Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 Review

30 Sep 2010  by
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Okay, here we go, PES vs. FIFA. It’s difficult to think of another gaming rivalry that splits opinion to the same extent as these two footballing giants.  The Pro Evo/FIFA debate is the sports gaming equivalent of Liverpool vs. Man Utd, BMV vs. Mercedes or Alcohol vs. Sobriety; you can support one but not the other. 
Up until a few years ago it was Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer series that ruled the roost, offering a blend of fast, action focused gameplay with a hint of realism that outshone EA Sports’ comparatively shallow FIFA series. 
That, however, is not how it stands today.  Since the onset of HD consoles, FIFA has become the game of choice for most football fans; its commitment to creating a simulation rather than ‘merely’ a game endearing it to followers of the sport.  It’s far to say that Konami has struggled to keep pace.
Ask Konami and they’ll tell you that’s all set to change this year; PES 2011 representing “the series’ most radical revamp in its history”.  No pressure then. Still, the goal remains simple – create a better game than EA. 
Have they?
Well, it depends on which way you look at it but, the answer is mainly no. While PES 2011 is an improvement over last year, there’s still a way to go before it’s ready to challenge for the top spot – certainly in terms of realism. 
The main problem is still the robotic nature of the gameplay.  Player movement remains clunky and lacking any fluidity, gameplay still revolves around consistently working your way into certain areas and the ball continues to feel as though it’s magnetically fused to your boot while dribbling.  The outcome is that it never feels organic, never managing to capture the essence or unpredictability of the beautiful game.
It’s clear that a lot of work has gone into improving player animations; jostling, tackling and goalkeeper movements are superior to what we’ve seen from PES in the past.  The issue is that the mechanics that these have been built upon are too rigid, removing the freedom of tactical approach granted by FIFA.
As a result, after a few games at your chosen difficulty (we predominantly tested on ‘Professional’ – 4th of the 5 levels) you’ve already begun to figure out what kinds of attacks yield the best results. This cakes the whole experience in a thick layer of predictability as you work the same high-percentage areas of the pitch over and again – knowing that other options are comparably useless.
You can attempt to second guess yourself, of course, forcing your way into positions less likely to result in a goal (in a bid to add a pinch of realism and variety) but, who in their right mind is going to do that when you’re 1-0 down with 80 minutes on the clock?
Perhaps we’re looking at this all wrong though.  It may not be as realistic or exhaustive as FIFA but, treated as a simple pick-up-and-play footie game, it fairs much better. 
The new passing system, giving you freedom to pass the ball at any angle in relation to your player (as opposed to the ball locking on to your team-mates), allows for some audacious passes into space for the likes of Torres, Malouda, Messi and co. to run onto without relying on the through ball button.
Once you’ve got the hang of applying the right amount of power to your passes they pay-off more than they probably should, providing a fair few wide open shots at goal; largely due to the ineptitude of the game’s defensive players in picking up forward runs. The mechanic still needs a little work but is a step in the right direction.  
On occasion your player will over-hit passes for no good reason, especially when it comes to crosses, leading to a degree of apprehension when attempting risky plays.  Still, it’s a fun addition.  Not all that realistic, but fun.
Also new is the ability to map your favourite feints and tricks to specific flicks of the right stick.  The list of possibilities is overwhelming and it’ll take you a while to settle on your favourites but, once you work out what works for you, it allows tricks can be executed without thumb knotting twists and turns of the stick. 
It points to the more simplistic nature of the game that these tricks can be executed with little skill or timing (and are many times more effective than FIFA’s counterparts) but, once again, it looks good, it’s fun and it arms you with bragging rights over your friends upon successful execution.
Presentation is a bit of a mixed bag.  Stadiums look nice but the crowds that occupy them seem to be stuck into place, as though frozen in time.  The menus are somewhat primitive and come nowhere near matching the slick offerings we’ve come to expect from members of the EA Sports catalogue.  Players, while resembling their real-life counterparts, look blocky and caricatured as opposed to photo-accurate representations.  
Unfortunately, Liverpool are still Merseyside Red and Arsenal still North London. Only Man Utd and Spurs, from the Premier League, have fully licensed kits, logos, stadiums etc.  More positively though, the way the camera changes height and angle during set-pieces is neat; providing a welcome adjustment from the standard camera positons we’ve become accustomed to. 
A new blurring technique has been employed during replays which looks, well… silly. It also causes a moment of lag as the replay initiates which is a little off putting.
Master League remains the dominant single player mode, allowing you to take control of your club’s finances, transfers, training schedules etc.  A new addition to this year’s game is Master League Online in which you can join an online league, buying and selling players with other real people.  Unfortunately, at the time of publishing, this feature was unable to be tested due to a lack of online opponents.
Become A Legend returns, in which you take control over a single player throughout his career, but it’s disappointing that Konami haven’t managed to incorporate your created player into the rest of the game – a la FIFA’s Be A Pro.  
Konami has retained the UEFA Champions League and Europa League licenses, both of which are available in Master League mode; the former also available as a standalone tournament. 
A host of new South American clubs make an appearance with the inclusion of the Copa Santander Liberadores cup competition (think the Champions League of South America).  It’s a decent, if unremarkable inclusion; although you do get to play as teams with some brilliantly designed kits.  
I can’t bring myself to end this review without a quick word about the commentary which, unfortunately, is horrendous.  It seems as though each scenario (i.e. corner, goal, missed shot etc) is assigned a specific list of voice clips from which one is chosen at random, resulting in some rather comical comments. 
I’m sorry Jon Champion and Jim Beglin but, no matter which way you look at it, accidentally putting a throw-in out over your own goal line and giving away a corner is not “good defending”. 
Those of you who have always preferred PES (or never made the switch to FIFA) will find a lot to like in this year’s game, particularly when it comes to setting up and banging in some delightfully implausible goals.  However, anyone that has become accustomed to the level of personalisation, freedom and realism offered by FIFA will almost certainly be disappointed.
The best thing to do here is probably stop the direct comparisons between the two; no matter what Konami’s western reps may tell us, it’s difficult to believe that Konami really want to beat FIFA in the realism stakes.
As it stands, PES 2011 is a fun experience so long as you don’t go into it expecting a stunningly accurate representation of the sport.  Of course, the problem is that that’s exactly what most football fans want.  
Note: Full breakdown of PES 2011’s 360 achievements can be found here.

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