In 2003, Pro Evolution Soccer 3 was released and included a big game play engine update, introducing new features such as the advantage rule and much improved long-ball passing techniques. PES games were now starting to get their hands on lesser European licenses such as the Dutch Eredivisie, but at least this was a start or inroad into FIFA's dominance by Konami.
Pro Evo 3 was the first PES game to be programmed for PC via Microsoft and it was popular, but the lack of online mode disappointed. Further enhancements to the licensing agreement occurred over the next few PES iterations, with many more official teams and players included, but the big one, the Premier League, always eluded Konami - not something FIFA was willing to give up. The Master League (career mode) was expanded and editing options improved, making likenesses even closer to reality.
In 2005 Pro Evolution Soccer 5 finally cemented Pro Evo online, allowing players to play against other PES gamers anywhere in the world. Jubilation reigned in online forums as we finally got real English teams, albeit only two - Arsenal and Chelsea, but again it was a start.
At this point in history PES was still dominant over FIFA, generally getting higher review scores, despite the lack of complete licenses throughout the game. PES stood up so well against the FIFA machine because of the superb two player experience.
Playing against a computer can only ever be so good, as computer AI is still no match for the gaming experience of another human being. It was this sense of randomness and downright fun that kept Pro Evo at the top of the footy charts and this position was further solidified in Pro Evolution Soccer 6, which for many PES fans was the finest hour for Konami.
Pro Evo 6 or Winning Eleven 10 had most of the best elements that have survived to the present incarnation. Fast, fluid, attacking football, a combative tackling mechanic and a slew of new tricks and flicks. To go along with the ever present official Japanese strip, the England National team were now decked out in their official kit as well as other nations. The Xbox version even had next generation high-definition graphics and this would be the last version before Pro Evo made the transition to PS3.
There was no Pro Evo 7, the next installment would arrive in 2007 and the naming convention changed into what remains to this day - Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 or PES 2008. This was the first version to debut on PS3, but still remained on PS2 and the other consoles. High definition graphics enhanced the gaming experience and PES started to move away from FIFA in the player likenesses stakes, although at the same time the complacency led to FIFA closing the gap and it was around these years that FIFA for the first time started to achieve higher review scores, as ironically, it was likened to the PES game play of old.
Even though many things improved, PES games started to struggle during the versions 2008-2012. Improvements in graphics, master league, competitions, licenses and online play, were negated by fussy changes to game play, that made Pro Evo harder, but sometimes less fun. It seemed that the game almost had a cheat mode in player versus computer games on harder skill levels, as it could be almost impossible to win the ball back or keep it against the computer. Keepers would inexplicably parry weak shots straight back out to unmarked strikers for easy tap ins and referees could be incredibly harsh, sending players off for minor offences, whereas it seemed computer controlled players could get away with murder!
The last few years have been repeated 'overhaul' fixes for PES as they've tried to regain top spot. Shingo Takatsuka known as 'Seabass' has come up with multiple buzz words every year as Pro Evo innovates and pushes the limits of the high-definition consoles and what PS3 And XBOX 360 can handle. The online play has improved on PS3 as it struggled at first to catch up to the online system XBOX had in place and now the edit modes, coupled with the skill and efficiency of PES fans means that the lack of licenses is almost irrelevant.
PES games will have their latest blockbuster out in October 2012 and by all accounts, online rumours and playable demos, PES is back. The review scores were close to FIFA last year and although the FIFA machine now exudes a high level of polish and superb game play, if PES 2013 regains some of that magic from the mid noughties, it'll be top dog again this autumn.
In this second part of my PES history article I have written about the changes in PES games and how the game has evolved into the high-definition era of PS3 and XBOX.