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Last Updated: Friday, 31 December 2004, 13:12 GMT
Let's Play: Pro Evolution Soccer 4
By Jonathan Rawcliffe

Wenger against Ferguson, Celtic versus Rangers... football is all about rivalries.

Format: PS2, Xbox, PC
Price: 39.99
Publisher: Konami
Genre: Football simulation

It's no different in the virtual world. For the past few years, the battle to turn the beautiful game into the best possible video game has been as keenly fought as the Premiership title.

The two perennial contenders for the crown? EA Sports' Fifa series, and Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer.

While the former has long boasted such assets as licensed world leagues and official player and stadium names, Pro Evolution attracts fans for a slightly different reason.

It may not always have the cosmetic sheen of its competitor, but playing it is usually a far more involving experience.

Pro Evolution Soccer 4 builds on the tradition of its past incarnations and also comes with a host of brand new features.

The Dutch, Italian and Spanish leagues are now fully authentic, but English clubs and grounds still take on amusingly fictitious labels, so Alan Shearer plys his trade for 'Tyneside' at 'Magpie Park'.

Graphics are incredibly sharp - not only are most players instantly recognisable, but they also move like their real-life counterparts.

A training mode is included for refining set-pieces and close control, while the Master League system allows you to create your own dream team of star players.

But it doesn't matter how many gimmicks a game contains if it's no fun to play.

Thankfully, this is an absolute joy. Greater emphasis has been placed on one-touch play, and while goals are not all that easy to come by - creating chances requires quick thinking and accurate distribution - when you do manage to make the net bulge, it's all the more satisfying.

Practice is the key, but as Pro Evolution 4 is completely addictive, that's hardly a problem.

The challenge posed when playing against the computer is considerable, with the opposition sides more skillful, intelligent and lethal on the break than ever before.

Graphics: 92%
Playability: 96%
Sound: 93%
Lastability: 95%
Overall: 95%

Don't expect to be turning over the better teams after only a couple of hours of play. Instead, be patient, tinker with your formation, and concentrate on becoming a tactical genius.

Released for the first time on Microsoft's Xbox platform, it's now possible to pit your wits anonymously against other Pro Evolution users online courtesy of the Xbox Live service.

If that doesn't appeal, you can always spend an entire day sharpening your skills, invite a friend round, and humiliate them over the course of an evening with step-overs, scissor-kicks and precision passes galore. Much more fun.

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