PES 2011 Review

Most sports titles strike a winning formula and then continue to reiterate that same winning formula year upon year, adding refinements and tweaks alongside new options, features, modes and so on. Pro Evolution Soccer was one of those very titles once upon a time, boasting a satisfying game of football that felt intuitive, fast-paced and fluid, which is exactly why it was the connoisseur's game of choice. It used to be that the lack of licences and authenticity was something you could easily overlook, because you knew that you were getting the superior match experience in PES. How the mighty have fallen.

"Messi's feet move that fast, it's all a bit of a blur."

Since PES 2008, Konami's football franchise has been on a steady downward spiral, becoming a case of increasingly diminishing returns as the series has grown stale, content to rest on its laurels and churn out essentially the same game year after year. For PES 2011, Konami has decided to tear up the rule book and rebuild the fundamentals from the scratch, which you'd think would represent a positive step for the franchise, but in these FIFA dominated times, PES needs to go a long way to keep up.

From a presentation standpoint, PES is almost up there with the best, with a solid front-end with licensed music rather than the god-awful tripe that used to assault your ears in PES titles gone by, but on the pitch, it's an altogether different story. In rebuilding PES to try and compete with EA Sports' flourishing FIFA franchise, Konami has somehow managed to strip out almost everything that made PES unique. Gone is the fluidity and arcade-accessible ebb and flow that previously identified the series and made PES stand out. PES 2011 feels sluggish and unwieldy compared to previous iterations, and trying to complete a chain of passing play is like pulling teeth, thanks to a completely unassisted passing system that supposedly contributes to the game's 'Total Control'.

Build-up play now has a key role in PES 2011, but when you've taken the time to create a series of connecting passes, only to have a through ball fail to connect in what feels like a completely arbitrary fashion is enormously frustrating. You have to gauge the weight of your passes accurately, which is not a problem if you have reliable team AI to help out, but there's the rub. PES 2011's team-mate AI is shabby, causing players to regularly neglect to make a timed run into space. As a result, PES sometimes feels like the worst game of amateur Sunday league ever.

We lost count of the number of instances in which a counter attack broke down as a result of what should have been a simple short pass going astray or the complete failure of an attacking player to get into position. Playing a match as World Cup champions Spain against the US for example, we found Torres shimmying by our side like a buffoon when he should have been making a dash to receive a crucial pass for a shot on goal. We had the same problem with Samuel Eto'o during a pivotal match in the late stages of the Champions League, which lead to an unceremonious defeat. In short, PES 2011 is often woefully inept.

"Europe's most pointless cup..."

When you do manage to fight your way to the opposite end of the pitch however, it's possible to score some fantastic screamers, but it still isn't quite as satisfying as you want it to be, especially given the level of effort you have to put in just to open up the opportunity for a chance to put in a strike on goal.

PES 2011 isn't short on modes, leagues and customisation aspects to fiddle with though, and they're all worthwhile, especially if you want to create your favourite club and an accompanying stadium. If you happen to support an English club, chances are it won't be in the game and when you consider the dearth of licensed teams, stadia and divisions in PES 2011, you have to wonder why anyone would ever choose it over FIFA. Of course, licences do not a good game make and although fundamentally PES 2011 is perfectly fine, it doesn't deliver on Konami's mission statement to completely overhaul the entire game.

We suspect the idea was to tighten up the gameplay and start with a clean slate, but there's clearly still a lot of ground to make up. Movement for instance feels loose and over-animated, whereas player likenesses look a little rough. But then the quality of the visuals in general isn't a huge improvement over PES 2010 and no amount of quirky editing options and all-new stadium customising gubbins can disguise the fact that PES 2011 isn't nearly as cohesive as FIFA.

There's still a lot to be said for Master League of course, and it remains the core of PES as it always has been and probably always will be. The scout, who makes a return, is there to help you with player negotiations, with the usual bit of pre-season training to go through and at least an entire year's worth of gameplay if you're happy to invest the time. The UEFA Champions League, Copa Santander Libertadores and Become A Legend are all in this year too, so if you do happen to prefer the slightly hoary and archaic gameplay that PES offers, you'll have plenty to work through. And PES fans will no doubt blindly forgive the game for all its flaws, and we too - having been a part of that group at one time - genuinely want to do the same having been loyal to the series for more than fifteen years, but it just doesn't compare favourably with FIFA 11, sadly.

