Review: Pro Evolution Soccer 2011
The perennial underdog to FIFA, PES has begun trying harder and it's shown over the past few years.
- Worth The Time?Yes
- Things LovedSlick menu design, goal celebrations, UEFA Champions League, Online Master League, diving, mind-blowing visuals, gameplay physics, stadium creator
- Things HatedCommentary, penalties, inconsistent AI, illogical and confusing menu layout, lack of licensing
- RecommendationPES 2011 is the best PES game ever. For fans, it builds on what you're used to. For newcomers, it's a generally great gaming experience. It is miles ahead of its predecessors and just about on par with its arch-rival: FIFA 11.
- Name: Pro Evolution Soccer 2011
- Genre: Sports
- Players: 1-8
- Multiplayer: local, online
- Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
- Developer: Konami Studios
- Publisher: Konami
- Price: R350 (PC), R700 (PS3, Xbox 360)
- Reviewed On: Xbox 360
Since the advent of next-gen, the Pro Evolution Soccer series has been somewhat lackluster and disappointing when put next to EA’s FIFA. The series has characteristically been plagued by bugs, gameplay flaws, glitches, inconsistencies and terrible interfaces. However, this time around it seems that Konami has gotten the game to pull its socks up, go on a crash-course in gameplay mechanics and given it the Miss Congeniality treatment.
Konami has gone all-out this year and made every effort to set PES 2011 solar systems apart from its predecessors. The first thing you’ll notice is the revised interface which is a Godsend as far as upgrades go from the bluntly revolting menus that players were forced to navigate and attempt to use in previous games. The new look makes you actually want to play the game instead of walking away the minute you were presented with those hideous menus as I did on more than one occasion with PES 2010.
The layout is still woefully confusing and illogical with literally no flow to them. Unfortunately the soundtrack which you’ll play the game to is still a patchwork of good vibey anthems and random tunes from every genre imaginable. I went from listening to some meaningless bit of R ‘n B to a really intense rock number with lots of shouting and screaming to something which actually fit with a game like PES. To put it plainly, the soundtrack that has been chosen for PES 2011 sounds like a schizophrenic’s ultimate playlist. Don’t fret though because you can import your own tracks for playback and to be sung by the crowd.
The usual array of game modes is available with Master League, Be A Legend, UEFA Champions League and the inclusion of the Europa League and South American Copa Libertadores (effectively the South American Champions League).
Be A Legend allows you to create your own player with a great amount of detail. Besides the facility to fine-tune every aspect of your player’s physicality and aesthetics you can also alter your player’s running style, free-kick and penalty stance and even the way they take shots. You can also determine the specific role and style that your creation will play with. When creating a defender, for example, you can determine whether your guy will specialise in ‘sweeping’, getting up into the midfield or making runs on the wing. You are then presented with offers from different clubs and perhaps the coolest thing about this mode is that you receive pep-talks before a match from the manager in which he also outlines the game plan and what you are expected to do. Afterwards, you will be given a breakdown of the player’s performance in certain sections of the match. One detraction is that you are not able to play Be A Legend with real players.
The Master League has been extended with far more depth and scope as far as managerial options go. You can have as many as 3 sponsors, each with their own terms and conditions under which they will continue to sponsor the team. You can dictate training regimes, sign on staff almost like you would players and even change the look of players and even your stadium. The stadium editor allows you to determine the seat colour, lighting, pitch design and other details with minimal detail, but the feature is well put together and fun.
There are a myriad other features on offer in Master League but there are just so many that it quickly becomes overwhelming and I honestly didn’t know where to start with any of it. There’s a lot of that in PES – misdirected effort. Yes, a lot of the seemingly unnecessary features such as being able to hand pick each key member of staff adds what would be termed as realism to the managerial experience, but so would admin work, dealing with the press and sorting out players’ personal crap and it is therefore tedious and boring and honestly useless. Who gives a damn whether I have Joe Glove or Owen Smith as my stadium manager? A nice touch though is that some players will be away on international duty for friendlies or qualifier games at times.
