Pro Evolution Soccer 2011

The world of video game football has long been a two horse race, with Konami’s Pro Evo and EA’s FIFA battling it out for top spot. In more recent years, EA has emerged the more commercially viable option and FIFA’s latest offering boasts a stunning line-up of leagues and official endorsements. After having equal time with both renditions over the past three years, I would have to admit that the FIFA series is my preferred choice for a kick-around the park. With a fully featured A-League, solid controls and a comprehensive player roster, it’s hard to fault FIFA (apart from their recent spot-kick update).

Meanwhile the Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) franchise certainly hasn’t taken EA’s dominance lying down. Their latest 2011 instalment has plenty of Ronaldo-like tricks up their sleeve as well. In my mind the PES series has long been more on the arcade side of football. With elaborate ball control, insane pace and power shots from halfway; Konami offered a fast flowing football experience that fans have appreciated since 2001. Sure the raw simulator framework is there, but overall the end result feels a lot more capricious.

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PES 2011 has taken a few pages from EA’s book and now offers 360-degree control over your player and ball direction. In a similar vein, players can also dictate the weight of a pass or strength of a shot by how long they hold down the appropriate button for. It sounds great on paper, but unfortunately the sensitivity of the controls seem to be completely arbitrary. Just tapping the pass button sends the ball halfway into the stadium instead of picking out a precise through-ball to your team mate. Even the 360-degree controls don’t feel all that responsive and often players will stick to their usual 8-angled approach. I would go so far as to say that the ball physics are more in the realm of science fiction than FIFA’s realistic grounding as well.

But where PES 2011 really excels is in attacking play and with the ball in front of goal. Nearly every player in the game can get their fancy boots on and pull off trick moves by holding down a special move button and flicking the analogue stick. Obviously some players possess more skill and flair than others but unlike FIFA '11, pulling off a feint or step-over to pass a player is easy and rewarding. Even taking shots on goal from 25 yards out is always worthwhile thanks to a well honed power meter that makes long distance shots dangerous and accurate. The overall effect is end-to-end football with most of the action taking place in the goal boxes. It’s a different experience to FIFA’s usual midfield battle for possession.

The visuals in PES 2011 give FIFA ’11 a good run for their money as well. All of the player likenesses are highly detailed and are often more recognisable than EA’s character models. Rooney is a little nugget of a bulldog, Messi looks like a twelve year old girl and Crouch looks like a genetic experiment gone wrong. In other words, they’re all spot on. Even the New Zealand All Whites have stunning 3D models of the players with Fallon and Nelson looking uncannily like their real-life counterparts. It was pleasing to see that even the lesser known teams have had much more care and attention to their facial and body-type sculpting. However considering the much smaller database of teams in PES than FIFA, there is no excuse for them not to have this level of detail.

Strangely, despite the All Whites looking the part, their playing strips are completely wrong. Instead of white and black home and away strips, New Zealand takes to the pitch with blues and reds all over them. I guess our bland, monotone playing strips were just too boring for Konami’s liking. The in-game replays are top-notch too, featuring interesting angles and clever close-ups to mix up the action. But PES 2011 has to lose some marks in the presentation department. Nearly every menu in the game lacks the polish and charm of the FIFA series and instead looks like they were quickly knocked up at the last minute.

While the in-game graphics are impressive, the sound is more of a mixed bag. PES 2011 has a similar take on EA’s soundtrack and ends up just being a few tracks shy of FIFA ’11 listings. It ranges from all genres and countries but it was especially pleasing to see local lads Shihad and Australia’s The Temper Trap included in the lineup. But the commentary, supplied by Jon Champion and a rather drunk sounding Jim Beglin (who replaces last year’s Mark Lawrenson) is disappointing. Their narration is often uninspired and strangely over-negative towards the action taking place on the pitch. Thankfully the other sound effects help drown it out and PES 2011 features some incredibly dramatic crowd chants, stadium ambiance and even plenty of sideline banter.

PES 2011 includes decent multiplayer modes, friendlies and numerous semi-licensed tournaments including England's Premier League, France's Ligue 1 and the Serie A from Italy. But one of the bigger features is the ‘Become a Legend’ mode where players can customise their avatar and insert them into their dream team. With the ability to customise your own dribbling style, celebratory move and even penalty taking technique, PES 2011 does offer a bit more personalisation than FIFA. Using the EyeToy camera, users can even take a photo of themselves and map it digitally to your avatar's face with ease. Although it’s a clever option, the end result makes you look a bit like a burns victim. But with enough time and patience, you’ll soon have your beautiful mug inserted in the game.

The ‘Become a Legend’ experience is similar to FIFA, letting you take your player from rags to riches across a variety of clubs. But unlike FIFA, where you can casually rank up and improve your stats, PES 2011 is extremely harsh early on. You can expect to be injured and miss months of play, substituted by your coach without warning and even be placed out of position. I debuted as a striker for Lancashire Athletic, scored two goals and set up a third and was heralded as a club hero. The next game my coach decided to switch me to left back for the remainder of the season. What the? On one hand I admire PES trying to add some realism and make players experience the long, hard road to stardom, but they seem to have forgotten that games are also meant to be a bit of fun.

Despite all of these comments and my own personal opinion, this review isn’t telling you what football game to buy this year. Both FIFA ’11 and PES 2011 are completely different games and play to their own strengths and weaknesses. All I can recommend is for football fans to download both demos, or give them a rental and see which one suits best. But in the meantime, I’ll be hitting the changing rooms with FIFA this summer.

"...a bit like a burns victim"
- Pro Evolution Soccer 2011
Follow Own it? Rating: G   Difficulty: Easy   Learning Curve: 15 Min


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