Like the sport itself, there are two main camps when it comes to the football simulations of today. Those who follow FIFA for the licenses and those who prefer what they call the more accurate and flowing gameplay of PES. The fact remains that both are quality games and they are both spurring each other on to greater and great things each year. It's not long until that rivalry hits store shelves again with FIFA getting out of the blocks first but we went hands on with Pro Evolution Soccer 4 to see just how the competition is shaping up in comparison to the EA juggernaut.
When you play the game the very first thing you will probably notice is the flow of the game seems to have changed. Rather then having to pass the ball like a pinball to try and score a goal, the game now seems to encourage players to run at a player and challenge them before passing. This may send alarm bells ringing in the fans camp but rest assured Konami have not enabled players to run the whole field and score, in fact it may be harder to score now due to an advanced goalkeeper AI. Instead this is continuing their commitment to creating the most realistic football game available and from what we have seen of the game they are very much on the way to doing that.
PES4 will offer a variety of game modes to choose from and all your favorites have been retained. The master league is back allowing you to take a minnow team from the bottom division to the top league as is the cup. You can also perform training with your players and for the Xbox version the game will be playable on Live. Konami is yet to make a comment as to whether the PS2 version will feature online play but we can tell you that in the build we checked out it was not an option.
Although the game will still lack behind FIFA in terms of licensing, this year gives a strong indication that Konami is serious about getting real teams and leagues into the game. They have officially got the Spanish league, Dutch league and Italian league into the game but are still yet to get the crown jewel, the English Premier League due to an EA exclusivity deal. However the FIFPRO license has been retained and therefore all your favorite international stars will feature once again. The game is set to feature 50 national sides and 136 club teams although not all of those are licensed.
If you can think of any rule that has been added to the sport lately, Konami have it in this game. They have implemented a system for time added on. The game informs you which removes the guessing game associated with most soccer games. The injury rule is now in place as well. If a player goes down hurt, even if they are fine to continue the referee will force them to go off the pitch and come back on which leaves you a man down for a short time and on a quick look it appears the passive offside rule has been included. They have also heavily worked on the advantage rule and the referee seems to now have sorted out what is and is not a foul which can let play continue should the team retain the ball.
The game flows a lot more smoothly now and encourages running because of one reason and that is the animation of the characters on screen. They seem to feature a lot more animations then last years game, if that's even possible, especially for when fouled. Players will go on with a bit of theatrics to try and influence the referee or appeal for a penalty in the box. Konami has retained the specific player animations for such players as David Beckham but they look even more refined and closer to the real life counterpart this year. The character models have also been overhauled again this year and it is even easier to pick out players from just their looks. One other refinement includes the ability to change the way a set play is taken by either having one or two players over the ball to try and trick the AI teams.
In terms of how the game is looking visually we can report that it is definitely getting close to the level of detail that EA feature in FIFA. The player models have been once again refined and look even closer to the real players now and it is possible to pick world stars out just by looking at them such as David Beckham and Luis Figo. Players also get dirty as they slide tackle in matches and will react with emotion to foul or referee decision, giving them a human element.
The game will feature licensed stadiums from what we are guessing to be the official clubs in the game and one which we played in the orange bowl, which is not licensed, gives a great sense of atmosphere and the crowd now react to play on the field such as a bad foul or poor decision by the referee. The commentary has been improved and it is unlikely you will be reaching for the mute button within the first five minutes. It is still provided by Trevor Brooking and Peter Brackley.
Pro Evolution Soccer 4 is going to offer a formidable challenge to the FIFA giant this year because its not only on the PS2 and PC platforms. However despite this, even the game itself will compete due to the unbelievably smooth gameplay featured. Pro Evolution Soccer 4 is no doubt going to change the way people view football/soccer games. It is set to ship on PS2 and Xbox in November 2004.