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Pro Evolution Soccer 6

For: PSP   Also on: DS

The people's game returns to PSP but has it improved enough to tackle FIFA?

Product: Pro Evolution Soccer 6 | Developer: In-house | Publisher: Konami | Format: PSP | Genre: Conversion, Multiplayer, Sports | Players: 1-2 | Networking: wireless (adhoc) | Version: Europe
Pro Evolution Soccer 6 PSP, thumbnail 1
In the mercantile world of modern football, the 'them and us' syndrome has never been more pronounced. On one side are the moneymen who run the show, growing the business of football. On the other are fans who religiously turn up or tune in each week, who'd claim a more emphatic passion for the game.

In the world of footie games, Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer series has long occupied the latter ground. Dwarfed in terms of marketing budget, glitzy presentation and, often, sales by the seemingly more corporate FIFA series from Electronic Arts, PES has been the fans' favourite for its more authentic depiction of football.

Seeing PES6 in motion on the PSP, it's easy to tell why. At times you really could be watching Match of the Day, as detailed, beautifully animated players jostle for every ball, twist and turn to gain an extra yard, tumble melodramatically or fluff goal scoring chances.

That the control system doesn't shatter the illusion is testimony to many years of development honing, allied with an increasing flexibility in the options presented to you.

Equally impressive is that each player's multiple statistics genuinely have some bearing on the pitch, with quality midfielders able to pick a more adroit pass or turn with the ball, whilst lanky target men compete well in the air but struggle to control their first touch.

When you add in the most extensive tactical options this side of Mourinho's chalkboard (you can tweak each player's runs, attitude and specific position), a roster of national and international sides, and a host of match options from single game and multiplayer to the time-swallowing master league, you might think it's all over bar the shouting.

And sure enough (once you've endured the absurdly long loading time), the experience on offer here can be truly exhilarating, especially when you've managed to pull off an intricate passing move that culminates in the ball nestling in the opponent's onion bag.

Yet despite all the depth and attention to detail, a nagging doubt remains about how much fun it is to play.

Even in default Regular setting, PES6 is unashamedly challenging – every ball is keenly contested, each challenge and pass demands your full attention. Crafting chances demands mastery of passing and dribbling, while the combination of super-human keepers, all too human strikers, and incredibly sensitive shooting controls make slotting the ball home tougher still.

Although hardened fans will doubtless argue this is a realistic reflection of the game, ensuring that goals are genuine treasures, the flipside for the average player is an exponential heightening of frustration levels. This is compounded by the analogue nub of the PSP, which too often seems to lack the subtlety required and will be blamed rightly or wrongly for numerous stray passes, misdirected finishes and 'Bambi on Ice' defending.

Further annoyances are to be found in the blatantly 'unreal' moments, when your team-mates stand perfectly still to receive a pass (leading to interceptions or loss of momentum) or the amazingly springy fingers of the cat-like keepers that enable them to recover from a full-length dive at one post to collect a rebound shot heading in at the other.

Worse though, is the niggling concern that AI opponents are subject to a subtly different reality to that of your own charges, being able to win a high percentage of headers against a gaggle of lanky defenders, responding instantly to a lost ball in midfield while your own men reel from the challenge, and generally outpacing your players regardless of stats.

Evidence is provided when you slip down a difficulty notch to Amateur for a couple of games and witness a slower, more fallible version of the AI. Sadly the gear change is too pronounced for longterm play, as the markedly slower defenders can be swept aside slightly too easily en route to goal, leaving you feeling as though you're playing Pro Evo Lite and effectively cheating yourself.

All of which leaves us at some of a quandary with regards to the overall score. While PES6 is undeniably a more realistic simulation of the sport and can deliver immense satisfaction if considerable effort is applied, it simply isn't as accessible, entertaining or as fun to play as FIFA 07.

Somewhat ironically, the experience is more suited to the elite who are prepared to put in hours of practising than the massed ranks of fans seeking relief from their team's real-world shortcomings.

Chances are, you'll already know which side you're on.
Pro Evolution Soccer 6
Reviewer photo
Chris James | 8 December 2006
A solid – often brilliant – simulation, which for some may prove a little too realistic for its own good
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