Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 Review

by on October 1, 2010

Game: Pro Evolution Soccer 2011

Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo

Publisher: Konami

Available on: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, Nintendo Wii and PSP (Reviewed on Xbox 360)

It’s been a tough time for Pro Evolution Soccer over the past few years, with even Konami themselves admitting that they haven’t delivered the goods to football gaming fans across the world. The arrival of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 seemed to catch Shingo “Seabass” Takatsuka and his team in Tokyo by surprise. PES 6 was a good game, but what followed (PES 2008, 2009 and, to a certain extent, 2010) did not live up to the high standards Konami set themselves with PES titles on the PlayStation 2. The decline in the series was evident and PES was no longer the title of choice amongst the majority of football gaming fans. FIFA had taken over, not only in terms of commercial success, but critical also.

Fast forward to the present and PES 2011 is here, a title which Konami hope will help them regain the football gaming throne once again. The buzz around early code has been really positive, but can the finished product actually live up to the promise? Is PES really back or has it faltered once again? Read on for the full review.

[singlepic id=257 w=320 h=240 float=left]GRAPHICS: PES 2011 looks fantastic; this is something that you will hit you as soon as you lay your eyes on the main menu of the game. The menus are slick and very easy to navigate. Everything you need to access is right there in front of you and supremely easy to find. Each game mode even has its own very own short “introduction” video. Nothing to shout on the rooftops about, but it’s a great example of how far Konami have gone to improve the level of presentation in PES.

This translates over to the on field action too. Konami have used the foundations they laid down with PES 2010 and improved on them greatly. Player likenesses are the best in any football game currently on the market. From Drogba to Cahill, every player looks as close to their real life counterpart as possible. The stadiums, including the pitches, also look great. The addition of a broadcast style camera really helps show off the high quality visuals in PES 2011. The first time you experience the camera as it expertly zooms out after kick-off is truly a “wow” moment.

Konami should be praised for adding in over 1000 new animations to the current engine, it really is a fantastic achievement. Every single animation makes the game feel more fluid and realistic when compared to the last three PES games. However, you can’t help but wonder how much it would benefit PES if Konami took that leap of faith and finally moved to a brand new, less restrictive graphical engine. With the talent at Konami’s disposal, surely they would only improve on what is already the best looking football game currently available.

N.B. After testing and comparing the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of PES 2011, the former version seemed to have a slight edge in the graphics department. The Xbox 360 version of the game looked sharper than its PlayStation 3 counterpart.

SOUND: Commentary has always been a bit of an Achilles’ heel for PES and even with the exclusion of Mark Lawrenson, it remains one in PES 2011. The addition of ITV’s Jim Beglin is most certainly a plus as it means you don’t have to listen to Lawrenson’s nonsense, but as whole the commentary still remains disjointed. At times what the commentators are saying doesn’t really match what has happened or is going to happen on the pitch. The commentary isn’t as annoying as previous PES games, but the majority of players will probably switch to a different language or turn it off altogether.

[singlepic id=262 w=320 h=240 float=right]Commentary aside, the rest of the audio in the game is superb. The crowd chants are more prominent than ever, with team specific chants creating a wonderful atmosphere during matches. For instance, when playing at Old Trafford occasionally you will hear Manchester United fans sing “You are my Solskjaer” and though it might be a small aspect in the overall scheme of things, it really does add something extra to the overall match atmosphere.

Special mention must go to the soundtrack Konami have snuck into PES 2011. It’s full of a diverse range of songs which are actually not that bad to listen to whilst you browse the menus or watch a replay. Some people might question Konami’s decision to include a few of their own tracks in the game, but they are also quite good. “Tech Funk”, in particular, is a track that grows on you the more you listen to it. There are a couple of well-known songs included in the soundtrack too; the awesome “Sweet Disposition” by The Temper Trap is one people will instantly recognise.

GAMEPLAY: Now, this is the area where PES has failed quite dramatically over the last three years, but you’ll be glad to hear that is not the case with PES 2011. Konami have brought back the PES greatness that was missing from the previous three games and then reinvigorated it via the addition of some new gameplay features.

