Pro Evolution Soccer is an addiction. Playing alone - be it in the Master League or another single player mode - provides endless hours of entertainment, but there comes a time when you long for real human opponents. You know that you're "The Man", but you need to let everyone know. Sure, you've been able to wipe the smile from your friends' faces, but you want more. The whole world should bow down to your skills.
PES 4 on the Xbox is the first time the series has gone online. Essentially, the game is a direct port of the PlayStation 2 game, released a few months back, and while this new online version is leagues ahead of the competition on the Xbox, it has a few rather unfortunate flaws. If you want to read about the game in general, you can check out our review for the Playstation 2 version. Here, we will be looking at the good and bad points to the Xbox version.
'the fact that players can now challenge gamers from all over the world is a huge selling point'
Online play is obviously the big addition to the port. While not offering the most complete online mode, the fact that players can now challenge gamers from all over the world (well, Europe at the moment) is a huge selling point. Online matches are very simple to set up, with three ways to get into games: Quick match, Optimatch, and Create Match. This is as far as the online modes stretch, with no way to organise mini leagues, and there seems to be little chance of Konami updating player rosters (which are very outdated) through content download. What's on offer will be enough for most players, but dreams of massive online leagues will have to wait for another version of the game.
More important than the online modes is how the game holds up when played online. Thankfully, for the most part, it plays very well indeed. On the majority of occasions lag is not an issue, with the game playing as it would if you were playing against a mate sat on the couch next to you, but you will - perhaps a little too regularly - run into severe lag problems. There is no way of knowing your opponents connection quality prior to starting a game, so you have to trust to luck, often wasting a lot of time, trying to find a lag free game. Once you build up a list of friends to play regular games with, this problem becomes a lot less of a problem, but finding a random opponent can cause some headaches.
Sloppy, is the best way to describe the options available to online players. The camera angle cannot be changed at all either before or during a game, with the only way being to change it in an offline game first. Player switching options cannot be changed for online games, with no option appearing anywhere in the games options. Thankfully a reasonably well thought out pause system has been included; it allows you to request a game pause (you are given three), eventually pausing the game when the ball next goes out of play. You are given a minute to alter your team formation before the game, and at half-time, and this does keep the game moving, stopping it from dragging on.
Konami have stated that PES 4 is simply a port of the PlayStation 2 version of the game, so no one should be expecting a visually spectacular title. While the games framerate has been improved dramatically, with slowdown not being an issue for Xbox gamers, the game has gained a rather washed out look, lacking the crispness of the PlayStation 2 version. Also lacking is a widescreen version, something that the Xbox could clearly have handled, and would have given another reason for people to switch over to the Xbox version of the game.
'Moving over to the Xbox's Controller S is not an easy thing to do'
Anyone familiar with the Pro Evolution series will more than likely have played it using the PlayStation 2 Dual Shock controller, or a controller with a near identical layout. Moving over to the Xbox's Controller S (don't even think about using the Duke) is not an easy thing to do. The lack of four shoulder buttons and a differently placed D-Pad take a lot of getting used to. Anyone thinking that this could be solved using one of many adapters, designed you let you use a PlayStation controller on the Xbox, will be bitterly disappointed. The game doesn't allow for the buttons to be reconfigured allowing the use of the controller. Newcomers to the game will no doubt have an easier time, with no hard coded button layout permanently etched into their minds, but any seasoned pro's looking to rule in the online arena may find things a little harder than they thought.
Even with flaws, playing online against new challengers is a great experience. A run of wins fills you with energy, only for you to come crashing down with a 4-0 humiliation. The great thing about online games is that usually, no matter how good you think you are, there will be someone else who is better. Trying to prove your greatness will bring you back day after day, month after month.
As I said, Pro Evolution soccer is an addiction. However, some people take things a little too seriously. Their desire to be the greatest removes etiquette and accepted online behaviour from their heads. To these people, winning is everything, and if they aren't winning, they certainly don't want you to either. These people will become known to you as quitters. In a rather naÃ¯ve (perhaps stupid) move from Konami, there is no system in place to punish people who quit games. As the clock turns to injury time, your heart sinks, you are waiting for the whistle, praying it comes before your opponent leaves the game. Then the game appears to pause, the ball continues to roll along, as if through a ghost town. Your incredible come back from 2-0 behind has been in vain. The guy has quit on you. Hopefully Konami will come up with something to sort this out, but until they do, just hope you aren't on the receiving end.
What we have here is easily the best football game on the Xbox. The online play is more than enough to forgive the rather simple port over from the PlayStation 2 version. It has its problems, but when it works, there are few games that give the same rush. Anyone schooled in the game may find it hard switching to the new controller, but if you want to play the best football game available, online, it is worth the effort. If you have any interest in football or competitive online sports games, Pro Evolution Soccer 4 is a must buy.