The Beautiful Games: Pro Evolution Soccer 2 (2002)

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Game: Pro Evolution Soccer 2
Publisher: Konami
Released: 2002
Format: PlayStation (also available on: PlayStation 2, Gamecube)
Also known as: World Soccer Winning Eleven 6 Final Evolution (Japan), J League Winning Eleven 6 (Japan), World Soccer Winning Eleven 6 International (North America)

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So, to disentangle the lineage first, for those who aren’t quite sure how it all fits together: the International Superstar Soccer games had begun in 1994, made by the Osaka branch of Konami (KCEO) and known as the Jikkyou World Soccer series in Japan. These games continued to be produced under that name – with either a year or a series number being added as a suffix – until the final game, ISS 3, in 2003.

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But in the meantime, Konami’s Tokyo arm – KCET – launched a spinoff series that was intended to be a more serious and realistic football simulation, under the name of Winning Eleven in Japan. The first entry, released in 1996, was titled Goal Storm in the rest of the world, before subsequent entries would be known as ISS ProISS Pro ’98ISS Pro Evolution and ISS Pro Evolution 2. Finally, in 2001, the game that was known as Winning Eleven 5 in Japan was released elsewhere as Pro Evolution Soccer – kicking off a line that continues to this day.

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The entry that really made the world outside Japan – in an era where the FIFA games had dominated the majority of the original PlayStation’s life – sit up and take notice, and which also signified the death knell for the competing ISS series, was PES2. Released in 2002, it was the second PES to be released for the PS2, the last for the PS1, and the only one for the Gamecube. But it was, unquestionably, the greatest football game to be released for the original Playstation (if later superseded by PES5 as far as the PS2 is concerned).

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It’s a slightly muggy-looking game, and that makes it a difficult one to initially fall in love with if you come to it cold – especially if you come to it straight from the FIFA games of the era (although those games, while they began to look fantastic on the PC from World Cup 98 onwards, always looked like shite on the PS1). But as you play it, it gradually begins to gnaw away at you, and before you know it, you’re in your fourth Master League season and wondering if it’s finally time to drop the last of your beloved original starting players (Castello, Iorga, Espinas, Valery…)

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The key is that goals feel earned – games have pretty much always been lower-scoring in PES than in FIFA, but more than that you rarely get two goals the same. At the time that the first few PES games were released, this was actually unusual: over in FIFA, each game seemed to have a set way of always scoring, even if that method differed from year to year. Rather than feeling like you were pressing a combination of buttons to bring about a pre-programmed sequence of events, everything just felt that bit more organic, with the ball bouncing loosely around the place and often going in off random combinations of the back of players’ heads and the woodwork.

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The player animations are clunky, the commentary abysmal, the licensing at its worst (not just the nonsensical club names, but things like “Oranges001″ for the Dutch squad) and the referees as unfair as they’ve always been: but still, this was the game that pretty much defined how good football games would play for the next decade.

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