"What's this? Ronaldo on his feet? Well I'll be damned."

There's no escaping the fact that despite essentially starting over, Konami has lost what once made PES a sublime master of the genre. Although there's definitely potential for the series to get back on track on the basis of this reboot, it's just not enough for the title to compete this year. Online, there are also some slight improvements here over its predecessors, although venturing into the online modes for some multiplayer action is always an unavoidable minefield of rage-quitters and occasional lag. This isn't Konami's fault obviously, but we'd still like to see sterner penalties in future for unsportsmanlike conduct online. Get past these issues however and you can take nearly every facet of PES 2011 online, including the Master League and Become A Legend mode.

If online doesn't float your boat, you can at least take some solace in the fact that there's only a single online achievement to chase after, yet the rest of the list is still comprised of the same old achievements that have been wheeled out for the last few years. So, there are loads attached to maintaining certain percentages across ten matches, whether it's keeping fouls to a minimum, retaining possession or simply winning ten consecutive matches. It's a lazily reheated batch of cheevos and a disappointingly poor effort all round.

In attempting to start over and give PES its most substantial revamp in a long time, Konami has given the franchise a much-need shot in the arm. There's a lot more to like here than previous, but PES 2011 still feels like an also-ran that's still in dire need of some additional refinement and some of that old fluid magic that once made PES sheer footballing alchemy. Some of FIFA's licences, authenticity and attention to detail wouldn't go amiss either, but PES didn’t lay its foundations on such things, so it shouldn’t be needed to get back to the top. PES is all about gameplay, and currently, it doesn’t quite hit the back of the net. It'll be interesting to see where Konami can go from here, but at least PES 2011is a baby-step towards something better.

Licensed music returns for another year and there's a decent enough soundtrack playing over the menus The commentary is still appalling and features a few too many recycled phrases from previous PES titles. Jon Champion and Jim Beglin are still rubbish then, coming out with some unintentionally hilarious one-liners. Add to this a severe lack of atmosphere and laughable crowd chants, and you have another year of terrible audio.

From afar, the likenesses and pitch detail look pretty solid, but up-close things look a bit ropey. Star players generally look spot on, but the animation is slightly too stodgy, movement feels relatively sluggish - even if you crank up the speed in the pause menu – and there's just a lack of graphical detail and finesse all round. Replays are also a bit jarring, with motion-blur making them look like the camera lenses have been smeared in Vaseline. That said, the TV-style presentation is pretty good.

PES 2011 plays perfectly fine, but it's pretty unremarkable stuff when compared to the competition. Passing requires care and accuracy this time around, but the number of times that the unassisted passing play sabotages a hard fought attack only serves in marring your enjoyment. Ultimately, PES 2011 isn't a patch on FIFA 11, despite being ripped apart and overhauled. PES 2011 just feels inferior and still needs a great deal of work before it catches up.

There's no shortage of leagues and game modes to immerse yourself in, but whether you'll actually want to get into any of them hinges on whether you dig the gameplay. The UEFA Champions League, Become A Legend modes and thousands of customisation options offer plenty of substance and all of these aspects are perfectly well-presented. It's just a shame that the gameplay doesn't quite measure up to the scope and wealth of options on offer.

A list comprised mostly of perfunctory, grinding achievements that create little impetus to explore everything that PES 2011 has to offer. Having a single online achievement is a small mercy and cheevos attached to the various leagues are slightly more interesting. On the whole though, this is a by the numbers and utterly uninspired achievement list.

It's with a heavy heart that we have to declare that Konami's decision to go back to the drawing board for PES 2011 hasn't managed to pay off. If anything, PES 2011 is plagued with almost as many issues as its forebears, while it seems to have also lost its blend of satisfying immediacy and flowing, instinctive realism. In pursuing a mantra of 'Total Control', Konami has produced a PES that might appeal more to the footballing tacticians than it will to the everyday football fan. Nevertheless, PES 2011 stands as a valiant effort to rejuvenate the brand, although it's going to take a lot more to transform the game into it a desirable alternative to the competition. Unless you're a PES die-hard, we suggest you stick with FIFA again this year.

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