The passing is the first area that has received some attention. You now fully control the weight of your passes and to some degree the direction too. There is some error in the direction of the passes with the default system, but if you want full control over everything then you will want to use the manual modifier. It’s slightly strange that you have to press an extra button to perform manual passes, it would have worked much better if this was an option you could turn on or off via the control options. Still, it works well enough and is actually a viable option if you want to produce some truly great passing moves.

The default passing system will definitely take some getting used to, especially if you have been playing PES 2010 for the last year or even FIFA 10 for that matter. It might even annoy certain players as they struggle to get to grips with it and think to themselves, “what have Konami done here?” However, as with most of the other top quality PES games, the more time you invest in the game, the more you will become one with the passing system. You will learn the nuances that define it and eventually it will become a natural part of your game. Scoring a goal in a football game is extremely satisfying, but in PES 2011 when you hit the back of the net thanks to a neat passing move moements before, that feeling is amplified to the highest degree.

[singlepic id=259 w=320 h=240 float=left]The sentiments stated above regarding the passing also apply to the games new defensive system. Much like the passing it is something you will have to learn by playing quite a few matches. This might seem harsh, but it is the best and only way to learn the fantastic defensive system in PES 2011. Holding a button no longer performs a standing tackle on an opposition player, instead it just tracks him. To perform a tackle you have to hold the track button and move the analog stick (or d-pad) towards the opponent in possession of the ball. It doesn’t end there, backing off is also a prominent part of this new defensive system. This is performed by holding the track button and moving the analog stick (or d-pad) towards your goal. The key to learning this new system (and eventually mastering it) is knowing when to perform a standing tackle and when to back off. This might sound complicated to some, but when it clicks you come to the realisation that what Konami have created replicates the art of defending superbly. Defending at the highest level of football is all about knowing when to contain and when to finally pounce on the opposition, PES 2011 mirrors that to great effect.

It will be hotly debated amongst football gaming fans if PES 2011 does actually include 360 degree dribbling, probably until the release of PES 2012! Whether it is down to the engine or something else entirely, it is really hard to get a feel of the 360 degree dribbling and come up with a definitive opinion on the matter. Some people might feel it immediately, whereas others won’t feel it all. However, it is quite clear that dribbling requires skill, something which will no doubt please fans. At the very least, you will need to have decent knowledge of player movement and know when to use the sprint/dash button to successfully beat an opponent or two. If you spend the majority of your time trying to dribble at high speeds, you won’t be very successful at all.

The exact same statement can be applied to the new trick system too. Much has been said about this new feature, with people concerned it will make it too easy to get past opponents. That is far from the case though, as if you try and pull off a trick when you shouldn’t be, your opponent will come away with the ball 99% of the time. It’s all about using the tricks during the right situation, but even then you aren’t guaranteed to be 100% successful.

Shooting and set pieces haven’t been changed much when compared to previous iterations of PES, but that isn’t a negative as both were solid anyway (apart from one particular aspect, but more on that later). The only slight change comes in form of shots having a little more curl/swerve, even if you don’t use the placement modifier. It’s a welcome addition which adds a little bit more realism to proceedings because, after all, shots in real a football match don’t usually follow a strict straight line! While on the topic of shooting, it must be said that scoring is made ever so slightly harder thanks to the fantastic goalkeepers in PES 2011. They are absolutely brilliant and the best the series has had to offer since its inception back in the PlayStation 2 days.

[singlepic id=260 w=320 h=240 float=right]The passing, defending, dribbling, shooting and set pieces are all great, but what really shines through about PES 2011 is the AI and general feel of the game. Before its dramatic fall from grace PES was always great at capturing that realistic feel of football and Konami have, once again, managed to do exactly that with PES 2011. Stick the game on professional or top player and this is clear to see. Play as Manchester United at home against Birmingham City (West Midlands City) and you will notice they will try to contain you, hoping you push too many men forward so they can punish you on the break. However, if a team like Birmingham City does get that one chance, they are not always guaranteed to take it. They might hit the post or just miss the chance completely. On the other side of the scale, if this happens in a Champions League match against a high quality side like Lyon or AC Milan then 99% of the time they will punish your defensive lapse. Any true football fan will know this is exactly how the sport plays out in real life and PES 2011 manages to that capture that superbly through realistic behaviour of both teams and players.

