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Pro Evolution Soccer 4 PlayStation 2

Published by Konami
Developed by Konami TYO
Release Date : 15th October 2004
Price : £39.99

It's that time of year again when updates of our favourite football games are released. Here we have Pro Evolution Soccer 4 which improves upon quite a lot so I'll cut out the small talk and get straight on with it. What does Pro Evolution Soccer 4 have to offer then? Well quite a lot actually. Game modes include Match mode where you can play a single game or penalty shootout and League Mode which allows you to take part in either a national league with club teams (you can choose from England, France, Germany, Serie A, Eredivisie or Liga Espanola) or an International league with a country of your choice. Cup Mode allows you to take part in an International or national cup competition and although no official cup competition names have been included it does allow you to simulate a few official competitions such as the World Cup or European Championships. There is also a Training mode, an Edit mode and of course the Master League mode (more on that in a moment). Every aspect of the game has been improved. Quite a few official teams have been included, the Master League mode has been reworked, player animations have been improved and now you'll notice the addition of first touch moves that really make things interesting. A referee can now be seen onscreen at all times and this time the referee decisions are far more accurate. To sum up then amazingly Konami have worked hard to improve the game since the release of the highly acclaimed Pro Evolution Soccer 3.

One of the key features of the Pro Evolution Soccer series is the Master League mode. In the previous versions you picked a team to play as but no matter who you picked you didn't have the team's real players and instead acquired a team that consisted of poor, mediocre and mildly talented players. The teams you played against though would have their correct players which meant you were up against it. The idea was that you had to slowly build up your team by purchasing promising players and taking them all the way to the top division and win the championship. In Pro Evolution Soccer 4 you can elect to start with the usual mixed bag of players (known as Master League Default players) or you can choose to start with Match Mode players which means you can pick a team and start with their true players. Finally you can create your own team. You get to create your team kits, logos and choose their ground. You'll begin with the original master league players but before the season starts you'll have the opportunity to exchange three of your players for any other players in the game.

Money has become a top priority in football and it's exactly the same in the Master League mode. You'll begin with a certain amount of money (how much depends on whether or not you've chosen to play with the Master League default players or the Match Mode players). Essentially you'll have your starting amount of money and notification of how much money will be taken to pay your expenses on week 44 of the season. Should week 44 roll around and you do not have enough money to pay your expenses (or if you don't have 16 players in your squad), it's game over. To earn money you need to get results on the pitch. Winning a match will earn you 800 points (points being the currency) whereas drawing will earn you 400 points and you'll earn no points for a defeat. You'll also get bonus points for goals scored and progression in the cup competitions you're involved in. You may also get a bonus for your final league placing.

The Master League mode also has one other major addition this time around. It's now possible for your players to acquire experience throughout their career and their attributes can increase as a result of their performance. This is an inclusion that longstanding fans of the series will no doubt be thrilled with. Don't think that it's possible to turn average players into superstars though as each player has a predetermined potential rating that can be achieved so an increase in their ability won't exceed their limitations. It's also worth mentioning that a player's abilities will also decline so as your long serving players come to the twilight of their careers you'll have to consider replacing them or be left with a player who just can't cut the mustard any more.

The PES Shop that was in Pro Evolution Soccer 3 can once again be found in Pro Evolution Soccer 4. For every match played you earn 50 PES points and with these points you can purchase a number of unlockables from the PES Shop (found in the options). Veterans of the series will be pleased to learn that a level 6 difficulty level (far too difficult for me) can be unlocked for 1500 points. Extra stadiums, players, a double match speed option, a couple of extra camera angles, a new ball and player editing features can all be unlocked too. For 10,000 points you can even purchase the right to edit the amount of points that you begin the Master League mode with and whilst this may seem like you're cheating I think after playing the required 200 matches to accumulate the required points I think you deserve a substantial reward.