Of course, there is a transfer market, but everything is done through a scout and there’s really very little that you get to do besides pick which player you want to bid for. The system just feels so disjointed and remote, like driving a limo from the back seat. It’s possible to do it but you can’t really see where you’re going.
Where PES shines, as usual, is in its recreation of the major tournaments that it manages to secure licensing for. All three are exquisitely done, from intro and theme music to time and score displays and everything in between. Champions League is perhaps the best example of this because you really get the thrill and aura that the UEFA Champions League creates. The intro theme to every match with its little clip, the players walking out onto the pitch, the Champions League logo on a massive banner in the centre of the field – it’s all there. You can even play in Champions League, Europa League and the UEFA Super Cup in the standard game modes, if your team is eligible.
So, prettier menus and some improvements to the existing game modes. Sounds pretty good as far as improvements go but the gameplay is where PES 2011 takes itself from being good to great. The passing is organic and feels natural even though passes can often go off target or require a double-tap to be properly executed. You also can’t pass backwards or even diagonally – backwards by means of a backheel as I humourously found out during the course of one match where I was one-on-one with the keeper, but decided to pass it back for someone who was waiting to my left. Instead the ball got passed forward and I scored my first goal of the match with a misdirected pass.
The physics of the game are great and make gameplay more realistic, but ball collision is sometimes buggy especially when tackling. Players will make solid tackles and won’t win the ball or the ball will just spring away with nobody on it. Switching between players becomes a great annoyance as it will often snap to a player that is nowhere near the one you wanted to control and can mess up both attacking runs and defensive strategies.
On the topic of tackles and challenges, fouls will often be called wrong or missed to the point where you can regularly expect to receive a free-kick for a foul that your player committed. Perhaps this fascist irregular refereeing comes as a result of the new ability to dive. Yes. If you want to swing the game in your favour, just take a dive when an opponent comes at you for the ball. Most of the time you won’t get the free-kick or penalty but once, just maybe, you will and it will be blissfully rewarding.
PES has also matured its gameplay somewhat to the tune that it is now a pleasure to either make runs down the wing or dictate the tempo of the game from midfield. Unfortunately there are still several lingering grievances. Whoever designed the gameplay mechanics wasn’t at soccer practice the day they learnt about one-touch play because it doesn’t exist in this game. PES 2011 demands that you at least control the ball before a player is able to pass or shoot. Whenever you do manage to get a shot off, you can almost feel the power behind it, but don’t expect many goals to come from this.
Scoring in the new PES game is difficult, perhaps realistically so. At times the shooting mechanic seems too realistic where you need the precision of an accomplished neurosurgeon just to score a simple tap-in. The ball will actually veer wildly off-course for no reason on the odd occasion. When a goal does come your way, you’ll welcome it with open arms because of the feeling that gets generated with a celebration that gets the whole team involved. Celebrations in PES are an uncanny mirror of those that you’d see on TV with the camera panning to follow players, dog piling and the goal-scorer doing a characteristic celebration.
More problems with the gameplay are that players get injured far too easily and hardly a match goes by where at least one player will go off and hang out by the sideline for a while as if he’s in some amateur league like the PSL before coming back on. Penalties are inexplicably difficult as if Konami was trying to emulate the kind of pressure felt by a player who has the opportunity to convert the winning penalty for his national team in the final of his very last World Cup. It is beyond the comprehension of Stephen Hawking as to why they have made it this difficult, but it is God awfully annoying.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 falls flat on its face and then gets walked all over by a group of bench-warmers when it comes to player AI. It is so broken, lacking and over-bearing, all in the same match. Firstly, your own players don’t seem to know where they’re meant to be on the field in different situations. Players will make runs forward and even get back to defend, but won’t run into space or take up an advantageous position for closing attacks down. In fact, some players are so worried about getting caught off-side that they back-peddle about 20m before they’re in any real danger of being off-side.
I played one match with Barcelona where I was making a blistering run down the wing with Messi and as would be expected, Villa was running up to receive the cross except when he was about to run into open space from which a goal would be certain, he came to a crunching halt and stood there on the edge of the box, waiting among a horde of defenders.
