Anyone who loves football, loves Pro Evo. It has long been the most faithful recreation of the hallowed sport since the original incarnations on the PS1.
Whereas FIFA always proffered style over substance, with stilted animations and scripted ball movement, Pro Evo celebrated the fluid nature of the sport, finely balanced with the glorious and the random as it appears on a real pitch. But since the advent of the next-generation consoles, Pro Evo is starting to show genuine fatigue and is in danger of mid-table obsurity.
Annual updates were never groundbreaking reinventions, rather they were subtle changes to what was already a pretty solid simulation. But the leap to the 360 and PS3 has proved disasterous and this latest incarnation will do little for concerned fans.
The presentation has always been something of a joke in the series. Unintelligible menu screens, awkward tournament set-ups and awful commentary have always been forgiven, but Konami seem determined to distance the player further from any sense of realism or basic cohesion.
The Masterleague remains a nonsense, with a ridiculous league format, unlikely player fatigue and an unweildy transfer system. We all know that EA have the rights to the correct teams and stadia, but is it really too much to ask of Konami that they allow you play unlicensed teams from the same country, and at least pretend it's the Premiership? Quirks like this are all the more annoying as there simply is no need for them.
The gameplay has picked up somewhat from last year's incarnation, both on and offline. Largely gone are the mysterious teleporting players during Xbox Live encounters, and the animation has returned to something like its best with fewer instances of delayed reactions or unintended plays. Matches remain as fierce and as pleasingly authentic as always, with dramatic late winners and comical own-goals, something that rarely happens in the arcade-style 11-10 farces on FIFA. But the referees and the off-side decisions in particular are often infuriating, and you can often concede a free kick for lofting a ball two metres in your own half.
I fear our friends in Japan underestimate the passion for the game there is in Europe, and elsewhere in the world for that matter. At this rate, moneybags EA will have a game so similar to Pro Evo that it will make little sense to go with the unbranded game and suffer horrific misnomas and Mark Lawrenson reading out lines like a five-year-old at book club.
As gamers, perhaps this doesn't matter. If we end up actually playing a reasonable simulation as Tottenham Hotspur instead of North London White, then who cares who makes the game? But for die-hard fans, this will be like watching your team slip slowly and unavoidably into certain relegation when you know they were capable of so much more.