Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 is a tricky one to rate, especially in something so knee-jerk as is the 1-5* rating system. I bought my copy this morning and, after playing it for most of the day I believe I can offer you a general lowdown on the game. Let me start by saying this is a 5* game for football fans; a 5* game for Pro Evolution fans, and a 5* game for those who want to have tremendous fun and many, many laughs. On the whole though, there are a few flaws in the game - not too major - but flaws which mean 4 *'s is a just value, in my eyes.
For those of you who don't already know, this game is NOTHING like the previous two PES editions. The whole engine has been ripped up, torn out and replaced with a much shinier, smoother model - Pro's been suped up and suped up good. I'll start with the passing - perhaps the aspect Konami have really nailed - and surely the most important area of the game. "Engineered For Freedom", the game's new motto, sounds clichéd but I'll tell you now, it's quite appropriate. The ball can literally go anywhere, and I mean anywhere. On the game's demo, when you played with either Barca or Bayern - this wasn't as obvious. You had Iniesta, Xavi, Schweinsteiger et al on the pitch - these player's skill, in particular their first touch/close control, really come into their own here. With such teams, the moves you can instigate and execute are astonishing - challenging - but extremely rewarding if pulled off. The mixed bag of new animations come into play here, and the "hold LT to manual pass" touch is a stroke of true class - you can literally hit the ball from 10CM to 100 yards away from your foot - a priceless tool for intricate midfield interchange when playing through gaps. At first, your play might be akin to a fish out of water, but don't be deterred - after a few matches you will gradually start to get used to the new controls. You'll find that your passes - that skewed horribly out of play earlier - will be weighted nicely. You'll find that your shots - that looked so awful at first that even I grew sceptical - will come together perfectly; you'll realise that these take into account the angle & run up mixed with the amount of power you use.
Defensively, this game's difficult, where so many come up short. The key to it is your tactics - another area of the game leading a new life. You now have a system similar to that of Football Manager i.e. a board with pieces, the pieces being your formation and players. You're at the steering wheel here, you can do anything to the team - you want 10 attackers? No problem. Or 10 men behind the ball? Job done. How you position your defence is key to your success - if a 'speed demon' striker so easily breaks your backline's offside trap - you ain't gonna be catching him up anytime soon - it's all down to the goalkeeper from then on. However, if you spot him early and make your run first, a life-like neck-in-neck race will ensue - this is where an excellent new jostling system is useful. If your defender is in the form of a brute, you can use your strength to complete advantage by shouldering your way in and ushering the attacker to one side. Another nice touch is that if you are in a corner, like in real-life, where you are being hassled by the opposition, you can use manual pass to hit it off him for an easy goal-kick/throw in. I've never been able to buy set-pieces as smoothly before!
Your positioning is what a trunk is to a three - you'll need it, or you'll fall apart. This counts for aerial play, both defensively and offensively - I shan't gabble on any longer though - just take my word for it that the defensive side to this game, although tricky to grasp, is ultimately rewarding. My belief is that EVERY aspect of this game is there to be mastered.
Now, what have I missed? Oh, that's it, online play. The old Achilles' heel of this series. Now I haven't had much time, but even in the short time of playing it I couldn't resist getting my teeth into the online master league - competition at its very best. You start with a team of your choice - whether it be Real Madrid or Blackpool - it doesn't make too much difference, surprisingly. You have their colours/kit & name - the rest in a default squad of the lowest quality and 500k in the bank. You play games to win money. If you win, you receive maximum profits; lose, it's minimal mate. Competitions i.e. cups are also there, starting at set periods throughout the day - I haven't played one yet but I believe you'll receive even more cash there. Now I've played about 6 games today. The question is, is there any lag? No! Well, not from my minimal experience, and even this is a huge step up from recent online disasters. The competition was fantastic and I experienced some heart-pounding games - just like the Pro Evo of old.
To tidy up - the graphics are a delight - from the pitch, to the players, to the referee - just adding to the game's realism. The commentary, I'm afraid to say is appalling, as ever - why can't they improve on something so apparently simple? The stadium sound effects have improved, although perhaps not to FIFA's level. The menus are precise and very easy to use - you won't have any trouble finding your way around. Another gripe I have with the game is some refereeing decisions really are questionable - I've even felt sorry for my opposition online at times.
On the whole though, Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 represents a success for Konami. The graphics are great, the gameplay is of the highest quality and, perhaps most importantly, it's incredibly fun and very addictive. I won't lie to you - this game is hard - the computer, on Top Player, will beat you more often than not. And online, some of the foreign players, particularly the Spaniards, seem to be masters of the manual pass and you can't get near them at times. On the whole, it's a game which is to be mastered. If you want a game that is more pick-up-and-play, but ultimately less rewarding, then buy FIFA or anything else. You can't run before you can walk remember.
4*s - Because a lot of the teams aren't updated, the refs can conduct themselves outrageously and the commentary's a sham. Otherwise, a triumph.