Ah, there was a time when leaves falling from a near by tree, more and more rain and the temperature dropping meant the release of the latest instalment in the Pro Evolution Soccer series. Pro Evolution 4 comes with more teams and animations than before and a whole host of fully licensed leagues. So without further hesitation let us see if the follow up to the excellent Pro Evolution 3 lives up to the standards it set.
First of all this version of the series looks better than the last graphically, still not beautiful perhaps but everything does a functional job of representing a game of football. There are now Eighty European clubs in all, including the whole of the premiership (though they are unlicensed). Fully licensed leagues come in the form of Serie A, The Spanish league and the Dutch league- presumably thrown in as part a buy two get one free offer.
Most players have their real names, that is until you get to international teams. A very strange thing seems to have happened, presumably due to some licensing red tap. Players can have their real names at club level but not at International level- meaning a strange mix of real and fake names whenever you pick international teams. This also raises another slight issue as it means there are two versions of a lot of players in the game- meaning if your building your own team in the master league you can end up having a team with Nedved on both wings and two Kluivert's up front.
More leagues, more teams, more players, more licenses, it all seems like a dream come true. Indeed if they had left the engine more of less the same as in Pro Evolution 3 we could have had little complaint (aside from the tackling issue). But it seems Konami having upped the animations have changed how the game works and unfortunately this creates a few problems. First of all is the issue of throw-ins, more often than not there is simply no-one to throw to. Then we have the utterly stupid computer AI. This does not really effect the opposition much aside from them constantly kicking the ball out of play when you get within a mile of them. But it is fair to say on far too many occasions your team mates show all the intelligence of a house brick.
This lack of intelligence manifests itself in a whole host of ways. When playing a through ball players don’t run onto it, instead when they reach the ball they stop dead then start running again or walk along the side of the ball for a couple of seconds before putting their feet on it- making fast attacks incredibly hard to initiate. Furthermore, players will not go after the ball unless you are controlling them, all too often the ball will be right next to a player and he will simply run the other way. This would not be such an issue except the AI seems to get confused in deciding which player it would like to let you control- One second you will be running towards the ball then suddenly you will have changed to a player running off into the distance watching the player you where controlling a few seconds before standing motionless as the ball rolls past him.
And the Problems continue- Passing is far too random most of the time with the player you are controlling often passing in a completely different direction to way you want the ball to go; sometimes it is to another of your players, sometimes it is to the opposition. Defending can also be one of the most frustrating/hilarious things you will ever see as three of your players and goal keeper all wander around aimlessly vaguely looking at the ball bounce around on the ground for a good couple of seconds despite you hammering the clearance button. This normally occurs just before a single opposition player rushes in and scores.
Luckily shooting suffers far less from the problems apparent in the rest of the title. As expected there is a wealth of different shot types available, and like the previous title if you are skilful enough you can score any type of goal you want. However, this is now much harder than before due to most shots being automatically aimed at the centre of the goal. Goal keepers are also there to help or hinder your cause with some unusually inconsistent AI- Changing from super human to terrible in the blink of an eye. Unfortunately headed shots are a different matter; unless the delivery is absolutely perfect players will head the ball up instead of down. Your player could be Ronaldo standing five yards from goal completely unmarked and he would still head over.
Then we come to the issue of the 60Hz mode. All Gamestyle can say is simply do not use on the PS2. We are not sure what has happened but for some reason the mode creates terrible slow down effects whenever the ball is lofted in. Furthermore, the screen ripples as if made from water from time to time and the players cannot seem to actually run when they have the ball. These Issues are not apparent in the Xbox version but massively hinder the Sony release.
However, though the game does have a lot of frustrating issues, it does play a good game of football. The problem is that it is highly debatable if it is better than Pro Evolution 3. Yes it has better graphics and more of everything but where as last years game was a joy to play- this year’s title descends into frustration on far too many occasions. Most problems do disappear when playing against another human but trying to build up a team in the master league or win all the cups can be a completely joyless task.
Problems are not always apparent and things do improve the more effort you put in but it just seems stupid that when Konami had an almost perfect game the previous year that they would change so much. All that was needed was a small amount of tightening up with the tackling and a few other issues; instead it seems they have used a wrecking ball where a screwdriver would have done. When all is said and done Pro Evolution 4 is still a good game of football, and excellent against human opponent- but it far from being perfect and the overall score reflects a game that has taken one step forward cosmetically and two steps back in terms of play mechanics.