Pro-Evolution Soccer 4 is the latest in the highly acclaimed football series brought to you by Konami. While the PES franchise continues to be outsold by Fifa everyone who really appreciates the beautiful game knows that PES is far superior. PES looks and feels like real football and sells fewer copies simply because it lacks the kind of promotion EA are able to give their flagship titles.
The latest iteration features a number of new ideas and some tweaks to the old mechanics. The core game play remains very similar to previous efforts but there is now a greater range of movement and trickery as well as a lot more animations which make the game look even more realistic. Creating chances and scoring goals is not an easy task and there is no set route to goal which always works. Tactics and formations are very important in dictating the course of the match as are the individual players and their skill sets.
In terms of modes the game features the usual array of leagues, cups and custom competitions. Disappointingly the series still lacks the official licenses for club and player names and so many have been assigned rather odd alternatives. Although you can generally work out who each player is supposed to be this is still a negative point about the game and one of the few areas where Fifa is superior.
Each player is genuinely unique and they feel different to play as. For example playing as Ronaldinho is a world away from playing as...well anyone else really! This pronounced difference makes for interesting battles, for example the Czech Republic are very strong, tall and technically good if a little cumbersome while the classic Argentina team are slight, short but incredibly manoeuvrable.
The PES menus have never been particularly intuitive and once more they seem rather muddled here. They are packed with information but none of it seems to be where you first look and there are many options which seem to be named more or less the same so it can become very confusing to set things up the way you want. This is somewhat dealt with by the inclusion of quick menus, for example during a game you can do a substitution on the fly by accessing a small pop up menu and making the changes you want.
The game looks fantastic and several times I have heard people glancing at the screen commenting on how much it looks like a real game of football. The look has been improved upon in comparison with earlier versions, most noticeably through the increase in the range of movement the player has and the addition of several more animations for different situations.
The most noticeable changes from previous versions are the new free kick and throw in systems. Sadly I think both have major design problems. For the free kicks the time you hold the button for dictates the height of the kick while the direction you push on the analog stick dictates the power - this makes absolutely no sense at all to me, obviously the up down stick should dictate the height and the time you press the button for should dictate the power. Consequently the free kicks are a very unrewarding experience.
Throw ins have also been significantly altered in that the ball can be thrown wherever and it is up to the thrower to pick out a man, this makes it possible to throw the ball directly to the opposition and frankly is very irritating during game play especially if you have become accustomed to having the man automatically track the ball and now find yourself giving every throw in to the opposition.
Other than these two mechanics little has changed between the 3rd game and this one and so I wouldn´t recommend buying it unless you have PES2 or below. Other changes include the exciting prospect of online multiplayer gaming through the Xbox Live system, though surprisingly this functionality is absent in the PS2 version.
If you win competitions you can accumulate PES points which can be used to unlock new content such as the classic teams (i.e. Argentina with Maradona and co). The game also still includes the Master League which allows you to build your own club side in a two tier super league. The only drawback with this is the longwinded transfer rules which seem completely unnecessary and strangely perplexing.
The sound is somewhat improved but the commentary is still quite patchy and often implies the exact opposite of what has just happened. The crowd sounds are good for building atmosphere and the grounds look quite different although some of the pitches have strange patterns on them which actually make the game painful to look at (plain green will do).
This review is perhaps too harsh but then if a title is going to release a new iteration every year and ask you to pay £30-40 then I do feel they should offer a significant improvement and this doesn't differ enough from PES3 to justify the price. If you own no football games at all then this is definitely the one to get. Although lacking the polish of a franchise like Fifa they have concentrated more on the game play with PES and so it plays like a dream, you can create unique goals which you may never see again despite hundreds of hours of playing. It is powerfully addictive and makes for an excellent multiplayer experience with 1 to 4 players (two a side is great fun).
Pro-Evolution Soccer is the best football series on the market. Although less accessible than Fifa and lacking that level of polish it has perfectly captured the spirit of the game and it looks and plays far more realistically. A great game with minor flaws get your boots on and take to the pitch.