Sports booths are typically unremarkable. EA's sports booths are usually in stifling glass boxes containing little more than the demo kiosks. Konami had a great idea for Pro Evolution Soccer, though: Make it a pub.
Outside of the ceiling, which is non-existent, the Pro Evolution Soccer booth looks just like a classy little pub, complete with wooden walls, counters, and televisions arranged as they would be in a real bar. There are even drinks. Bartenders will get you a beer or a mixed drink, and you can sit down, take a break, and enjoy PES as you would real soccer.
In the midst of a typically insane E3 in which all you're doing is running from appointment to appointment, the Pro Evolution Soccer booth is a godsend. What's more, it captures the warmth and communal enjoyment that I associate with watching sports. It puts you in the right frame of mind to enjoy the sim.
Of course, it helps that Pro Evolution Soccer is looking really great this year. I've been harsh on the series before, acknowledging the strong midfield play and A.I., but decrying its slow loading times, sluggish menus, poor career mode design, and lack of licenses. I went in expecting more of the same this year, but this year's version is markedly smoother than before. While the menus are still utilitarian at best, they run so much faster, which impacts the pace of the entire experience.
The actual players look better, too. Everything seems to animate more smoothly, and the player collisions feel robust and physical. The game I played, a 1-0 loss to Roma, was a rough and tumble affair, with some great saves and tackles on either side. I came away really impressed, feeling for the first time that PES might truly deserve some of the plaudits it's been getting from fans and press who have grown bored with FIFA.
But I really wanted to highlight the booth, because I think there's something for developers to learn there. Too often sports sims are cold, mechanical, and utilitarian, capturing none of the inherent humanity of the games they represent. They are designed to resemble television broadcasts, but I feel none of the warmth of sitting in a pub with a friend and watching the game.
Pro Evolution Soccer has a long way to go on that front, as its presentation is more basic than most. But with their pub booth, Konami has come surprisingly close to figuring out what's missing in the presentation of most sports games. I wonder if they realize it.