First things first: I can say, with the kind of self-assurance usually found on the Match of the Day pundit couch, that the consistently top class PES series once again delivers the season's defining football action game.
But there's a caveat. This is a game designed for consoles, predominantly the PS2, and as such, unless you have the finger dexterity of a concert pianist, the first item on your team-sheet has to be a decent pad. Otherwise you'll effectively be slugging it out with Exeter City when you should be lording it up with Chelsea.
Once that's sorted, you're in for a treat, and although Konami haven't made wholesale changes (they never do), there are enough evolutionary tweaks and improvements on the pitch to make it worth signing up PES for another year. Even a meaty new game mode: International Challenge (the World Cup in all but name), with regional qualifying rounds before the tournament proper, plus comprehensive squad selection.
A second, less significant new mode is Random Match, where you highlight a group of players (by nationality, the league they play in and so on) and your team's line-up will be randomly chosen from that group.
For the single player, though, Master League is where it's at and, personally speaking, it remains the greatest game mode of all time in any game, ever. Why? Imagine playing five seasons' worth of games, reaching the European Cup Final, and then being awarded a penalty in the final ten minutes. Imagine the pressure. Imagine the elation when you score.
Chief among this year's enhancements are reworked player animations, which not only lend players a more realistic appearance (major stars both look and move more like the real thing) but also means that body shape when setting yourself up for a shot or pass becomes even more relevant. If a player is leaning back or twisting awkwardly when you hit the shoot button, for example, then chances are it'll fly into row Z.
The second significant tweak is with the refs. If you played PES5 then you'll know that merely breathing in the near vicinity of an opposition player was likely to mean conceding a foul, so officious were the men in black. That's all changed for number six - oh blessed relief - and it's only cynical or crunching tackles that really get punished.
The AI has been worked on too, both your own players and the opposition now reacting to situations more intelligently, although the wealth of team management tinkering options render this largely irrelevant for would-be Rafas (and if you're not one of those, there are a host of new and easily accessible quick settings). Aside from that, it's pretty much business as usual, and business is very, very good.
Truly the beautiful game
- An evolution, not revolution
- Not fully licensed
- Not comprehensive
- Not playable on a keyboard