Pro Evolution Soccer 2011
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1- 2, online multiplayer
Words By:

As the review copy of Pro Evolution 2011 plopped with a thud on my door mat, I could scarcely believe it was only 12 months since I played and reviewed last yearís edition. Next generation football games are complex affairs requiring time and patience to really master their intricacies, so itís feasible to imagine that players of the 2010 version are still getting to grips with it.

Such is the intense competition between the Fifa and Pro Evo franchises however that annual updates are no longer a surprise, they are practically a necessity, ensuring fans of one series donít jump ship to the other.

Not only are Konami required to keep updating and improving their output, but they also find themselves in the increasingly familiar position of playing second fiddle to EAís football behemoth which has found a cracking game to accompany the slick presentation and expensive licensed players and teams.

Konamiís response this year is literally to tear everything up from a gameplay perspective and start again. Perhaps wanting to rediscover the magic that created a number of classics in the PS2 era itís a brave move when the stakes are so high.

Upon starting the game itís easy to get a sense that things are very much the same as last year. Lionel Messi is still the gameís poster boy and although the start-up menu has had something of a visual upgrade, the options available are virtually identical, consisting of the same single player modes as last year; Become a Legend and Master League and the usual array of tweak-able options.

Konami have once again been able to secure the official licenses for the Europa League and Champions League. This adds an element of authenticity to the experience but itís a shame that the Premier League is still only partially complete. This year the teams of Manchester United and Tottenham are included in all their glory, but all other teams have alternative names and badges which feels a tad ďbudget.Ē

Once you get past the menus and onto the pitch, the gameplay and presentation changes virtually slap you around the face. Thanks to some major graphical improvements, players now look realistic rather than the previous versionsí Frankensteinís monsters. Premier League superstars are recognizable both in close-up but more impressively during action where their posture and build sets them out on the pitch. Itís clear that Konami have invested a lot of time in the animation, at last bringing it up to the level of EAís game.

But whatís it like to actually play?

For PES veterans it will certainly take a significant adjustment, the biggest of which is a completely new passing system which utilizes a power meter. The length of time you hold down the button now directly influences the strength. A small bar appears above each player to visually demonstrate the status of your next pass. Mechanically it works to perfection, but it isnít immediately intuitive meaning dozens of passes fail to meet their target as your brain tries to come to terms with the change.

After a while it starts to feel more natural, and the level of control available allows you to dictate the pace of the game like never before. I found this resulted overall in a slightly slower game than last year and there was far less of the Ďping pongí passing that had become a trademark of the series. Instead youíre encouraged to play the ball into space for your players to find and while the one-touch passing is possible, itís not the natural option.

The players themselves look and feel as though theyíve spent the last year in the gym. Carrying a lot more weight, they now press and harass each other into giving away the ball, and at last compete in the air for high balls. It looks realistic but the negative effect is an increase in the number of fouls conceded per game which affects the pace. Most frustratingly you can find yourself committing fouls without having even pressed a button because you (unfairly) outmuscled the opponent.

The game certainly feels attack-minded and thatís probably why defensive moves have also been amplified. With attacking players having a wider repertoire of passes, defenders are able to make tackles from longer and wider distances thus evening the contest. They may be stronger and more agile but theyíre certainly lacking in common sense at times. A.I. controlled defenders can take up terrible positions on the pitch especially when under pressure. The times you want them to attack the ball and clear it from danger are the times when they lose it completely and run the other way. I really thought next-gen gaming would eradicate this problem but Iím left hoping for a fix next year.

True to form it is not easy to score goals in Pro Evolution Soccer 2011. After practice youíll be nicely passing the ball from defence to midfield but penetrating the opponentsí penalty area will always prove elusive. Unlocking defences is usually the result of a sustained period of possession followed by an extremely well-timed through ball, or more usually a mistake in defence that lets the striker through on goal. Goals are at a premium, so scoring really can give you a sense of satisfaction absent in easier titles.

Although the passing mechanic has been lavished with attention, itís a shame I canít say the same about shooting. It still feels a little erratic and too often shots on goal will land in the hands of the goalkeeper when you feel as though you were aiming for the corner. Itís difficult to judge the power needed in different scenarios, so often shots within the 6-yard box will frustratingly balloon over the bar.

More successful is the option to pre-program a sequence of feints to your player. Over time you can really develop a successful strategy and your selection of tricks and feints adds an extra dimension to your attacking play. Itís a nice feature and one that I hope survives in next yearís inevitable follow-up.

The action is accompanied by the ubiquitous commentary, this year provided by Jon Champion and Jim Beglin, and criticising it feels a little churlish when it provides so much unintentional entertainment. The guys are full of enthusiasm but are barely able to keep up with the play, often seemingly reporting on a completely different match. This is especially noticeable during the half-time summing up when you are often told you need to improve your performanceóeven though you are comfortably in control.

Back to the game modes and ďBecome a LegendĒ is as absorbing as always requiring you to design your own player and then take him through a full career. ďMaster LeagueĒ is also back this year and remains an almost perfect blend of football action and sim-style management, allowing you take control of all facets of the team from strategy to training, scouting and transfers it has that addictive quality that sees you tinkering for more time than you spend on the pitch. In fact itís such a comprehensive game mode, you could easily see Konami spinning it off as a separate franchise to appeal to those who have no doubt invested hundreds of hours in it.

The real jewel in the crown this year though is Online Master League. Not only allowing you to compete online with other players, the real innovation is the way that winning games rewards you with currency to invest in better players for your team.

Quick matches reward you with a cut of the gameís attendance gate money, but participating and winning tournaments provides the gate and prize money ensuring you can be first in line to pick up Fernando Torres when he inevitably puts in a transfer request. Thereís a handy news ticker to inform you of the value of individual players in the online market so you can quickly get a sense of where the bargains may lie. As a game mode it works incredibly well, encouraging you to keep investing time in matches in order to assemble the best possible squad of players. Oddly it reminded me of Call of Dutyís perk system which as Iím sure you know is the most addictive element of that particular online experience.

Thereís no doubt that Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 is a big improvement on last yearís version, successfully blending improved graphics and a brand new passing mechanic with an incredibly addictive online mode. Itís by no means the finished article with weaknesses remaining in terms of the A.I. and erratic shooting. Most importantly though there are real signs here that Konami is rediscovering its form just when we thought they were candidates for relegation.

Best Bits

- Pass meter adds more depth to gameplay.
- Player likeness much improved this year.
- Generally a better looking game than before.
- Online Master League is a great addition.
Worst Bits

- Still lacking the polish and presentation of that other football series.
- Commentary still so bad it's almost good.
- Shooting lacks consistency.
- Too many fouls.

by: Blakey

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