The difficulty curve of this game where opponent AI is concerned is ridiculous. Play a match on the medium difficulty and opponent AI is non-existent. They are simply place-holders. I ran from one end of the field to the other without inferring a single tackle despite provoking the opposition and proceeded to score with the keeper who had made the run. Ramp the difficulty up one level and you suddenly get met by an impenetrable wall of defence. I could not score on this difficulty setting and it was just one higher than the walkover-easy-that-should-actually-be-medium difficulty. Opposition attacks also become ferocious and near impossible to deal with when combined with the iffy player switching mechanic. Even the most accomplished keeper struggles to hold onto the ball. He may make a brilliant save, but keepers hardly ever want to catch the ball and hold onto it.
At this point I would like mention my personal favourite touch that has been added to PES 2011, a little bit of realism: when two particularly aggressive players get into a tussle, fist fights can ensue. When it first happened in the game, it was awesome and continued to be so. Also, the Japanese word for ‘what’ or ‘what did you say’ is nani and it therefore seems to be a little inside joke that whenever the commentator utters Man Utd player Nani’s name, he sounds confused.
As usual, PES is let down by its sheer lack of licensing. It has managed to get licensing for the entire French & Dutch premier leagues and even has Real Madrid, Barcelona, Man United and Tottenham, but this lack of polish and realism just sticks out like a knife in one’s neck against all the effort that that Konami has put in to make this year’s iteration better. What’s shocking though is the complete lack of effort that has gone into putting teams together. Most teams have outdated squads or inconsistencies in the squad. A newly signed player may be in the line-up but a player that has been sold will still be there and a player that signed on at the exact same time as the other will be nowhere in sight on the squad list. Fortunately, there is a DLC pack coming up that should update the squad lists appropriately.
The visuals that PES 2011 has on offer are brilliant. Simply, bluntly amazing. The way the net ripples when the ball hits the back of it, how players move, the tiny creases in their shirts as they run – it’s all there and astounding. Major players are a spitting image of themselves in real life, but some lesser players are woefully nothing like themselves. They don’t even seem to have been modelled on the right person. Lucas, the cost of Liverpool, is a fair-skinned Brazilian player with a permanent grimace and blonde shoulder-length hair. In the game, he looks like pig with a black pony-tail. It is a case of quality over quantity, but literally no effort has been made to even recreate something that looks like the lesser players.
Jon Champion makes a grudging return as lead commentator; this time joined by much-criticised commentator Jim Benglin. The commentary is lacking and stagnated. It will disappear for extended periods of time and suddenly explode with, “NOW! Can he hit the target with a movement of the boot?” and then disappear again. When the commentary decides to try a spot of play-by-play, it is always 2 steps behind. Like a kid with foetal-alcohol syndrome who’s trying to learn the Fox Trot.
Leaps and bounds have been made in the online modes of PES 2011. It features up to 8 players in unranked friendlies and a maximum of 4 in ranked games. There are minor tweaks here and there that improve the overall experience and sharpen up play, but the all-new Online Master League is where the development has been made. There is a neat little ticker tape scrolling across the top of your screen telling you which players are good buys, overpriced and so on. Work has also been put in to raise the level of the experience and bring it as close as possible to that of the offline and it shows. The online aspects of PES are still a little limited, but what is there is well done and great in its execution.
PES 2011 certainly represents a massive shift in perspective for the series and adds far more depth to everything that the game has on offer. This is effectively the FIFA 08 for PES, the game from which things will only continue to get bigger, better and brighter. The game has evolved into something of a simulator rather than a football game. This is where the problem will lie for most people. All the small nuances, unnecessary features and impossible gameplay suddenly become perfect and logical when put in front of a hardcore fan looking for a simulator.
PES 2011 is great. It looks astounding, plays well and feels good but just know that you are most likely only going to scratch the surface of what the game is designed to do and will probably become frustrated and overwhelmed by the features and gameplay that have been designed to make it a football simulator rather than a football game. The beautiful game has never been quite so technical.