With the nation still basking in the afterglow of the Socceroos' historic qualification for the 2006 World Cup, there's little doubt that football videogames (we can call soccer football now, apparently) will be a hot item this Christmas.
If you're a new passenger on the bandwagon, here's a quick lay of the land. There're two major franchises when it comes to football games - EA's FIFA series and Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer (known as Winning Eleven in Japan). The FIFA series is the more popular, featuring excellent presentation, hundreds of licensed teams and players, and solid gameplay. But the PES series has been slowly making ground thanks to its dogged determination to be tough as nails to play. FIFA may have the flash and pizzazz, but PES makes you work hard for every single goal.
For newbies, playing Pro Evolution Soccer 5 can be a daunting experience. The instruction booklet for the PC version is enough to make first timers pause - there are controls for through balls, trapping, reversals, one-two passes, dribbling pace, feints, tackles, pressure, defence levels, set pieces, feeds, super cancels, different types of crosses and much, much more.
Hitting the virtual pitch in a match will also prove to be problematic for newcomers. Unlike other football games for consoles or arcades, the ball does not magically stick to a player's foot in PES. If you run too fast and the ball dribbles forward, you won't be able to pass until you catch up. And even when you do pass, balls won't automatically fly to a free team mate. Keeping control of the ball is everything in PES 5.
This added control and realism may turn off casual gamers, but it's the main reason the PES series has become must-have games for hardcore football fanatics. You won't be playing to 12-0 blow-outs here, nor will you find your every shot on goal hitting the back of the net. Just like real-life football, patience, smart passing, clever control and a little luck are the only ways to win big matches.
Veterans to the series will be pleased to know that only minor tweaks have been made to the already excellent control system. Other additions to PES 5 include a greater roster of licensed teams and players (such as Arsenal and Chelsea from the Premier League), on-line play and more player-specific moves. There are plenty of national sides available as well, including Australia's full roster should you wish to relive the recent glory against Uruguay. Most importantly, however, the difficulty has been ramped up in PES 5. Newbies can still find their feet in the lower levels, but a whole new sixth level of difficulty (initially locked) has been added for PES masters keen to test their mettle.
Which is not to say that first timers will find little joy in PES 5. The game's extensive tutorial levels have seemingly been designed to take complete strangers to the round ball game through all the intricacies of PES 5. The tutorials dumb it right down - there is a section in PES 5 purely for explaining the rules of the football, while there are other training drills just for dribbling or passing. These tutorials are essential for anyone new to the series.
While there are the obligatory exhibition and tournament modes in PES 5, players will most likely spend most of their time in the game's extensive Master League mode. Master League allows players to mould and shape a team to international glory. As with the gameplay when on the field, the level of control afforded players in managing their squads is extraordinary. Gamers can determine the level of training, condition their players pre-match, trade or buy players, develop new recruits, retire older ones, check out stats on opponents and much more. It's a dizzying array of choice, and it really helps immerse gamers in the fantasy of managing a big league football team.
Backing up its intricate gameplay is PES 5's excellent presentation. It's still not as flashy or pretty as recent EA FIFA offerings, but the players in PES 5 do exhibit plenty of detail and, for the most part, look like their real world counterparts. The PES 5 players also move in a very realistic way.
If you're after a pick up and play football game, then PES 5's steep learning curve means it may not be the title of choice for you. If, however, you're keen on honing your skills, putting in the hours of practice and perseverance to eventually be as dextrous with your thumbs as Ronaldinho is on the field, the PES 5 is a top choice. And if you're a PES veteran, the decision is even simpler - PES 5 is another winner.
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