The only two things that hinder the gameplay would be the non-existent advantage rule and the terrible penalty system. Why Seabass and his team have chosen to stick with a penalty system that was greatly criticised in PES 2010 is incomprehensible. There are various tutorials online that try to explain how the system works, but even then you will find it immensely difficult to hit the back of the net from 12 yards out. The lack of an advantage rule isn’t as bad as the penalty system and (surprisingly) it’s not even something that breaks the gameplay, but for a simple rule to be left out of a football game that is otherwise so realistic in its approach is something that will most definitely annoy certain people. Hopefully Konami can sort this issue out via a post release patch.

MODES: Konami have included all the usual modes in PES 2011 plus a brand new addition. The new mode is the South American version of the Champions League, the Copa Libertadores. It’s a mode some people might be underwhelmed by, but those people only need to play one match in the competition to see what a worthy addition to PES it is. As an officially licensed competition, it really does bring that South American football vibe straight to your console. The only shame is that it is not part of the Master League mode like the Champions League.

Speaking of which, Konami have done a superb job with the Master League mode once again. No other football game matches this particular mode in regards to quality of content and depth. Aside from playing actual matches, you can train your players however you like, take an active role in appointing club staff, negotiate the potential signing of new players, promote youth team player and so much more. The sheer amount of content and options at your disposal is just mind boggling! The fact that every match is made to feel like an important date is also something that should be praised. You will actively look out for key matches and make changes to your team selection accordingly.

[singlepic id=263 w=320 h=240 float=left]Champions League matches, in particular, are made out to be a big deal. Konami have used the license superbly; they have absolutely nailed the look and feel of a Champions League match. It just makes you wonder what they could do if they had more official leagues and/or competitions to play with it.

Become a legend mode remains intact from previous versions of PES and is decent, but won’t drag players away from the main course that is Master League. The basic set-up is fine, but can become a little boring after a few games. The fact that you don’t get feedback on how you’re doing during a match is also a bit of negative. As stated, the basic set-up is quite good, but Konami need to add some more substance to this mode to make it a fully-fledged and fun alternative to the other modes available in the game.

Edit mode also makes a return with a brand new addition, the stadium editor. Whilst the mode is a welcome addition, its depth is questionable. Creating stadiums like Stamford Bridge or Upton Park might be possible, but trying to create something a bit more complex like the Emirates Stadium could be an issue. Nevertheless, it is surely a feature Konami will look to build upon and hopefully we get to see a much improved stadium editor in PES 2012.

The game also includes various different online modes, most of which have been seen in previous versions of the game. The biggest addition here is most definitely the Master League online mode. However, it is very difficult to comment on this and the other online modes at the time of writing this review as the servers are not up and running yet. Konami’s issues with the online arena have been well documented over the past few years, so right now it’s a case of waiting and hoping they have got it right this year. If they do manage to pull off stable online play, then they could have something massive on their hands with the Master League online mode.

N.B. As of September 30th the online modes in PES 2011 are up and running. Online on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 seems to be running quite well, with little or no lag at all in the majority of matches.

LONGEVITY: Being an annually released football game, PES 2011 is sure to last you until the day PES 2012 is released. There are so many modes on offer and so much to do; it’s a football gaming fans wet dream. Master League, in particular, is a massive time sink and once it grabs you by the balls it will be so hard to loosen its grip. To add to that, if the online is stable and works exactly like it should, you might as well just leave that PES 2011 disc in your console.

VERDICT: If someone told you that PES 2011 would be bring the series back to its wonderful best at the beginning of the year, you would have probably laughed and rightly so too. After three years of disappointment you would have never expected Konami to release a game this good, but they have done exactly that.

There are some underlying niggles, but they don’t really detract from the overall quality of the game. If you’re willing to put the time into it, you will be rewarded with a fantastic virtual recreation of the beautiful game. Simply put, no other football game on the market captures the sport as realistically as PES 2011 does. It might not go down well with some people, but PES is back and it is better than ever.

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