At a recent European press event, the majority of Konami's booth was predictably devoted to both the Xbox and PlayStation 2 versions of the next game in the company's extremely popular sports series: Pro Evolution Soccer 4. (The game will have been renamed Winning Eleven 8 by the time it makes the trip to North America.) Every year, fans of the long-running series wonder how KCET can possibly improve upon the game, and every year KCET manages it. 2004 doesn't look like it'll be an exception, either.
The area of the game that's received the most attention this year is definitely close control, which is now different for every player according to how skilled they are. For instance, some players will be able to turn with and shield the ball as it arrives at their feet; others will need to take the time to control the ball before they can attempt anything other than just running with it. However, during our short time with the game, we observed an even more-notable feature: the improvements that have been made to the game's artificial intelligence. The players on our team were making some exceptional runs off the ball at times, and when we had the opportunity to play against a computer-controlled opponent rather than another player, we found our opposition to be both believable and challenging.
The one feature in the previous game, Pro Evolution Soccer 3 (Winning Eleven 7 International in North America), that received some criticism was the game's implementation of the advantage rule--a rule that effectively allows the referee to let play continue if a team that has been on the receiving end of a foul retains possession of the ball. The real-life rule is often a subject of discussion for TV pundits and suchlike, and the decisions in Pro Evolution Soccer 3 were often even more controversial since they regularly allowed the offending team to regain possession of the ball within seconds of the advantage rule being played. In Pro Evolution Soccer 4, however, we witnessed referees playing the advantage rule on more than one occasion and subsequently awarding a free kick because no advantage was actually had by the team that was wronged. It sounds like a minor improvement, but its implications are actually quite significant.
Among the improvements that we didn't get to see in action, but which we were assured will be in place, were new options for set pieces, including chipped penalties and the ability to lay off a free kick to an adjacent player without the risk of sending it directly to an opponent. We look forward to bringing you more information on Pro Evolution Soccer 4 as soon as we're able to spend more time with the game.