Konami's soccer offering for the PlayStation 2, ESPN MLS ExtraTime--essentially a reworked and renamed relative of International Superstar Soccer--will be making its way to stores relatively soon, and we had the chance to sit down and play the latest revision of the game. While the game has improved over the earlier version we previewed in December and includes a few previously unavailable options, the game is still plagued by an undue number of problems.
There are five game modes in ESPN MLS ExtraTime. Match mode is essentially a one-shot versus mode in which two players can square off or one player can take on the computer. Season mode, as the name implies, lets you play through a team's entire season. There is also cup mode, for those who would rather bypass the season entirely and go for the championship immediately. In the scenario mode, you are presented with specific actions to accomplish, such as scoring one goal and assisting with another in the latter half of a game to pull one of your jaded soccer players out of a slump. Finally, there is the obligatory training mode in which you can familiarize yourself with the controls and other nuances of the game.
Once the mode of play is selected, the teams are presented. All of the MLS teams make an appearance, as do a total of 53 international teams identified only by country, due to a lack of the necessary licensing for specific international teams. Despite what reality might tell you, the MLS teams in the game are actually on a level with some of the best international teams and exceed many of them as well.
Where in the earlier build we saw you were unable to customize the strategies and actions of specific players or positions, you now have the option to adjust the aggressiveness or defensiveness of each player and position or leave them neutral and at the mercy of the typically wooden AI. There are also a number of options for adjusting your game strategy, including the nine on-the-fly strategies mentioned in the earlier preview (left, right, and middle attack, offside trap, zone press, counterattack, center back overlap, change sides, and opposite side attack).
You have three options for time of day: noon, evening, or night. And you have three options for the weather: clear, cloudy, or rainy. You can also select two types of jerseys for your team: home or away. There are also a fair number of stadiums in which to play, mostly in the US. Whether or not you will be able to unlock additional stadiums, such as a few international stadiums, remains to be seen.
All of this adds up to what would seem to be a respectable soccer outing on the PS2, but once you're in the game, things start to get a little iffy. The most glaring of the problems is the difficult control. The game just plain feels unresponsive. The AI seems to have a hard time letting go, such as when you switch active players. We could see the player twitch when it came under our control, but then the control seemed to fade, and it was unclear whether we were playing as that player or fighting with the AI over control of the player. In addition, the long pass is rather difficult to control. After tapping the button, a meter appears for a split second, which controls the altitude and distance of the ball after it's been kicked. The meter starts at the lowest level and rapidly cycles up to the highest; you will need to have excellent timing and nimble fingers to pull off the desired kick. As a result, there will be many soccer balls kicked well out of bounds or several feet over the top of the goal.
The sound is also pretty thin, consisting mostly of the announcer, sounds from the crowd, and the thumping of your foot on the ball. The graphics for the game are nothing to brag about, but they aren't exceptionally bad either. If you're looking for a game that looks as good as, say, FIFA 2001, you won't find it here.
With the announced release date looming, this game is looking pretty sketchy. The options are all there, but the game lacks the polish that is needed before it should hit store shelves. Let's hope that Konami steps up the production and addresses some of the problems in this game before release, or this one may end up dead on arrival.