Pro Evolution Soccer 4 Hands-On

Can Konami stay at the top of its game with the new edition of its leading soccer series? Our first impressions.

Outside of Bungie's reshowing of its E3 Halo 2 demo, the most popular game at last week's Game Stars Live was undoubtedly Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer 4. The booth was crammed with over a dozen demo pods featuring the game running on both PlayStation 2 and Xbox, and 16-man tournaments were run continuously during the show. Like past series entries, PES4 will provide an experience more closely aligned to the you-get-what-you-give school of thought, and this year's instalment looks to be the most accurate portrayal of the sport yet.

The PES series' strides towards realism are coming thick and fast. Crowds watching the tournament matches on the big-screen reacted just as they would if they were watching a game at the local pub. PES4's overall presentation has evolved into a highly nuanced beast that is a joy to observe and the graphics on both PlayStation 2 and Xbox are outstanding.

The animations in particular are noteworthy. The breadth of movements available to the scores of players is impressive and highly adaptable. From sliding tackles and shoving to little off-the-ball pirouettes, the characters move with grace and power. The individual player models have been pushed further and it's now possible to identify players simply by looking at them. And their kits even get dirty as the game progresses.

Konami has put a lot of effort into this first foray into Xbox for the series, and the distinction between the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions is minimal. The enhanced hardware of Xbox necessarily results in more detailed textures and a generally smoother appearance.

Both games, however, have it where it counts; controls are spot-on and hardened series veterans will be punishing the back of the net in no time. It's somewhat satisfying to be able to take new players to task, handing them an embarrassing score card. While this does tend to make the series less accessible than others, it rewards tenacity. This newest iteration is no different and builds upon the gameplay base Konami has refined over the course of the franchise's run on the PlayStation 2.

The detailed onscreen meters for shot-strength and status for each team member add to the considerable depth afforded players on the pitch, and off there's even more. New club teams from the Netherlands, Spain and Italy are included, and the game's strategy innards come tumbling out once you start traversing the many customisation options.

The most notable new feature revealed at the show is the inclusion of Xbox Live support. None of the match types were playable at the event, but a Konami representative did confirm that there would be full online support on Xbox. There's no word yet on where this leaves the PlayStation 2 release, which will no doubt raise the ire of PES fans who have long remained faithful to Sony's substantially larger proportion of the series.

From what we were able to see on the floor, Pro Evolution Soccer 4 looks to be the football game to beat this year. Whether you're there for the faithful gameplay or the impressive depth, Konami will cover all bases come release day.

Pro Evolution Soccer 4 will ship for PlayStation 2 in October and for Xbox and PC in November.

Alex Wollenschlaeger
Editor Kikizo Games

Video Coverage
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Pro Evolution Soccer 4
Direct feed - first footage (a bit small and crap mind you - better footage soon, promise). (640x480, 1Mbps)
0.47m 4.72MB WMV

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