The PES 2010 playtest was a very nervous experience, and something I couldn’t begin to describe or attempt to put into words. A series that’s given so much pleasure over a decade has done the opposite in recent years, and more than ever this year is the year it can simply not fail to deliver.
The instant we arrived at the offices our eyes were fixated on the number of screens around the playtest venue, already in full use by the PESGaming and PESFan crew. At first, in all honesty, my heart sank a little. I saw similar animations and a similar look to last year, coated in a very pretty exterior. I turned back to Suff, who was still meeting and greeting, and gazed over worryingly at him. My whole persona must have alerted a few of the Konami employees, as they ushered us quickly onto a test unit to sample the game.
The moment we started playing my frown became a smile, from a mixture of realisation about the gameplay, and (to my amazement) Suff’s sheer enjoyment at how the game was unfolding. Slowly the disappointment of seeing a similar looking game started to fade away, as the gameplay of PES 2010 took over.
Before the event me and Suff sat down and spoke of realistic expectations of what we were about to see. Using his wisdom thanks to his experience with FIFA 10, he expected it to be more of a proof of concept rather than something we could judge off the bat. After playing EA’s title in April, then a month later in Vancouver, he explained how the difference in development time was so substantial that initial impressions in the first playtest counted for very little – with improvements and inclusions significantly improving ones experience. What was important then, was to assess the platform Konami had created for PES 2010, and to evaluate if the vision going forward was going to be a significant step in taking the series back to the glory days.
When talking about what we wanted to see, the pace of the game came up almost instantly. Some might say that PES 2009 itself wasn’t itself set at an arcade pace, but many aspects around it were. Dribbling and the ease of getting into goal scoring opportunities were big stumbling blocks for most, and conflicted with what many thought the series was built around. Secondly, as a lot of you might have guessed, was teamvision. A word that sends a shiver down Suff’s spine when he hears it, and something he was hoping to see very little of at the event. The AI was abysmal last year, and (something that was synonymous with PES 2009) became excruciatingly annoying after prolonged playing time.
Finally, our thoughts shifted to the general movement of the game, and how it played out a match. Was the rigidness gone? Has the passing been sorted? Are the tricks still on the d-pad/analogue stick? Animations certainly came into our thoughts, although Suff assured me that he would be shocked if they were there in their full glory at this early stage.
I’m more than happy to say then, that all the things we were intrigued about were just as we hoped; massively improved over last year with plenty of time to improve further.
Before we explain just how it has, lets get some information on the code we were playing. Let there be no doubt, this was an extremely early version of PES 2010; the earliest Konami had ever shown the game publicly. We were told the game was around 50% complete, with the option to only play with either Liverpool and Barcelona. There was no other game mode apart from exhibition, with Anfield being the stadium of choice. So as you would expect, Suff was over the moon! The menu’s were nothing more than place holders to serve a purpose, as it was a few screens before you got straight into a match. Just to emphasize how early this game was, we were sampling it through the source code! That’s actual PC’s running the game, with PS3 and Xbox 360 controllers attached to it.
The beauty of PES 2010 came almost instantly, after the initial disappointment. As soon as you start to play it felt more assured, more complete. PES 2009 had these awkward animations that interlinked the passing and shooting. These affected the game significantly, making the game feel stagnated and robotic. And while the animations weren’t complete in the build of PES 2010 we played, the way the basic and important ones were implemented and improved were significant. The extra frames also lent itself to how the pace of the game played out, in a similar vein to EA’s franchise. Like their game, the animations fed into how you played.
And like EA’s latest effort, FIFA 10, the action on the pitch is considerably slower, with a realistic feel I’ve not felt in a PES game for a while. The players seemed to build up to a sprint, rather than running full pelt from go. Controlling of the ball was also key, with players like Iniesta and Xavi having a lovely first touch when receiving a pass, while Yaya Toure struggled to kill the ball instantly when under pressure.
Player individuality has always been key in PES, and is the sole reason why, even in this slow considered pace, the player will be forced into playing to the strengths of the team rather than the strengths of the game. This single aspect separates the PES series from FIFA, and is more of a noticeable difference with both going for the same style of play this year.
I mentioned animations earlier, and while the majority of them weren’t in the build we played, the ones that were impressed a great deal. The previously mentioned first touch of skillful players was also visually appeasing, with players at all times trying to use their favoured foot when passing, controlling and shooting. If timed right you could control a ball perfectly to one side, evading oncoming players in very crowded areas.
