The second word of "Pro Evolution Soccer" proves to be more appropriate with each passing year, thanks to incremental updates that never go beyond slowly evolving Konami's winning formula. True, the series has long offered deep and rewarding gameplay, but the lack of innovation has become increasingly apparent of late. The tweaks that Konami has made to the match engine have produced a more refined game, but there's not a hint of the revolution attempted by EA Sports in most annual FIFA updates. There are also only a handful of new features, chief of which are eight-player online support, an increase in the number of licensed teams, and an international challenge mode.
It will take you quite a few practice games to adjust to the new playing style of Winning Eleven: Pro Evolution Soccer 2007 (known as Pro Evolution Soccer 6 in Europe), which is even faster than last year's game. One of the more noticeable improvements is in player animation, with polish added to the already astounding movement. There's more tangibility in the way they interact with each other and the ball, and collisions and tumbles better reflect the physical nature of the game. Pro Evolution Soccer is a game that rewards real-world tactics, and the lifelike movement of the players only adds to this suspension of disbelief.
In terms of playing the game, Konami has made a number of tweaks that certainly make this the tightest Pro Evolution Soccer yet. It's now easier to dribble the ball while running, with players keeping it closer to their feet. However, defending players are much more effective at relieving you of the ball, and they're certainly favoured in one-on-one situations. As a result, you have to adapt your game toward making quick, short passes that are accurately directed to the intended player. You should definitely be facing the recipient when passing, as indirect passes often end up short or off-target.
Konami has also created an even larger gulf between the star players in the world and everyone else. Players such as Henry and Adriano are lethal at cutting swathes through a defence or outpacing nearly anyone down the wing. Teams like Inter and Brazil are unstoppable if you can combine a possession game with the use of the radar at the bottom of the screen.
Picking out players with a crafty through ball is now the most effective way of getting on goal. Previously dependable tactics, such as running along the goal line and pulling the ball back into the box, are now met with defenders ready to clear the ball away. Goalkeepers are now much better at deflecting powerful shots over the line, as opposed to spilling them in front of goal. And for the advanced players among you, there are around eight new moves including tricks, feints, and turns. In short, it's the most rewarding game of Pro Evolution Soccer yet, and even though EA Sports is chasing hard, this year's Pro Evolution game just edges out FIFA 07 on gameplay.
That's not to say that the game is perfect. In last year's game the referees were extremely card-happy and it hindered the pace of the match, but this year's game has swung too far the other way. Blatant fouls frequently go unpunished, and teammates are now eager to slide in for hard tackles when they're not under your control. It never resulted in a penalty kick during testing, but we've occasionally been punished with a yellow card as a result of a foul made on our behalf. Time your strikes right, and attackers are now much more eager to take volleyed shots if they're on the end of an accurate cross, but as in real life, only the best strikers can mix flair and accuracy. And while it was always difficult to score free kicks, it now seems nigh-on impossible unless you're using the world's best free-kick takers.