ISS 3 was Konami’s attempt at providing a more arcade-focused football-em-up over the more simulation-based Pro Evolution Soccer series that it also had out on the market at the same time. ISS 3 has more in common with the likes of Super Sidekicks on the Neo Geo and SEGA’s Virtua Soccer than it does its cousin PES, with an emphasis on getting the ball up the pitch as quickly as possible. It’s a game tailored to those who just want a relatively straightforward kick about, and on that front, it mostly succeeds.
ISS 3 does have some officially licensed player names but only for certain selected sides. England, for instance, have a full quotient of officially licensed players, with commentator Jon Champion reading them out during the game, whilst other nations, like the Netherlands, have a collection of altered names for their roster of players. I’m not sure if this was down to the individual football associations being difficult or Konami just scrimping on the fees they were willing to pay, but it leads to a disappointing case of haves or have nots that makes playing as certain sides less enjoyable than others.
From a graphical perspective, the stadiums look good, but the players bare only the minimum resemblance to their real life counterparts most of the time. Considering that the list of teams on offer here is hardly gargantuan when compared to a game like FIFA, you could be forgiven for expecting a bit more effort in the player models, especially as there were already better ones available in other football games from the same time period. Players are animated well enough, and the stadiums do have an impressive sense of atmosphere, especially in the night games when smoke from flares fill the air. It’s not all negative from a presentation point of view, but it could have definitely been better with some more effort and care.
When it comes to gameplay, there are aspects that I like and others that I don’t. The button configuration will be familiar to anyone who has played a PES game before, but certain tweaks made especially for ISS 3 make it worse for me, most notably when it comes to the passing mechanics. Whereas in PES you can pretty much pass in any direction, and the ball will generally go to the nearest player in that direction, ISS 3 goes with something different. An icon will appear above a teammate’s head, and your pass will only go to that particular player, with you having to wait for it to change if you want to pass it elsewhere.
This means that you will sometimes keep turning and waiting for the marker to go to the player you actually want to pass to, which all but eliminates the possibility of playing a satisfying possession-based passing game. To play that sort of game, you need to know that you can pass the ball to whom you want when you want, which isn’t possible when you have to wait for the marker to switch to the player you want to pass to. I don’t know what the obsession is with arcade football games when it comes to dismantling the passing mechanics, but so many of them choose to do it. It baffles me why they assume that players of this genre won’t ever want to pass the ball. Granted, your average arcade player isn’t going to be making nice triangles like Barcelona, but they probably will still want to pass it now and then. Even if they don’t, that’s still not an excuse to ruin passing for everyone else.
As a result of the decimation of the passing mechanics in ISS 3, you will often find that the best tactic is to just bomb it down the wing and indulge in the “beat your man” feature, which sees you pressing a button and engaging in a one-on-one battle with the opposing defender. Win that and you will send the defender spinning out of control, which will likely set you up nicely for either a cross or a foray into the area for a shot. I won’t deny that at first it’s fun to take part in these duels, but after a certain point, I just found it tiresome. What I like about football games is being able to choose how I want to take it to the opposition, with different tactics and playing styles being a big part of the fun. In ISS 3 I often felt like I was being shoehorned into playing the game a certain way, which hampered my enjoyment.
ISS 3 also has a weird tendency to book the human controller player for every foul committed, however severe a foul it is, whilst almost never booking the computer-controlled players. The computer can do everything short of shooting you with a bazooka, and not only will they not get booked, the ref often won’t even give it as a foul. Meanwhile, a small niggling foul in a nowhere part of the pitch will see the ref dispense yellow cards to the human players like free candy. The refs in this game are worse than Mark Clattenburg in a Merseyside Derby! It would infuriate me to find myself down to 10 or even 9 men for nothing fouls, whilst the computer could practically behead one of my players, only for the ref to wave play on.
I personally expect a home console game to fulfill a certain standard of both gameplay and presentation, and ISS 3 doesn’t deliver on those standards for me. However, for those that just want a more basic kick about, you will probably find this gives you what you want. Any recommendation for ISS 3 would depend on the personal preferences of the potential player. If arcade thrills are your jam, and you don’t really care about simulation, then ISS 3 will probably entertain you, but if you actually want a game of football, then pick up PES instead.