Its not only when receiving the ball do you see something new, as the players distribute it just as variedly. Passing for instance has had something of a facelift from last year, with fresh new animations for when releasing the ball under pressure – similar to the urgency system in FIFA. Players will stretch and strain to release a pass before being tackled, adding a great deal of realism. The same can be said for shooting, which was as satisfying as ever. Like the passing, it really has been given a facelift, with there being many more ways of striking the ball. This helped the game distance itself further from last years robotic and rigid feel. There was a situation when, playing as Barca, Henry received the ball wide left and cut in towards goal. Pressing shoot, I was greeted with him shifting his body to the side to try and strike it with his right foot. As he opened up his body he convincingly stroked the ball into the far the far corner with the inside of his right foot – leaving both me and Suff stunned in amazement. Then there was Messi, who looked complete in his movements, right down to mannerisms off the ball. A lot of that player representation was down to the drop dead gorgeous visuals, which has raised the bar when it comes to graphics in a football game.
Konami talked long and hard about how certain aspects of the game were early and far from finished, but at the same time proudly conversed with us regarding the visual fidelity. At this early stage, the game is looking incredibly good, with things like faces, player models, stadiums, grass etc better than I’ve ever seen it. The test always comes when in wide cam, and its difficult to judge it right now without the animations implemented fully. FIFA 09/10’s charm comes when the impact of playing the match stays the same when in wide cam, and this is predominantly down to how it moves. With promises coming from the guys at the event regarding major inclusions on animations and individual traits, I guess its too early to judge or comment on them conclusively. Luckily we will only have to have to wait a few weeks from now to see if it indeed has been improved as promised.
What’s left then to discuss is the game as a whole, and the dreaded teamvision. Thankfully the AI has been improved so much that we never found ourself fighting with it. The helping elements, like tackling, passing, shooting for you have been totally removed, or at least weren’t there when we played. This perhaps was one of the key reasons why Suff was won over, himself saying he’s not enjoyed PES this much since the PS2 days.
The AI also helped teams play as their real life counterparts, with no misunderstanding about how a team plays in real life converting into the game. When going through the new team formation options, you have a slider bar that lets you affect the mentality of the team like how much they attack or defend. For example, Barca’s attacking mentality is 80/100, while Liverpool’s is 20. Defensive figures flip other way, as you would expect. Convert this into the game and it plays out how you would expect. Liverpool’s game is all about constraining the opposing teams attacking elements, with the quality of Gerrard and Torres ever present going forward.
The first match me and Suff played was goalless, and was a cagey affair, with myself having the possession but never really threatening. It was only until Suff changed his attacking mentality to 80 did I manage to create more space and punish a team that wasn’t used to playing an attacking way. Again, this is another realistic situation, as the players Liverpool have aren’t as technically gifted as the Barca player’s to play a certain way.
To finish up, lets talk about little improvements around the game that will please many people. Konami have managed to fix a lot of small details even at this early stage that used to infuriate the more demanding fans. Things like goalkeeper gloves being officially licensed, no more sand bags behind the goals, and the look and feel of the stadium was key – adding another layer of atmosphere that PES 2009 never had. Then there’s the welcome news for many that tricks are no longer mapped onto the d-pad/left analogue stick, going back to the combination of holding R2 and a direction. We then have a new penalty system, which was always going to be the case after the Wii version had a new way of taking/saving them. At first glance it seems very close to FIFA, where you can literally aim anywhere in the goal, with the amount you hold down the power and direction affecting your success. Goalkeepers can also be moved too before a kick has been taken. The ability to untuck shirts in edit mode will again bring a smile to the faces of people who have missed this option since the PS2 versions. All in a way trivial to the game as whole, but the little things count for a lot when trying to create the complete package.
All in all then, the playtest event was more of a statement of intent than anything, with the build being quite literally barebones and the base for all upcoming improvements. With that in mind the upcoming playtest in a few weeks will be vital. Suff played FIFA 10 at the Emirates in April, then played the game again in May in Vancouver – the difference obvious and substantial. We’re hoping for the same with PES. The good news is, even at this early stage, its miles ahead of PES 2009, with FIFA in its sights.