I've just leapt off my rickety editor's chair in triumph. Challenging one of our freelancers, Sam Kieldsen, to a quick game of Pro Evolution Soccer 5, I've swung in a mean corner that Michael Owen has spectacularly volleyed into the top right-hand corner of the Brazilian goal. An absolute screamer - and the goal wasn't bad either (ho ho).
Pro Evolution Soccer is the game that has deafened the ZONE team, due to my daily battles with previous editor Dave Woods that once filled the office air with gutteral snorts, loud exclamations and language that would embarrass Billy Connolly (see the secretly-filmed video footage on issue 150's DVD for proof).
Now the fifth iteration of Konami's footie extravaganza is here. Like the beginning
of a new season, there's excitement, hope, trepidation - maybe even a little fear -
about PES5. Can it improve on last year's version? The answer is most definitely yes, but like any successful team, you're going to have to work hard to achieve results...
BORING, BORING PES?
Yep, the main difference you'll notice immediately is that you have fewer chances
to score goals. While this may seem unbelievable for a football game, it doesn't
make PES any less enjoyable - it just makes it more addictive, as you work out new ways to beat it. Some matches may be ugly, but a piece of skill or a clever passing move may unlock the opposition defence - and the reward of scoring a goal is so much greater.
You'll probably have a few frustrating 0-0 results before you start pinging them in
from all angles, because PES5 is physically demanding, especially in midfield. Konami
has increased the emphasis on personal oneon-one player battles, which means you have
to fight to retain possession - guarding the ball, getting foot-ins, closing players down
quicker and intercepting passes.
Early games can often degenerate into a series of niggly fouls; the referee seemingly
stopping the action every few seconds for any infringement, be it a stray leg, little trip,
barge from behind or sliding tackle. The AI has been improved, so that even on a threestar average difficulty versus the CPU, you'll have to keep tapping the joypad buttons constantly to evade their advances. Not only that, but passes now go astray increasingly often ("Not to him! Him!"), and the ball bobbles and bounces more than Jordan cycling down the Odessa steps.
So after reading the last few paragraphs, you may be wondering why PES5 is a classic. Well, just because the game is more demanding, doesn't mean it's any less enjoyable - it just requires you to, as Yoda/Bobby Robson would say, "unlearn what you have learned".
For example, one of my favourite moves in the old PES was a fast run down the wing, then a double-tap cross to whip the ball into the box for my forward to head into the back of the net, usually seven times out of ten. This has been curtailed somewhat, so that in PES5 it now probably only works, oh, once every third visit of Halley's comet.
OK, this may be a slight exaggeration, but the point is you're going to have to work at learning new tricks; inspired new ways of scoring those wonder goals that have you punching the air and gloating in the face of your unfortunate opponent.
A key to this is utilising your skilled players, such as Zidane, Beckham, Ronaldinho and Rooney, whose individual brilliance could be the spark you need to produce a wondrous finish or an inspired through-ball that creates the killer shooting opportunity. Using a quick change of pace, you can skip past opposition players, or even nutmeg them, before blasting home a 30-yard goal - especially if your player has the excellent new star attribute of 'middle shooting'. This is aimed at personalities such as Scholes or Lampard, who can burst into the space on the edge of the box and unleash vicious shots.