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Pro Evolution Soccer 4

Pro Evolution Soccer has been the daddy of football games since the original came out way back when. Its friendly and addictive charms made it stand tall above the rest, which is why it has become so successful today.

So there I was, standing close to the opposing team's net. I was ready for a decent set up from my England chums and Beckham passed it to the ever-so handsome Rooney, who then gave it a powerful kick, landing the ball in my control. It all went quiet for a moment; the crowd was silent and you could have sliced the atmosphere with a knife. The crowd could feel it in their bones, with their football sixth sense, that I was about to score. Suddenly, the opposing country - who will remain unnamed for now - came to tackle me like an angry farmer would tackle a straying sheep; should I go left? Or right? It was to be a split second decision.

Instead I decided to play a little bit of trickery that even magicians like Copperfield and Daniels would be proud of. I passed it back to my handsome friend Rooney, who then passed it back to me straight away. Three seconds seemed to turn into thirty, as my perception of time began to slow down, then the moment was here; I shot the ball toward the net - this was it. The crowd began to stand, my jaw started to drop, the noise level of the crowd rose as my TV's volume was pumped right up, but all this was insignificant when the ball hit the back of the net. The feeling of scoring that wining goal for England was amazing and even though it was "only a game", the feeling of elation was amazing, with friends watching and my sisters laughing at my deep involvement in the game. The other players of England came up to me, shook my hand, jumped on my back and cheered in glee.

In reality, the above only lasted about five seconds in the game but what if I told you that every goal felt that good? What if I was to say that the reality of your surroundings becomes obscured and the only thing that matters is the marvel that is named Pro Evolution? The game had already scored a perfect goal in my final verdict net and from the first 15 minutes of play I could tell that Pro Evolution Soccer 4 was everything I hoped it would be. And the best was still to come.

click to view screenshotFirst of all I dived straight into the action with a single player quick start. I picked a team, picked an opposing team, twiddled about with a few options and then I was ready to go. It was the perfect way for me to get into the action straight away and it was probably the best way to learn how to play - although I must say, the tutorial is equally as good. However, in most cases I like to jump in the deep end and find out for myself. I felt a 10-minute quick start blast would set me in good stead for the modes to come.

The gameplay itself is amazing and, as far as football games go, this is the best. Everything feels so smooth, the players move so fluidly and the ball moves like a prowling, elegant cat. The game oozes quality; passing the ball between characters feels superb and tapping the button soft or hard reflects on how far the ball actually goes. You can only control one character at a time, so if you've got the ball you will be controlling the player with the ball, until you pass it to another player, then you'll assume the role of him and so on. However, the other characters are always where you want them and if they aren't, then you can always press the strategy button, which should alert the computer characters to what you are trying to do. This button highlights a player that you can pass to on the map, so it helps you a lot in making quick decisions. The map at the bottom of the screen plays a big part in the game too. At first I thought the map was just a fad, but it's very useful for seeing where the other players are and which direction to pass in. The map definitely makes the gameplay more enjoyable.

The players move in style, especially when controlling the ball. And when you're weaving in and out of Brazilians and doubling back on yourself, making it hard for them to tackle you, it all looks great, it feels realistic and it lets you assume the true roll of the character you are playing. Each character seems to have their own special controls based around dribbling; press a button when you are being tackled and you may move differently depending on the situation. I really love this feature. I'd better pass the ball to the other side now and talk about defence.

It may sound stupid to say, but I love defending and I actually prefer being without the ball. Now obviously you cannot win without it, but tackling opposing teams is fun and exciting. Sliding tackles, pressured tackles and clearance tackles are here for your pleasure and when you tackle the ball from a player successfully it feels so satisfying. I love running alongside a rival, gaining a little bit of speed with the sprint button and then sliding in front of him, kicking the ball, consequently resulting in one of my team members gaining possession. Of course, sometimes tackles can go wrong and they often result in a foul if you do not execute them correctly. But when I get annoyed at the other players, I'll run at them full force and execute a sliding tackle to trip them up and just like the real thing, sometimes you can get away with it too…

The whole interface of PES4 is simple but effective. It's not an overcrowded menu system with fancy overwhelming colours; in fact, it's an efficient, bright white menu of clearly drawn icons, the purpose of which are easily obvious. For example, what do you think an icon with red cones is? Well, if you don't know, there's no need to fear because in a large font it alerts you to what that icon does and underneath is a nice description of the mode you are about to select. The red cone is the Training mode if you haven't guessed already. A simple description for this mode reads "This mode allows you to train at your level" and it does exactly what it says too. This simplistic icon driven menu works very well in my eyes and it's another goal in my verdict net.

