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Can you really love a game?
True love and by that I am talking about mother to a child or husband to a wife kind of stuff, is simply never ever love at first sight. Donít believe the novels or the movies, in real life it doesnít exist. Itís all a Hollywood dream, superficial, surface stuff, if Romeo and Juliet hadnít killed themselves it would have never have lasted, and we all know that. Donít we?

If you donít, and you think you can achieve love at first sight then stay away from this game, go play something with shiny hairstyles, pretty clothes and full player licensing; go play FIFA í06. It has all the sincerity of an airhostessís smile.

Pro Evolution Soccer 5 is real love. Love where it hurts, where things donít always go right and where you feel elated by every goal scored and wounded by every goal conceded. When you get it, you will be intrigued, you will hate it, you will adore it, you will spend every waking hour learning from it and then you will love it. You will have fallen in love with not just any game but the beautiful game. With each incarnation Pro Evo seems to have got closer and closer to emulating the great game and this is the best one yet.

If you are a fan of the series, you may not initially agree with my last sentence. Despite knowing the game had undergone significant tweaks I was not prepared for how this would impact the overall 'feel'. My initial reaction being to check that nobody had put treacle inside my Playstation as the players felt sluggish, hard to control and slower than a cheetah with no legs. I knew that the game had been changed, but now I started to fear that Konami might just have done the impossible and ruined it.

But, as with the start of every Pro Evo endeavour you must ignore the fact that it feels different and have blind faith in the programming Gods. So I have stuck with it these past two weeks and discovered that the game is more complex, more rewarding and more perfect than any other sports simulation in the world. Here's why.

Letís start with the little things. Ronaldhino, and some other flair players have been given the ability to do an extra trick called the flip flap. When a player goes down injured the computer will put the ball out of play so he can receive treatment, if you show the same courtesy to your AI friend they will pass the ball back to you when play resumes. Its small touches like these which bring a greater sense of completeness and reality.

As would be expected players stats have been updated and for the most part they accurately represent the players. A key feature to the series has been the technical depth in each instalment. If for instance you look at Beckhamís stats all the ones you would expect to be high, such as long passing and free kick accuracy are high, with things such as speed and dribbling are a bit lower. What makes Pro Evo a different experience is the extent to which these stats change he players. When you take to the field with eleven men it really does feel like eleven separate footballers with various strengths and weaknesses.

Network play has been introduced in the PlayStation version; a feature I have been unable to use but have been reliably informed is "bloody awesome". Ball physics have been reworked to make the ball respond more realistically. Free-kicks and corners have been tinkered with, they are still far from easy but nowhere near the impossible standards of the previous game.

By far and away the best introduction to the game, is not really an introduction at all. One thing that was absent in the last game was the lack of skill involved in defending. I would hold down the X button until I had pushed the player either off the ball or into another one of my players. In Pro Evo 5 holding down the X button blindly will result in a foul, add that to the increased danger of a free kick and all your previous strategies for defence have been thrown out the window.

When I first started playing the game, I found myself fouling my opponent more often than I was used to, and my initial concern was that the game would be broken up too much by free kicks. To counter, the clever people at Konami have introduced a far smarter version of the advantage rule than that employed by the referee. If youíre fouled but the ball breaks kindly to your own man then the play will continue, the Ref will even return to particularly nasty fouls after the ball has gone out of play, to give the offending player some deserved discipline. The feature generally stops annoying opponents who incessantly fouled to stop you scoring as punishments are delivered efficiently.

Itís not all sweetness and light however and sadly itís the same old complaints. Any gamer who is interested in licensees such as the real stadiums, shirts and player names will find typing them all in a bit tedious. The options are there for all who want them, so Everton fans need not get up in arms about their team being called Merseyside Blue. Over the years the Pro Evolution series has got better at getting more real player names in the game and as far as I am aware all the players from the Premier League are accounted for as well as the almighty addition of both Arsenal and Chelsea as real teams.

Despite the aforementioned advantage rule working most of the time it does sometimes become frustratingly inconsistent. For instance when you are fouled, the time given in which you are to do something positive with the ball can vary, wildly. Another fault I noticed was when getting into a crowded penalty box sometimes you will be fouled, which should result in a penalty. The Ref however, waves to play advantage and youíre left with a stumbling player trying to score a goal through a crowd of 10 bodies when all you want is a penalty. Frustrating yes, but not noticeable enough to cause major concerns.

Sound is another issue that the game still hasnít addressed. Sadly I noticed a lot of the commentary, which was openly criticised in the last rendition of the game, has been lifted straight over into this one. Not only is the commentary old and tired but it plays at the wrong time leaving you feeling slightly bemused after a 45 yard screamer strikes the crossbar only for Trevor Brooking to say "He should have done better with that." Again not disastrous but why arenít Konami improving this?

I really am struggling for other areas to criticise on. Perhaps the fact that for some players the difficulty of the game might be too much, but the 6 stages of difficulty really do cater for everyone from your absolute beginner to the master league pro. I suppose sometimes better defensive teams can frustrate you by seeming to pile loads of bodies in their own half. Whether or not this can be a criticism is dubious though, itís more like a realistic portrayal of football. I suppose the only other real criticism you can throw at Pro Evo 5 is how much time it takes from your life, but then, real love is never painless.

Pro Evolution Soccer 5 is the best football simulation ever made. Dominik Diamond mused in his ĎWhen Games Attackí show whether youngsters will look back on Pro Evolution with the same fond memories that he himself looks back on for footballing classic Sensible Soccer. Well Dominik, my answer is no. Youngsters, Teenagers, Adults, they wonít just look back on the game with fond memories; they will look back on a game they loved and cherished, a gaming series that is nothing short of legendary.