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Pro Evolution Soccer 4

Take a long, deep breath. Go on. Smell anything? Freshly cut grass? Deep Heat rub? How about the stale odour of sweaty socks? Memories of school changing rooms and Games teachers who followed you into the shower take us right back to the days we actually played football. Some of us might not have played since, but that's when our lifelong obsession with the beautiful game began.

Developers have long tried to capture the holy grail of footy titles - accurate gameplay, and Konami's long-running PES series (formerly known as ISS Soccer on SNES and Mega Drive back in the '90s) has been a firm home fixture on Sony consoles for the last few seasons. However, the local lad done good is about to explode onto the transfer market once more. Yes, Pro Evo is moving on to bigger and better things, signing on the dotted line and making its Xbox and Xbox Live debut.

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Realistic player animation has long been the key to an authentic footy experience, and luckily Pro Evo delivers like a perfectly weighted cross-field ball straight to the feet of bang-on accuracy. We could harp on about intro sequences of various games all day long, but like a shockingly good pre-game show, PES4's opener is something to behold. Rendered players running, moving, shooting and heading, all in an unbelievably realistic manner? Yes please! More than just preceding eye candy, this really sets the tone for an incredible footy experience. In-game, every pixellated little prima donna moves exactly like they would in real life, incorporating all the physicality of running, shooting, heading and tackling. Tons of great additional little touches elevate PES4 far above the jostling competition too. Just check out the way two players competing for the ball try to shoulder each other away, and failing that, pull each other's shirts until one goes down.

Getting to grips with these new skills, even for PES pros, is made easier than ever with the great new training modes (see Training Day, page 065). Free training allows you to take your team around a pitch without worrying about any competition, whilst Situational training allows you to hone dribbling, passing, shooting and moving off the ball. Even if you consider yourself a dab hand at the previous PES titles, it's well worth putting it in
pre-season with this mode to gain the upper hand on unsuspecting mates.

And that's part of the beauty of PES4 - the game can be played as casually or as deeply as you like. First-time players can quickly master the rudimentary basics of dribbling, passing and shooting, thanks to the intuitive controls coupled with a well-measured learning curve - and translate them into fast and flowing gameplay. Spend some extra time with PES4 however, and a whole stadium's worth of deep and complex tricks, shimmies, stopovers and variations on your regular shot are at your fingertips.

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If close rival FIFA Football 2005 (see review on page 058) is the pretty boy David Beckham of the genre, then PES4 boasts somewhat uglier, yet infinitely better, Rooney-esque playability. The facial features of players in PES look nowhere near as detailed as in FIFA, and the overall rough and ready look of the game can't compete with the delicate finesse of EA's title. Not all European players are licensed (the German and Dutch players boast comical doppelgängers), and English Premiership clubs once again are substituted for geographical guises. The front end menu is trademark Konami; simple, ungainly text with minimal presentation.

However, if you're a keen aficionado of football titles, accurate gameplay wins hands down over metrosexual mannerisms any day of the week. And win it does, because Konami has managed to produce the most realistic and authentic football simulation ever to grace our television terraces. Because of the true to life nature of the game, you've no choice but to really think about playing just as you would a real game of football. Playing one-twos, and constantly giving your team-mates a viable angle, is just as important as creative movement off the ball and tracking back with attacking strikers.

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