We've been playing PES 4 non-stop since it arrived in the office and loving every single second of it. However, it wasn't until we had a nostalgic bash on PES 3 that we realised just how supremely good it really is. It's like pitting Don Howe's double-winning Arsenal side of '71 against Wenger's unbeaten entertainers of '04. What was considered brilliance in its day is now little more than a fond memory. Once you've tasted PES 4's tantalising delights there's just no going back.
Nearly everything that slightly irked us about the greatest football game ever made has been eradicated, while everything else has been transformed into a diamond-encrusted slice of footballing heaven. Most notable is the long overdue re-introduction of the glorious through-ball.
Jumpers For Galposts
Yes, it's always been there, waiting behind that triangle button, begging to be unleashed, but its usefulness has been almost non-existent since first appearing on PSone. Defenders would almost always read your intentions before you even pressed the button, and even when they didn't the pass would all too often carry straight into the keepers grateful arms. In the end we all but gave up ruining good positions with a wasteful through-ball. Now its effectiveness has been restored it's a lethal tool once again. Nothing is more satisfying than cutting a defence to shreds with a lethally timed, deftly chipped through-ball.
Added to your attacking repertoire is the ability to run at the opposition and take them on in a genuine one-on-one situation. Previously you either passed your way to goal or just used your speed to 'Forrest Gump' your way up the pitch. With these greater dribbling abilities you get to gamble on jinking your way past a despairing tackler with some fleet-of-foot direction switching, or losing out to a perfectly-timed challenge and leaving acres of space behind. It's a nod towards a slightly more arcade experience but its nothing that doesn't actually happen on real pitches come Saturday. And when bulldog Rooney's on the ball you just know it's gonna take something special to stop him.
Game Of Two Halves
Of course, all this gameplay goodness means absolutely nothing to the FIFA crowd. It must be the official names, faces, kits and badges that make FIFA the winner in terms of sales every year because it's certainly not ahead of PES 4 when it comes to what happens on the pitch. In terms of gameplay PES 4 is a league above its rival.
Purists will be pleased to hear that PES 4 finally offers a full English Premiership for breakfast with a main course of pretty much every other significant league in Europe. It's still nowhere near as comprehensive as FIFA's roster of teams, but does anyone really want to play as Shrewsbury Town? Although PES 4 has managed to secure an official licence for nearly every league except for England. So, for Manchester United read Manchester Red, and for Crystal Palace read the totally inexplicable Crisis Bless. Eh? It's all quickly rectifiable in the Edit mode, thank Christ.
Seriously though, who really cares when the glorious Master League returns in all its life devouring deepness. The combination of managerial tinkering off the pitch and actual play on it equates to a blissful, long-term gaming addiction. You'll spend hours setting up your tactics in the pleasingly comprehensive strategy area. You'll gain points for good results that can be used to buy better players. You'll trawl through squads of players looking for that under- rated gem and then you'll actually get to feel the difference a new player in his rightful position really makes when you take to the pitch. Better take some time off work right now - you'll need it.