3-0 down at half time and hardly a ball kicked. Pass after pass is going astray and the defence is all over the place. These superstars are not who they appear to be. The keeper sold two but the defence could have done better on the third, surely…Welcome to PES2008-2010.
Pardon the football analogy but I think this best describes WEP/PES productions journey into the next-gen gaming thus far. When Sony and Microsoft announced their new hardware back in early 2005 and with the pinnacle of football gaming in PES5 arriving later that year, you couldn’t help but start to dream of how good this glorious franchise would become with the new technology driving it all. It never happened and in fact such was the franchises apparent inability to adjust you could argue that with every new addition to the series it was doing one thing very well – sullying the good name and reputation that had been built in the near ten years previous.
It was time for a re-think tactically and in PES2011 that is what we have above all else. It is a brave move by the WEP team and one which comes with huge risks given the ambitious nature of the changes apparent. Who couldn’t say that they weren’t even a little concerned by that first press release back in May of this year. It read like the game we were wishing for but in many respects there was a niggling worry that it might result in a restructuring of the PES DNA that could leave it completely unrecognisable and do more harm than good.
Turns out we needn’t have worried at all as PES2011 is very, very much a PES game that retains (more recaptures) that PES feeling.
Right from the first load up of the game where the main screen in which the games cover star is proudly displayed (something that hasn’t been present since PES6) and with the games multitude of modes and options all easily accessible with the sleek, streamlined menu system that runs across the bottom, there is a warm sense of familiarity to everything except it has been brought kicking and screaming into the next-gen era. Gone are the garish colour schemes and uninspiring, clumsy layouts and in comes something far easier on the eye, yet more importantly, easy to navigate through and get going.
It is here also where you can appreciate just how much is on offer with Konami’s latest. Champions League mode returns as a mode which can be played stand alone while still remaining in Master League and is joined by the new acquisition that is the Copa Libertadores which, due to licensing restrictions, doesn’t make it’s way into the Master league component. One omission as far as competitions goes is the UEFA Europa League as a stand alone mode, though it still plays its part also in Master League, which now also features an online offshoot. It feels like a missed opportunity and perhaps it would have been nice to at least have it in place as a competition to drop down into from the Champions League mode just so as to allow it to feature a bit more prominently as it would, I should add, the newly acquired UEFA Super Cup license.
Become a Legend returns with some more depth and refinement and all the existing cup and league competitions along with community mode, make their expected returns to the fold. Playing away in the background through these various menus is a more eclectic mix of licensed tracks than found in last years game and it all adds to giving the game as a whole some added gravitas. When entering into the Champions League or Copa Libertadores we have said competitions various takes on their respective themes playing out – a very nice touch which adds some authenticity and extra sense of occasion, as do the superbly realised TV broadcast layouts for each.
“What use does all this variety and authenticity have if the game itself doesn’t deliver?” I hear you ask and it is a perfectly valid question in which the answer will ultimately decide any games fate. Well, I am happy to say that all this does finally matter…and then some!
Let’s get back to the action for the start of the second half.
Visually, PES2011 is a bit of a treat…for the most part. Player likenesses are superb with some work having been done to remove the waxen look of players whilst not sacrificing detail when up close. Of course not every player in the game has been subject to such meticulous detailing so some inconsistency is bound to be present, though it is rather pleasing to see that a wider spectrum of squads have been given some TLC and it is possible to right the wrongs of some likenesses using the games expansive player edit mode. As for player models there has been marked improvement with various body types and physiques well represented though perhaps it could be ventured forward that there is still a lack of distinction amongst players that made the PS2 days of PES so memorable. There is a level of distinction apparent, don’t get me wrong here but a drop in detail in regards player appearance and kits is clearly apparent that goes beyond simply the players being further away in wide-cam, or should that be wide-cam with a twist.
Lighting is superb in general but while the game can look fantastic in some instances a lot depends on stadium choice and day/afternoon/night conditions. Playing a match at Wembley in the afternoon looks utterly gorgeous and is without doubt a real highlight visually but playing at night and even day/afternoon in some stadia things can look a little rough with some high contrast/brightness levels resulting in a further drop in level of detail regards players and kits from the playing angles. Briefly touching on the colour palette, it is something that I have very little in the way of complaints about, though on the subject of kits it has been noticed that some licensed clubs (Besiktas and PSG amongst others) appear to have generic kits which cannot be edited. So a DLC to rectify this issue would be more than welcome. Bar these exceptions, kit detail is as convincing as ever with Adidas kits even having the option of the tech fit variant if you wish to ramp up the attention to detail and authenticity further. One oddity is when viewing replays – that come with an effective if not entirely consistent motion bluer effect – is that the players boots lack studs and while not exactly falling into ‘game-breaker’ territory is another detail which could be doing with being addressed in future. PES is very much a ‘looker’ let there be no doubt but a point of focus for Konami is that of the increasing the level of detail visually from the games numerous gameplay angles. It might not appear to be that important an issue but when you do see how good the game can look in certain conditions you just want there to be a higher level of consistency on show which would further enhance what is already an excellent looking game and would be sure to add more to the ‘wow’ factor in future.
