Pro Evolution Soccer Management PS2 Review

Most football management sims leave a lot to the imagination. You pick the teams, adjust training schedules, and scour the transfer market for new talent, all the time convinced that complete world domination is just one small tactical tweak away. But when it comes to actually watching the games, you’re lucky to get a 2D pitch with a load of wobbly coloured dots.

Pro Evolution Soccer Management is very different. While the PES 5 match engine lends a real authenticity to events on the pitch, when it comes to gameplay any realism goes straight out the window.

During the bewildering opening section, you pick yourself a suit, haircut and football team from any of the six featured European leagues. You meet the club chairman, are unveiled to the press and get to choose an assistant, head coach and scouts. This small staff then essentially control the club under your increasingly restless eye.

While your scouts search out players and negotiate transfers, your coach studies the next opponent, explains their style of play and makes recommendations about how to deal with them. You can simply sit and watch. In fact, unless you specify otherwise, these recommendations will overwrite any tactical changes you might have spent ages sorting out.

The gameplay is repetitive: a sign pops up on screen to tell you something has happened. Press ‘X’. The relevant assistant pops up and says the same thing they said last time (typed letter by letter at the bottom of the screen at excruciatingly slow speed). Press ‘X’ until they disappear. Keep pressing ‘X’ until the whole dreary episode is over and a sign pops up on screen to tell you something else has happened. Again. You soon begin hammering the ‘X’ button through these tedious and totally one-sided conversations

With a menu system so clunky you can get stuck with no obvious way out in some sub-menu backwater, it’s a relief to finally get to the match screen. And when everything goes right on the pitch, it’s brilliant to watch. A last minute extra-time goal to send you through to the next round in Europe? Oh yes. You’ll soon be surrounded by scraps of paper filled with scribbled formations and line ups. Until you start to wonder whether it really makes any difference.

Though every team has their own formation, players and tactics, they all play pretty much exactly the same way. And despite there being more tactical variations and depth here than in any instalment of PES soccer, there is no way to stop a striker receiving the ball onside, behind the defence, and with only the goalkeeper to beat, heading the ball back towards the halfway line, or, with your left winger and striker stood unmarked in the penalty box, to tell your right winger to stop fannying around trying to beat the full back over and over again. It soon becomes clear that you’re really just watching the AI play itself, and it’s got no eye for a pass.

Where there are good ideas – and there are some great ones: retraining players to play in different positions; players beginning every game with full energy but accumulating fatigue, which affects their stamina and, eventually, their performance; and the group tactics which let you decide how the rest of the team should play off your most creative players – they are totally wasted in PES management.

Even if you can ignore there being only one league from each country, games being only 10 minutes long, and that a lot of the players, most of the teams, and almost all of the managers, leagues, cup competitions and staff have silly made-up names, PES management’s simple and overriding failure is that it never allows you to feel like you’re in control of a football team.

In the end, it’s not about how good the games look, it’s about how involved you are. When you’re playing Football Manager, with it’s simple 2D game engine, every now and then you might think, ‘These are just little dots moving about on the screen. It’s not real.’ But not very often. With PES Management, even though all the players’ faces look the way they should and every match is rendered in beautiful 3D, you are always aware that it’s only a game.