Pro Evolution Soccer 5 Reader Review
Soccer fans display the same loyalty to their favourite games as their favourite teams, which makes reviewing an annual update somewhat redundant. Fans of the series only need a list of the new features, and will probably buy it regardless, whereas fans of rival series’ won’t touch it with a four-foot corner flag. So for the people who fall into neither category: this review is for you three.
The basics first, then: Pro Evolution Soccer is a realistic soccer simulator from Konami with a 10-year history, dating back to the 16-bit SNES era. Having made huge leaps to PS1, to N64, and now to PS2 and Xbox, each yearly version features careful tweaking of the formula rather than overhaul – in soccer terms: subtly changing tactics and making shrewd signings rather than selling the whole squad and starting from scratch.
Rather than bicycle-kick instant thrills into your face, like some of its more accessible rivals, PES plays like real soccer – it requires timing, an eye for space, quick-thinking, confidence and organisation. Blindly rushing to the ball will leave spaces for the opposition to exploit, blindly rushing with the ball will make it easy for the opposition to regain possession. And in PES, possession is everything. Treat the ball like a hot potato and you risk being sliced open and filled with butter (goals). Keeping the ball, dragging people out of position and waiting to play the killer pass is the key to unlocking defences. PES is the soccer equivalent of chess – it requires patience, tactics and concentration. If you are hoping to score 30-yard scissor-kicks in your first game, you will be disappointed.
So what is new about Pro Evolution 5? The first noticeable difference is the newly licensed teams – Chelsea and Arsenal are in the game, with John Terry, Thierry Henry and Didier Drogba glare from the opening menu screen. Celtic and Rangers also make it in this time, while representatives of Spain’s La Liga, Italy’s Serie A and the Dutch Eredivisie also make a welcome return. Superficial? Maybe, but when the soccer itself is so realistic, playing with the Merseyside Reds shatters the illusion somewhat. It is an encouraging sign that each passing iteration includes more licenses, reflecting the popularity of the game. Presentation elsewhere, previously no more than functional, has improved significantly – formation and tactics layout has been tidied up, and there are easily accessible ‘How To’ menus to help beginners.
Stepping over the white line and into the game proper, and you find the slowest PES yet. But slow in the same way Zidane is slow – fast of feet and of thought – replacing pace with guile. PES5 sacrifices some of the speed of its predecessors for a more controlled game of soccer. The ball no longer sticks to players feet as it sometimes did – meaning running will almost certainly result in an easy tackle for defenders. There is a much more tactile feel to ball control and the slower speed means the timing of controller inputs can be made more precise – vital in crowded midfield areas.
Heading has been overhauled completely – gone are the balloon headers that fly miles over the bar from simple situations. Headers, and shots in general, are more fierce, and tend to hit the target a lot more often. Keepers have been improved to balance this, so don’t expect many 10-goal thrillers, but it is rewarding to see good moves end with shots on target, even if they do now always end with goals. A totally new addition to the attacking artillery is the ‘controlled shot’ button, which can force a player to side-foot a shot, sacrificing power for accuracy and often picking out the very corners of the goal, which is a extremely useful new feature.
The referees, traditionally one of most frustrating aspects of the series (how realistic!), have all been to training school, so they now play the advantage rule flawlessly, offsides have been tweaked so play can continue if the offside player does not receive the ball, all adding to the ebb and flow of a match, with less interruptions from the officials. Tackling has been changed though, and will take veterans a while to get used to – while in previous years holding down ‘pressing challenge’ would leave your player to more-or-less automatically steal the ball on his own, doing so now will result in free kicks – the ball must be won by manually positioning players and anticipating the play. Just like modern soccer, tackling from behind will always end with a foul, the advantage lying firmly with the attacker.
Other titbits of newness this year: snowy conditions, complete with orange ball, the famous Ronaldinho ‘flip-flap’ trick (see Nike adverts circa 2004), a plethora of new animations, such as players pulling up with hamstring injuries, which look just as unfortunate and painful as in real soccer. Also, there is an unlockable option to replace your players head with those of giant dogs – 30 breeds available. Well, Konami are Japanese after all (i.e. nuts).
The Master League is the PES ‘career mode’ – a fitting name for something that consumes so much of your time it will probably end up getting you fired. One of the most innovative new features is ‘Memorial Match’ mode in which the game records all the statistics of games between two players – so you can take your memory card to a friend’s house and keep a running tally of results. Add to this properly integrated online play in all versions, and you have the complete soccer package right here.
So PES5 improves on what was already the most realistic soccer simulator around. This version irons out so many subtle flaws that it may take weeks of play to appreciate what has been achieved here, but it truly is computer based soccer at its finest.
9 / 10