the game will end. There is no behind-the-scenes manipulation, there are no RPG elements. Here’s your objective: keep playing until you die. If you wish to play it again, please insert another coin (today, in the year 2017, we’re not paying to play Asteroids, which is pretty amazing, if you think about it). If you suck at Pro Evolution Soccer (or any number of modern video games), you lose. Except, the game never ends. You can try again at a lower difficulty (fine). You can pay cash for an advantage (uh…). And, finally (and this one’s been around for a while, unfortunately): we may just be playing a game already…that wins for us (no, no, no!!!!!!!).

This, to us — is masturbating. Is there something wrong with masturbating? Well, no! But, say you want to play a pickup game of soccer, and well — you get there, and the organizer declares that everybody wins, and gets a free blowjob from a hot babe. That’s a hell of a day! But, did you play soccer? Imagine that happened every time you tried to play a game of soccer with these people. And — if you’re not hip to the bullshit — you’re getting close to understanding what it’s like to play a lot of these games.

The worst of the electronic medium of video games cater to a desire in the human brain to escape whatever you like to call “the real world.” This — rest assured — is not how video games were born. They — like the ancient sports — were born out of a prerogative to simulate warfare. Of course, the first “video games” were products of extensive research out of the Allied effort during World War II. To us, paying sixty dollars to experience a video game in which the player is forced to watch cutscenes interspersed with quick-time-events that bring about the only possible outcome, then forced to play through uninspired rip-offs of people who actually had good ideas — and the only reason anyone is playing this game is because x character is in it or it’s based on y movie — is, quite frankly, revolting. A waste of time, a waste of money, a waste of talent; an utter waste!

There is a rapid change afoot. More things than ever are being produced independent of gigantic multinational companies. These sillies think that slapping a character or a license on their product is gonna keep cutting it. It’s not. Consider that many more people are reading/viewing alternative news sources than they are all of the mainstream news sources combined. This tectonic shift in mass communication has happened in less than ten years. This kind of thing will happen everywhere. The world is checking and balancing itself.

Some would argue that we’ve always been getting swindled by video games. In order to be the best at Pac Man in 1979, you were gonna need a lot of quarters. Of course, there’s inflation: a quarter then is likely a dollar or more now. Maybe the economics are evened out and we’re not paying much more, if any more at all, than we did thirty-plus years ago. Regardless, the fact remains: when we won, it mattered. Every quarter spent was an omen, a prayer; it was energy spent towards improvement. We weren’t alone in our apartments in front of atrociously huge flat-screen televisions, we were in a building where people went to socialize (look at me, talking as if I was there!).  The act of going to the arcade to play video games was a personal expression that we are far beyond — kids call each other faggots on Call Of Duty; separated by hundreds, if not thousands of miles! It matters not if we weren’t producing anything tangible for society; you might as well call chess a waste of time. We were Doing Something. Now, we win or we lose, and we keep mashing the buttons or rolling the dice until we win. But honestly, what’s the fucking difference?

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