If you leave the menu idle you'll see some lovely full motion video footage of teams playing, with beautiful goals and slow motion effects to really get you in the mood. It's probably worth mentioning that when you score a goal you'll be able to replay that goal however you choose. It's a very unique replay system but its one of the best I've come across in any sports game - that is if you don't count the previous Evolution releases. You can slow down the footage; control the speed, rotate the camera, pan in and out and switch the camera to view from almost any angle - including zoomed in on the ball or zoomed in on any of the involved players.

Let's talk modes then. As I mentioned above, there is a tutorial mode that allows you to train accordingly. Learn basic controls, basic moves, advance challenges that test you to the maximum, situation training to learn some fancy moves to make your opponents sulk and free training where you can set up scenarios. Next on the list is Match mode, where you can start a 1 player or 2 player game quickly, or take your time to set up an Exhibition mode for a one-off match. There's even a penalty shoot-out mode here, which can only be described as great fun. All the match modes can be played with a friend or three and you can even let the computer take control of some of the men. It's handy to let the computer control some defence, while you go ahead and attack. Playing with a friend really does intensify the game a lot - don't get me wrong, the single player is fantastic, but there's nothing like sharing the experience with a drunken mate.

Why not play in the Cup Mode? There are three cups to choose from - an international cup, a regional cup and the Konami cup - with unique customisations for each one. Once you've done customising the format of the tournament you can choose how many teams and what teams will participate. After that you're on your way. Before each match you have the option to save, view data and change settings such as match length, quit and obviously play. It's nice that they let you change the length of the match, so you can have a nice long match or a short match depending on how you feel. You can also mess around with the difficulty settings, so if you originally set the difficulty too hard or too easy you can find your own happy medium.

Next on the list is League mode, which allows you to select from seven leagues and play a robin round tournament. There's even an International League within this mode that lets you determine the participating leagues and numbers of players. Select your league to participate in, select a team and then can tweak things before you start playing, such as formation, time and difficulty. After this you're ready to start the match and work your way up. I picked the England league where I could then pick teams from London to Lancashire - it's nice to see teams so close to home.

Probably the main mode of the game is Master League and I simply cannot get enough of this beauty. It's a mode where you can create a team from scratch by searching for talent, training your boys up and entering them into a division. As you get better and start to win more often you will receive money to buy new players and generally make your team better so they can stand up to more formidable teams. I spent a long time picking people for my team and creating my own strip. There is quite a cool editor that allows you to colour your shirt and shorts, make a pattern for your shirt or even create your own emblem and flag, plus there's a lot more that you can do than that. I don't want to dive in too deep though, because I have to leave some things for you to discover yourself. You can also select pre-made teams and if you are new to all this then you might be best off diving straight into the action by choosing one of them. Manage either a pre-made team or a custom-made team, then get good and eventually win the championship! It's great fun!

click to view screenshotWithout sounding like a cheesy telesales advert I have to say "but wait there's more!" How about the editor that allows you to make players and teams? Or the Pro Evolution shop where you can buy anything from new difficulty levels to new stadiums and new appearance settings for team members to a feature that lets you play twice as fast in a match? There are lots of things to buy but they all come at a price. You need to earn PES points by winning matches in any mode and then once you've saved up you can blow it on anything you want. This is a lovely quality that really adds to the reply value.

The graphics aren't mind blowing and if you're going to compare them with the FIFA games then you're probably going to be disappointed. Pro Evolution's graphics have improved since the last release but they still cannot compete with FIFA. However, Pro Evolution teaches us the valuable lesson that gameplay can overcome graphical deficiencies any day of the week. And if you've read the above then this is apparent. The graphics are above average though and as long as you're not constantly comparing I'm sure you'll still be really impressed. I like the natural, flowing movement of the players when they are controlling the ball and I love the opening scenes. Some of the characters' faces are spot on - Rooney is a spitting image - while others seem a bit alien but you don't see the players' faces that often anyway. The full motion videos are fantastic, as are the replays. Without comparing to the competition, I am impressed with the graphics in their own right.

The audio is also good too, with some nice music running through the menus and some decent commentary running in the matches. I did catch the commentary out on a few occasions though - for example, when I did a long kick towards the net from the other side of the pitch and it landed safely in front of the goalie like it was sent from the gods the commentary said "that was a very good save" with emphasis on the word very. My granny could have saved that with her eyes shut - it wasn't even going in the net! For the most part though, the commentary is on the ball [get it?] and isn't too boring either. The crowd also makes some very good noises and this really adds to the experience of scoring a goal.

It's been a great week for me; I've played the best football game ever. I normally only play football games if I see them cheap, or if I rent them, but Pro Evolution Soccer 4 is without doubt worth the money. Pro Evolution has scored plenty of goals in my verdict net over the last few days and I can only describe it as amazing. It has everything that you'd expect from a football game and then plenty more. It's a worthy upgrade from the PES 3 and one of the best games of the year whether you're a PES veteran or are yet to experience Pro Evolution's charms. Do the right thing and buy this game or be prepared to take the penalty.

 

 

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