ISS Pro Evolution is a soccer game for the Sony PlayStation, released in 1999 by Konami and developed by KCET, described as "The best football game ever made" by Computer and Video Games magazine. I agree wholeheartedly, although it should be noted that ISS is a football-playing game (i.e. you control the players on the pitch), not a management game. The title of best football game ever on the management side of things obviously goes to Championship Manager 3 and it's sequels. But that's a whole 'nother node.

So what makes ISS so great, you ask? Well...

  • It's a simulation game, rather than an arcade game such as EA's FIFA series, the main contender to the football gaming crown. This means that it is a lot harder to get into than most other football games, but it is also much more rewarding. There is no scripted ball movement, i.e. the ball does not stick to player's feet. If you've played FIFA, you'll know what I mean. Also all the player animations are very realistic and always flow together well.

  • There is a decent physics engine in the game which means that the ball and player movement is very realistic. The ball curves through the air depending on which way it is spinning, and bounces off the pitch and players in appropriate ways. This makes for some interesting goals, such as when a shot rebounds off a goalpost, hits the keeper in the back (he was diving across to save), and goes in. In most other games I have seen, the ball touching the keeper anywhere would mean it would instantly end up safe and sound in his arms.

  • There are so many ways to score. In most football games, there are one or two reliable ways to score a goal, and scoring any other way is very hard. However in ISS, you can score with a blistering shot from 30 meters out with the outside of your foot, or with a diving header in the six yard box, or by running past the defence with your pacy striker, sending the keeper the wrong way with a dummy, and effectively walking the ball in. That's apart from the scissors kicks, chips, free kicks, volleys, bicycle kicks, etc... I'm not saying it's easy to score all the different types of goal, and there are certainly some ways that are easier than others, but play enough and you should be able to score most of them. You can save the replays of your goals to show off to your friends that one time you dribbled through the whole defence with one player and smacked the ball into the top corner :)

  • Formation really makes a difference. You can choose from virtually any formation for your team, or create your own, and set various strategies such as counter-attacking and offside trap. These really do make a difference when playing, unlike most other games I can think of. You can also tell individual players how to mark the opposition, and whether to concentrate on attack or defence. Another feature is form, which indicates before a match how well a player is likely to perform so you can make the appropriate substitutions (Each team has 22 players so you can usually play with a reasonable 11).

  • Plenty of game modes. You can play a one-off friendly match, a full 30-match league, or any of 5 major international cups (World Cup, European Championship, Copa America, African Cup of Nations and the Asian Cup). There is also a fully-featured practice mode, custom cups and leagues, and, of course, the Master League. ISS supports the multitap so you can play with up to 4 people in any combination (great fun)

  • Master League. In this mode, you enter a league of club teams, starting off with a team of 22 pretty basic players. However, you receive points, 4 for a draw, 8 for a win and extra points for the goals you score. These points can then be used to buy any player in the game for your team. So if you've ever wanted to see Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, Edgar Davids and David Beckham play together (just like those Nike ads!), well, now you can. You can also load your master league team for showing off in an exhibition match.

  • But wait, there's more! Upon winning the world cup, you will receive the All Star teams. There are two of these, the European All Stars, 22 of the best players from Europe, and the World All Stars, the best players from the rest of the world. And, when you win the International League, you get the Classic All Stars. Again there is a European and World version, but these are all players who are not available anywhere else in the game, such as Maradona, Pele, Garrincha, Zico, Eric Cantona, Bobby Charlton, Marco Van Basten and Eusebio. You can then buy these players in master league mode to create the ultimate football team.
A few notes about teams and players:
There is not a huge amount of teams in the game, about 60 international teams, and 15 club teams only playable through the master league. Also Konami did not pay licensing fees for the player's names, so all the names are slightly misspelt. The game does offer a name editing feature to fix that though. You can also edit or create up to 22 players if you feel your national team or favourite player is not represented fairly, or is out of date (as is likely to be the case).

Player statistics and attributes
Each player has the basic attributes of height, weight, and whether they are right or left footed (or both) as well as their favoured playing position. In addition they have 14 statistics which determine what they are good at:

  • Attack: How good they are at, well..attacking
  • Defence: Go on, have a guess.
  • Strength: How likely they are to shrug off a tackle or push past a defender
  • Stamina: How much running around they can do before falling over in a heap. (Note: they don't actually fall in a heap, just slow down a lot when exhausted)
  • Speed: How fast they can run
  • Acceleration: How quickly they can get up to full speed from standing, and also how fast they react to situtations.
  • Jumping: How high they can jump for the purpose of heading the ball, or how well they can dive for shots, if they are a goalkeeper.
  • Heading Accuracy: How well they can head the ball, either into the goal or to another player.
  • Shot Power: How hard they can shoot.
  • Shot Accuracy: How likely a shot is to be on target.
  • Pass Accuracy: How accurate their passes are, especially long passes and through balls.
  • Dribbling: How close the ball stays to their feet when dribbling, how quickly they can change direction with the ball, and how well they can control the ball upon receiving a pass.
  • Swerve: How much swerve or dip they can put on a shot/cross/long pass.
  • Technique: This seems to vaguely affect everything a player does. The higher this stat is, the better the player in general.
These statistics range in value from 1 to 9, 9 being the best. 7 indicates decent ability in that field, while 5 or lower means you better not be relying on them too much for that one thing.

The controls for a player with the ball are:

  • X button: Short pass. Hold down the L1 button and press X to execute a one-two.
  • Square button: Shoot if in the opposing teams half of the pitch (a shot power bar will appear, hold down to increase power), or clear the ball up the pitch if in your own half. Hold down L1 and press square to attempt to chip the opposing goalkeeper if he strays from his line.
  • Circle button: Long pass (power bar again), or cross the ball into the box if you're in an appropriate position. You can double tap circle for a short cross. Hold down L1 and press circle for a one-two where the return pass is a lob.
  • Triangle button: Through pass. This hits the ball ahead of a player so they can run onto it. Very handy for piercing defences. Hold L1 and press triangle to execute a lob through pass.
And the controls for a player without the ball are:
  • X: Attempt to tackle player with the ball.
  • Square: Get a teammate to tackle player with the ball.
  • Circle: Do a sliding tackle at the player with the ball.
  • Triangle: Bring your keeper out of his goal in an attempt to get the ball (dangerous, watch out for chips!)
When the ball is in the air, Square will attempt to head or volley (or possibly even bicycle kick, if you're lucky) the ball towards goal, or head the ball up the pitch if in your own half, while X will head the ball to a teammate. Holding down R1 will cause your player to run, however, be careful, as it is hard to turn when running with the ball. Tapping L1 without the ball will change the player you are controlling, although this is done automatically with a fair degree of intelligence. Finally, holding L2 or R2 and pressing the other buttons allows for tactics and strategy to be changed on the fly.

So, convinced yet? No? Well, if you have a PS1 or a PS2, and are even mildly interested in football, you need this game! However please note that if you have a PS2, you will need a PS1 memory card to save your data. Another thing to watch out for is that there is game with the name ISS for the PS2, but this was not developed by the same people, and is not as good. There are also several other PS1 games with ISS in the name, but ISS Pro Evolution is the one you want (no really, you do). Accept No Substitutes! There's no excuse really for not having this game, as it is available cheaply in the Platinum range of games, and probably even cheaper if you can find a pre-owned copy.

Update, April '04: The current best sequel to this game, made by the same developers, is Pro Evolution Soccer 3 (Europe)/Winning Eleven 7 (Japan/US), on PS2.

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