Writing a review for one of the two big football/soccer franchises is often a thankless task. Both are packed with features to a point where it’s difficult to cover everything in the detail it may deserve. Both have fans that are entrenched in their chosen franchise and blind to the merits of the opposition.
Deep down, of course, you know that half of the people reading the review have already decided which of the big two they’re going to get and are just looking for ammunition for the next year of arguments with fans of the opposing franchise. The other half just want to know if it’s better than the other game. So I have avoided FIFA so far this year. This is a review of Pro Evolution Soccer and, for the most part, we’re going to judge it on its own merits.
I was always a Pro Evo fan. Ever since it was International Superstar Soccer I could appreciate its depth and accuracy. I’ve owned every Pro Evo release with the exception of 2010’s. I feel that over recent years PES has, to a degree, lost its way. The deep-lying need to build from the back, apply pressure and use your vision to create chances has never left the series. It just got hidden beneath a layer of stilted controls and cumbersome animation.
This year, Pro Evolution Soccer is back to its sublime best. Konami have clearly been listening to fans and the result is a product which not only looks better than anything that came before it, it plays better too.
The tactical play is still there, supported by a comprehensive formation editor and a system for deciding what basic tactics you want the team to use in certain situations at certain points during the game. So you can manage the team, to a point, before you take to the field and put those tactics into practice. There are no shortcuts to glory with PES though, you will still have to build from the back and play around your opposition.
The new system of building flair moves onto the right analogue stick is an inspired move. During open play the right stick can be used to perform certain skills with the ball, from step-overs and feints to rainbow flicks and even diving. Combining the right stick, left stick (for directional movement during tricks) and left shoulder button you can perform a huge array of feints, dummies and tricks very easily. You can even use the link Feint editor to build your own sequences of tricks to mesmerise defences.
That’s not to say that you can just wiggle the right stick and dance through the opposition though. As with everything else in Pro Evolution Soccer, you must time it right and only ever use it in the right situation.
The game’s presentation is wonderful. Menus are quick and responsive, player models and likenesses are better than any previous incarnations and the Champions League and Copa Libertadores licences are used to their fullest.
There are still many licences missing, and to some that might be an issue. Fans are already readying a save file for release which will put all the correct club badges and kits into the game but that is entirely unofficial. If you can live with the likes of Chelsea being called London FC and West Midlands Village representing the city within a city that is Aston you’ll be fine. There is always the option to get stuck in with the club- and player-editors yourself and tweak every aspect of your chosen team. In fact, many of you might want to make the player transfer section your first port of call. As with all earlier releases of Pro Evo, the transfers are not particularly up to date.
There are a few issues with gameplay which cling on from previous versions. Tackling is still difficult, with around ninety percent of sliding tackles resulting in fouls, whether the tackle is from the front, side or behind and regardless of whether the ball was won cleanly.
Goalkeepers are solid most of the time but once the ball is in the six-yard box they seem to give up and just watch. Finally, the ball physics still seem a little awry. When it’s on the ground it looks heavy and seems to slow a little too quickly (often making running animations look a little mistimed) but when it’s off the ground it seems to float like a beach ball. The problems aren’t as serious as they were a couple of years ago but they are still there, to a degree which will force you to rethink some attacking moves.
PES has always had one thing that has been unrivalled: Master League. This year’s version doesn’t disappoint either. It is still an engaging, time-consuming mix of club management, transfer dealing and player progression which simply has no equal. Placed alongside the formation editor and the management options this makes for the most complete club football experience on a console. This year’s inclusion of an online Master League, while impossible to adequately judge in time for this review, seems like it will make the mode even more involving.
Become a Legend mode also makes a return and is similarly engaging. The inclusion of little tactical talks, while not particularly deep or revealing, are welcome and you will get simple feedback from your coach after every game. There is an economy to this mode too, with your wages going towards paying an agent who can be replaced by better representatives who can get you to a better club. It’s an interesting take and one which actually works well to build a lengthy individual career mode.
While there is still quite a lot that can be improved in PES 2011, there is no doubt that it is the best version of the franchise in recent years. The new passing system and online Master League are going to grab people’s attention but beneath those headline features there are a great many smaller improvements that have been made. It all adds up to a great game of football.
- Looks great with fantastic character models and visual effects.
- Faster, smoother and more free-flowing than ever before.
- Still has the depth that won such a following.
- Physics and animations often collude to frustrate.
- Lack of licences could be distracting.
- Goalkeeper, and referee decisions are often dubious.
FIFA will clearly be stiff opposition (and we’ll move on to that review next) but Pro Evolution feels like it has returned in a way that I’ve spent years hoping for. There are still issues with animations, ball physics and AI but nothing that isn’t easily forgiven as a quirk of the game. There is one week between the release dates of FIFA and Pro Evo and while it’s not yet clear who will be touring the city in an open topped bus, at last PES has earned its place in the final.