One of my personal niggles with the Pro Evolution Soccer series in the past is that it dropped beginners in at the deep end. Playing on the lowest two difficulty levels gives no challenge at all whilst difficulty levels 3 and above can offer a really stiff challenge. Thankfully level 2 seems to have been improved somewhat and whilst it's still forgiving and allows you to put your new skills and ideas into practice, it does at least give an opponent that will try to attack you and put you under some kind of pressure. Pro Evolution Soccer 4 also offers a substantially beefed up Training mode. The Training mode contains five categories such as Controls, Beginner Training, Challenge Training, Situation Training and Free Training. These categories include numerous training exercises that take you from the basic actions of simply passing a ball right up to the highly advanced techniques that help make the difference in difficult matches. Personally I think this is a fantastic improvement on previous games and Konami have finally allowed a beginner a successful way of truly learning all the game has to offer without resorting to the various guides that are on the Internet.

With all these improvements you'd be forgiven for thinking that Pro Evolution Soccer 4 is pretty much perfect. However this isn't the case and there a few problems. Occasionally the keepers go to sleep and will simply watch a long low shot instead of attempting to save it. Most of the time this doesn't cause a problem as the shot will go wide but occasionally the ball goes in and it's infuriating to know your keeper never even tried to save it. Penalties are also a bit too easy to earn. Dribble into the box and keep hold of the ball and most of the time your player will be hacked down. Whilst this isn't really a problem it does enable you to earn a cheap goal most of the time. The advantage rule is played perfectly in Pro Evolution Soccer 4 and you'll notice that many more fouls are spotted but there's still a few where nothing is given. You could argue that in real football many fouls go unpunished but when every single offside is picked up in the game (which is unrealistic) then the same should also apply for fouls. Team rosters are also out of date with Rooney being at Man Utd (I mean Man Red) being the most obvious error. My final gripe has to be with load times. Whilst this is more of a console issue than a fault of the developers it's still a pain. Even substitutions can trigger a loading time where you're left looking at a black screen for more seconds than is pleasant. This is one niggle I expect will disappear with the Xbox and PC versions of the game.

Perhaps the most noticeable addition is the inclusion of several official league licenses. You'll see the official Spanish, Italian and Dutch leagues for example with all their teams in the correct kits complete with club logos and sponsors. Whilst a good many teams still have invented names (Nextbaumedge for West Bromwich Albion for instance) you'll notice a high percentage of correct player names. Whilst the game can't really claim to be an improvement, graphically speaking, the inclusion of many official teams does make the game more visually appealing. Some things don't change though. The cardboard cut-out crowds are still here and still look ridiculous. As I write this review FIFA 2005 has arrived and the difference in the crowd detail compared to the crowd in Pro Evolution Soccer 4 is substantial. Still this is only a very small aspect of the game and one that most fans of the series will easily forgive.

As with all other sports titles the commentary is not subtitled but this doesn't mean Pro Evolution Soccer causes deaf gamers any problems. All information in the game is shown exclusively in text. All the training exercises are shown in text as are all the details and information in the Master League mode. In Pro Evolution Soccer 3, during a game, an icon appeared to show when the referee had played the advantage rule. This time around many more icons have been used to signify offside and direct and indirect free kicks. This is an excellent idea and provides deaf gamers with more feedback than they have ever had in a football game to date.

Well after that rather lengthy description of what the game contains all that remains is to comment on how the game plays. In a word it's sensational! Yes even taking into account the few problems that exist this is, by a long way, the best football game ever created. OK in terms of presentation it could be better but once a match kicks off you'll be very impressed by almost every single aspect of how the game plays. Whilst it's not 100% realistic it's not that far off and Konami have an enormous task in front of them if Pro Evolution Soccer 5 is to be better than this but I'm sure they will, once again, rise to the challenge and impress us all with the result. Pro Evolution Soccer 4 will also arrive on the PC and for the first time, the Xbox (which rather excitingly also features online play). Personally I can't wait to see the game on both of these technically superior formats because once again on the PlayStation 2 a footballing sensation has been created.

Overall Game Rating: 9.5/10
Incredibly Konami have managed to take the Pro Evolution Soccer series further. A host of improvements have been included to make Pro Evolution Soccer 4 even more special than many thought it would be.

Deaf Gamers comment:
No match commentary subtitles but that's the only real negative here.