Here at Future Towers we consider ourselves to be somewhat Pro Evolution Soccer 4 proficient. Having played it in day in, day out for a year now, we're confident we've seen everything the game has to offer.
But nothing could have prepared us for what Konami has done with Pro Evolution Soccer 5. This isn't just some kind of lazy, half-arsed annual update we're talking about here; this is a full-on, virtual rewrite. People are going to be shocked when they pick up PES5 for the first time - and not necessarily in a good way, either.
Gone is PES4's emphasis on surging forward runs down the wings, to be replaced by a game that forces you to work the ball carefully through the midfield first. Close control has been pegged back to far more realistic levels, meaning that taking Ronaldinho on one of his mazy runs through packed penalty areas is simply no longer possible. PES5 is a much slower game than its predecessor, certainly, but one that encourages a far greater degree of tactical awareness as a result.
It's a game that's going to split people into two camps, though. On the one side, you'll have the more measured, defensive players - the people who'll love this new focus on slow build-up play. But on the other, more PES4-style attack-minded side - you're likely to find a fair few mutterings of dissent, and on first impressions it's easy to sympathise. Try playing Pro Evo 5 like last year's game, with the finger continually clamped down on the Run button, and you'll end up losing control of the ball or fouling the opposition for even the most seemingly innocuous of challenges (refs won't stand for any kind of outstretched foot this year).
Even established Pro Evolution veterans will find themselves back at square one for many of 5's new features. This is certainly a much tougher game than any of us might have been expecting.
But trust us, whichever camp you fall into, any doubts you may have will be swiftly booted behind the net the moment you put some extended play in. And therein lies Pro Evolution 5's genius: nothing feels more like real football than Konami's sporting masterpiece. Still. We're not even going to bother comparing it with FIFA 06 any more; the two are so different now it's not even fair to put them next to each other. EA's effort is a try-hard, fun, but ultimately limited arcade game: PES5 isn't just a football simulation, it really IS football.
It looks great, it feels great, the animation's great - everything about it is just great. It's slick, smooth, responsive and continually challenging. It's an absolute dream of a game. We'll still be finding new animations, gameplay quirks and strategies a year from now. Heck, we'll probably only know half of what Pro Evo 5 has to offer by the time 6 comes knocking. And better still, Konami has taken criticisms about last year's Live game to heart and produced a far better online component that - finally - allows four people to play at once.
To be fair, PES5 still suffers from some of the same criticisms that get levelled at the franchise every year (lack of licensed teams; stray passes; the utter frustration of losing to someone you KNOW you're better than), but with most of Europe's top clubs now licensed - including Arsenal and Chelsea - they're becoming less and less apparent. Some people may moan about Pro Evolution 5's step towards a more midfield-orientated game, but that doesn't change the fact that this is still the best football title on Xbox by a good country mile.
Massively different to PES4 in terms of feel, but on balance PES5 plays the better, more realistic game. An absolute must buy.