Pro Evolution Soccer 4
Every lunchtime for as long as many of us can remember, the latest incarnation of Pro Evo has been feverishly cranked up, with cursing and recriminations proving a major part of the daily schedule. Able to induce fury like no other, everyone has their ready-made excuses, with Woods once going so far as to claim that a goal scored against him was scripted".
Until last year, to get a game of Pro Evo the sage boffins of PC had to endure a visit to console corner, elbowing the drooling children off of their beloved PS2. That all changed with the inaugural PC release, and we now have our own shiny copies of PES3, replete with Clear-O-Vision graphics. We still have to nick the joypads off the console kids, but you can't have everything.
What you can have at the end of this year is Pro Evolution Soccer 4, the annual update again pencilled in for the PC (along with the perennial PS2 version plus an Xbox debut). Suffice it to say that a ripple of excitement went around the office on hearing the news.
Seabass And Chips
Naturally, the question was soon raised of how Konami could improve on perfection. For starters, it could ask commentator Peter Brackley to stop saying finding it hard to win the aerial battle there" every 30 seconds. And it could shell out the money for proper club and stadium names. It could also tone down the infuriating morale' system that occasionally makes it almost impossible to pass the ball to one of your players after letting in a couple of goals. And of course, the Holy Grail, it could get the bastard playable online. . Unfortunately, we have no information on any of the above, H although we will be making hourly calls to Konami until it spills the beans. What we do know is that the legendary Shingo Seabass' Takatsuka and his team are claiming that Pro Evolution Soccer 4 marks a quantum leap forward for both the Pro Evolution franchise and the football genre as a whole.
More More More
It's a bold claim, but we've been playing the game since the MegaDrive, and amazingly they do get better each time. For PES4, we're promised greater speed and control, as well as a wealth of new moves and tricks. As for dead ball situations, new free kick and penalty techniques are being introduced, along with an innovative' indirect free kick move.
What's more, the individuality of players is being enhanced, and extended stats will cover such skills as bringing a high or fast ball under control, hitting it first time past an encroaching defender, or flicking it on to a team-mate. A new dribbling system is also being implemented, while crosses and cut-backs will be more precise. Aesthetic improvements include such subtleties as the appearance of a ref on the pitch, and the fact that kits will become caked in shit as the match progresses. Throw in more teams, an enhanced Master League and a saveable My Best Eleven side, and you could say that we're very excited indeed.
Download Pro Evolution Soccer 4
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Despite Leeds Utd wallowing in Championship mid-table mediocrity, my passion for football remains constant, bordering on a psychotic obsession. Anyone who doesn't support a team can't understand why fans stay in on Saturday afternoons watching Ceefax, or spend hours in the pub discussing tactics, transfers, goals and gossip with their mates.
So, it's with this in mind that I state the following - Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer 4 is the best footie action game ever made. Fact. Anyone who disagrees is simply wrong, has never actually played PES4 or is an EA Sports representative. Even though the latest version of the game is by no means perfect, no other soccer sim comes within a Cantona karate kick of its glorious net-bursting magnificence.
It's difficult to pinpoint exactly why PES is such a superb representation of the beautiful game, but the magic definitely starts with Konami TYO's very Japanese philosophy of always being 'truthful' with the behaviour of the ball. Unlike other titles that concentrate on the player models and likenesses first, then work on how to introduce the ball later. PES begins with the ball physics and then builds the rest of the game around the realistic movement of the leather sphere.
As a result, you get uncannily realistic and unpredictable football matches, packed with skilful midfield build-ups, spectacular long-distance shots, dashing runs with close-control, deft chips and frenetic goalmouth scrambles.
Pro Evolution Soccer 4 has numerous improvements since 2003's first iteration on the PC. Competing with the megabucks of EA's FIFA title for the official licences has always been a problem for PES, but even though it still lacks the all-important Premiership signatures (Merseyside Blue = Everton, for example), there are licences for the Italian, Spanish and Dutch leagues. Some of the teams are badly out-of-date, however, so slapper-fan Rooney is still at Everton, and slapheaded Zidane is still playing for the French national side. | In any case, you can usually scour the Net for a home-made update patch soon after release to get access to the proper names of clubs and players. In total, PES4 now gives you access to over 180 club and national sides, and 4,500 players, including those cool unlockable 'classic' teams, for players such as erectile dysfunction publicist Pele. i Other cosmetic changes include an on-screen referee, improved commentary from Brackley and Brooking, no more handball decisions, the ability to set up your own custom league and various additional cut-scene animations - some good (players squaring up to each other after a bad foul), some pointless (putting the ball down on the corner spot).
Injuries to players now result in them being carried off the pitch for treatment, which adds moments of great tension to important games, as you nervously await news of your player's health while your team is temporarily reduced to ten men. Seconds later, the magic sponge will either have done its job, with the player returning to the match, or leaving in an ambulance with his teeth in a plastic bag.