I opined this a while ago but there is something about PES2011’s gameplay design that resonates with me as being a project some years in the making. It’s as if some of the WEP team’s visions(I am sure this is only the start) for the franchise have finally been realised and have come to fruition in the next-gen with PES2011 but oh! my days, is it initially a very, jarring and sometimes downright brutal experience getting to know this new PES’ nuances in the gameplay department.
A quick word of advice before we continue. Forget everything you know about PES and along with it, might I suggest you forget all you think you know about PES2011 into the bargain. I will openly admit to thinking I knew it all having been playing the game in various forms for near on two months before finally settling down to the final version. I will even concede to me being of the belief that the game might be broken. This is not to say the game is dramatically different from the demo that has been available these past few weeks, but it is different, more progressed and with that I would recommend taking time to learn to play the game and re-programme yourself by starting at a lower skill level. This, I promise, will come with great reward.
‘Engineered for Freedom’ is the games tagline and engineered for freedom it most certainly is. It might not leap out of the screen and make itself obvious from the off but this is a game in which I don’t think it is too ridiculous to say that your imagination is your only limitation. The new passing system that debuts in PES2011 is the core in which this freedom of play is allowed to flourish and while at first it may appear that AI assistance is still very much in place, you soon realise that it isn’t holding your hand in quite the way you might think when it comes to pass power and placement. It is without question that a level of AI assistance is present as this is key to retaining player individuality, but what the passing model does allow for is more artistic expression to be had with both individual and team play. What this enables the user to achieve are passing moves which have never really been apparent in a PES title past; teasing your opponent in midfield with cute little exchanges as Barca, sending laser-like precision lofted balls to Pato using Pirlo with AC Milan, using Estudiantes’ Juan Sebastian Veron to act as the metronome in midfield, or using explosive short 1-2’s on the edge of the area using Kaka and Luis Fabiano with Brazil – all this and much more is possible and is incredibly rewarding when it all comes off. Another welcome addition to the passing game is the manual modifier control using L2/LT. Using this mechanic ‘on the fly ‘is excellent as a means of trying to produce the unexpected and have complete control over a pass without the slight AI assistance offered by the default model and is very satisfying when you successfully complete a long lobbed pass straight into a players stride to use one example in my experiences of using it. All the standard passes are able to be fully manually controlled with this method which opens up even more options to the player in control.
As deep and rewarding as the passing game is, dribbling is arguably more so. This is the one thing that could potentially alienate many a player and is also where you will learn some brutal home truths about how everything from PES’ past is rendered near useless. Quite simply it isn’t easy and at first appears very sluggish, stiff and unresponsive to the point of almost feeling broken which it I can assure you it isn’t. It has to be said though that while I can appreciate the uncompromising approach taken (the game being uncompromising is one of it’s strengths) to one of the fundamentals of the beautiful game, there is a steep learning curve involved in mastering it – a learning curve that will have you tearing your hair out on many an occasion – and it isn’t helped by some limitations in the transitions and number of the animations between movements. One particular move in which your player goes into a sidestep dribble has a habit of not only looking a little forced but it can also feel a tad ‘locked in’ if that makes sense. Reading many previews of the game that suggested the game is still on 8 axis is of course nonsense – 360 movement is most certainly in – but these opinions should not be totally discounted as there is obviously something that is encouraging such train of thought. Discussing this with a colleague at WENB we agreed that while the theory might very well be sound, it is probably something that requires more work so as the animation can act as an aid and visually sign post more clearly a change in direction or where a player might be going wrong. This is something that in this reviewers humble opinion and thus should be another point of focus for the WEP team in future. If such a difficult to master but ultimately rewarding system should remain in place – and it should – then really upping the animation count in these key areas will do well to keep a player coming back. It is something the competitor’s game does in spades and should not be discounted as merely cosmetic. That games animation acts as a means to hook the player in all by itself as this reviewer can offer good testimony on.