However, it's in the actual gameplay where you notice the real improvements over PES3. More motion-captured animations has resulted in smoother and pacier action, with quicker reactions and turns from players, better first-touches and flick-ons, more accurate passing and through-balls, and specific skills for certain stars, such as Cristiano Ronaldo's step-overs. Improved Al means that players are now less likely to blindly chase the ball into the corners of the pitch too, and instead look for space and produce more intelligent off-the-ball runs.
What's more, games are more physical, with additional hustle and bustle between attackers and defenders for possession of the ball, and frantic manoeuvring in the box to win headers. If anything, it's more difficult to score one-on-one against the keeper, so you have to either master the chip shot, or pass to a better-placed team-mate. Unfortunately, throw-ins have become a little erratic, dumping the 3D view and introducing a fiddly system that often means you mistakenly gift the ball to the opposition.
Also, the pesky morale system - based on home and away status and the mentality of players - is still here, and can cause much gnashing of teeth if Brazil start playing like a Sunday league pub team when they go 2-0 down, misplacing passes and tripping over the ball.
Match Of The Day
PES4 has oodles of singleplayer options, including cup competitions, leagues and the addictive Champ Man/RPG-style 'Master League' (see 'Masterful', above). There's also a more comprehensive training mode, with useful tips and mini-games, such as free-kick practice and ball-dribbling time challenges.
Multiplayer is where you enjoy the most fun and longevity though, and as well as crowding around your PC monitor with up to eight other players, you can now challenge a friend to a match over a LAN. The fact that Konami has decided to ignore online play yet again however (apparently it was too expensive and time-consuming to do) is extremely annoying, especially when the Xbox version comes complete with Live compatibility. This is the reason we couldn't award PES4 'Classic' status.
Yet, despite our grumbling, this is arcade football action of the highest calibre. PES4 is simply exhilarating, producing breathlessly exciting matches and different styles of goals, from tap-ins to 20-yard screamers that'll have you punching the air and running around the room in celebration. I've said it before, but PES4 just feels like real football - other games aren't fit to clients boots.
I Used to play football for Kenilworth Working Mens' Club (as good as it got for me), and every now and again this kid used to turn up and referee. A kid. Refereeing. Which is quite obviously incorrect. If you like football and you're young enough, you play - even if you're rubbish. Which is why I've never understood footy management games.
On your PC, you can score goals for your country even if you're rubbish and/or old. Why would you want to spend hours pouring over stats when you can pick the ball up, dribble past a few defenders and stick it in the top corner of the net? Why? And don't talk about realism, because since Pro Evolution was converted to the PC last year, that argument is a fallacy.
The good news is that on early inspection, PES 4 actually improves things. Hard to believe if you've played and loved the game, but it's true. Cosmetics have been brushed up, with some brilliant animations and a few annoying ones (putting the ball down for a comer? No thanks...). Plus, there's now an on-screen referee who does very little (apart from ignoring the stupid handball rule that was introduced in Pro Evolution Soccer 3).
PES 4 also includes three officially licensed leagues (Dutch, Spanish and Italian, but sadly not the English), an improved Master League campaign and a recognisable figurehead in the form of Thierry Henry. But this is in danger of sounding like a FIFA preview. PES has never been about the lip-gloss - it's about the way the game plays.
And once again it looks like Konami has got it spot-on. If you've played PES before, you'll know it's extremely difficult to explain why it's such a good game. In the same way that you can't tell someone how to play the game well (you just have to learn it for yourself over time), it's extremely hard to get down in black and white the subtle improvements that have been made.
Simply, the game feels more balanced, more exciting and slightly faster, with more end-to-end play. The real magic comes in the way you lose yourself completely for ten minutes, the way you stand-up and run round the room after a particularly brilliant goal, the foul language that accompanies every game like a foul stench, and the fact that no other game has ever come close to playing like a real game of football.
In PES 4, it's easier to play controlled passes, pull-backs from the byeline work much better and your other players seem more aware of where you are and where they should be to get the ball. Throw-ins are still hugely annoying though, and it's still extremely hard to score from a direct free-kick. However, there's more of an emphasis on dribbling, something that was missing from the previous version.
Game Of Two Halves
There are still a few things we're not happy about though. It's hard to believe that a bunch of programmers that can code the best game of football in the world can't spare five minutes to knock up a dedicated PC interface. It's harder to create a custom team than it is to dribble straight from kick-off and score.
Then there's the questionable morale system, which overly punishes you if you go a goal or two down in a match. More sinister is the fact that PES 4 on Xbox is going to be online-enabled, but to date there's no word from Konami about the PC. It makes no sense - games like this don't work so well on the PC because a PC isn't a social beast, unlike a console and a sofa. If online code is up and running for Xbox, there's only one reason why Konami won't get it running on the PC as well. We'll withhold judgment, but we're going to be unimpressed if online play is pushed as a console exclusive.
But obviously, this is still preview code and there's still time to iron out the last few creases. And if the criticisms sound harsh, I'd like to reiterate that PES has, and probably always will be, the best conversion of the best sport in the world. I moan because I know it so well and I want it to be perfect - if you like football, there's no other choice. Give me online play though, and I'll die a happy man.