Irritations aside regards some technical quirks on the dribbling front, when it clicks together it is a joy and suddenly it will add a very potent weapon to your arsenal. Situations that once seemed impossible to start with now cry out “opportunity!” and along with it the ability to shift the ball about in midfield with confidence via quick jabs of the stick from a neutral position or rotations which will allow you to ‘look up’ and pick out your passes becomes second nature. Then of course you have the R2 ‘stop and play’ mechanic which adds another layer of control in dribbling. As for tricks they are surprisingly not quite as easy as first feared, at least not the more elaborate variants, though the rainbow flick still has an overly simple means of execution (currently being looked into by the development team) It wasn’t necessarily something that was at the top of many a hardcore PES players wish list but it pays great testament to the strength of the standard dribbling (once mastered of course) and the art of defence that the tricks and feints available are not simply ‘beat player’ prompts. The more basic feints are assigned to jabs and rotations of the right stick alone followed by exit moves on the left stick and will more than likely be the more frequently used by most and are more than sufficient at buying that vital extra yard of space.
What really shines through though are the individuals once your dribbling game has been fine tuned and in the case of using one of the games 15 ‘Speed Stars’ like a Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo the damage you can cause on opponents is potentially match winning. Yip, individuality remains absolutely key in the PES experience, perhaps more than ever, though perhaps more than ever you really need to work on your game in order to truly reveal player potential. There have been murmurings of disquiet amongst some that players blessed with blistering speed can’t seem to outrun their markers but I would ask for some understanding that while these players may not outrun unwelcome attention with ease going flat out, they will outmaneuver opposition markers with ease and this is where their real speed lies. Think of it as a trade-off of sorts and taking a little license over reality in order to balance things effectively. Careful what you wish for in other words.
Of course having the tools in which to destroy the opposition is all very well but is only part of the puzzle in realising the beautiful game. There has to be an effective counter measure to balance it up and this is where yet another new feature to the PES series makes a solid if not entirely trouble free debut in the form of a multi-layered defensive control system. Much pondered over when it was unveiled, and still maybe yet to convince some, the three tiered system now in place requires the user to approach the defensive side of the game with more thought and demands more from them regards control into the bargain. Simply holding the pressure button isn’t enough any more, though it will make your player close in and track. In order to put a foot in the user must now also push the stick towards the player in possession but at the risk of leaving themselves open to humiliation at the hands of a skilled and direct dribbler. This were it is sometimes best to concede ground by pressing the stick towards your own goal (whilst still holding X) which results in your player standing off while still actively trying to sheppard the ball carrier away from goal, and is also a good way of introducing a second player to press.
The system works efficiently but there are some issues with it. Visual indication to the player is not the best regarding the standing off mechanic in particular and movement by the defender when doing so can look a little glitchy. This again is where PES needs to step up in the animations department as filling in some of those blanks with smooth transitions and also more varied and deliberate looking standing off or jockeying movements would act as clear visual aid and also comes with the bonus of adding to the realism in terms of appearance. Player switching is also something that could do with further tweakery but the question has to be asked why the player switching settings from the PS2 titles of old isn’t present. Collisions can look less than convincing on occasion and lack a little visual ‘feedback’ which is a short coming.
This is probably the best time to comment on referees as they are very strict and as welcome as it is seeing tackles from behind or poorly timed challenges not go unpunished, the referees appear to make the wrong calls on numerous occasions. I say “appear to” because again the lack of variety in collision animations makes it look to be the case, that said, they are prone to calling what look like completely fair and well executed slide tackles – which really do look superb and carry some weight – back for a foul. Some inconsistency with the issuing of cards is also a concern as is the erratic use of the advantage rule, which also is minus some visual indication on-screen or via the commentary track but believe me it’s in there, just not very prominent. All in all you have to say it is a good first crack at bringing something new to the defensive side of the game and does offer the right balance as a counter to the attacking game. Before moving on it should be noted that defenders are superb at goal line clearances and have great awareness and response in situations us Scot’s call a ‘stramash’ in the goal mouth. Adds to the sense of drama and unpredictability but in a mostly good way.
The shooting in PES has always been one of the games more satisfying elements though it should be conceded that the last few years suffered from some control in placement and also appeared to lack variety. In PES2011 we are getting some of that variety and control in placement back into the fold and along with it we have vastly improved ball physics that see the ball dip and swerve perhaps more than it has ever done. The end result is something that will have you punching the air with delight or agonising over a wonder goal or strikes that go tantalisingly close respectively. Bullet headers be gone for the most part and the sound when the ball hits the woodwork is a thing to be applauded. There is a lack of clear instruction as to how to place shots in the command list or training ground and finesse shots can a little too regularly not look like finessed strikes at all and rocket off a players boot minus the curl you would want. Also, it would appear Konami are making up for the lack of acrobatic, volleyed efforts on goal from PES2010 so 35yd side bicycle kicks are where it is at apparently, which could be doing with being toned down but shooting animations in general are pleasingly varied with even the chipped shots types being blessed with some variety in execution.
One vital component to scoring a goal is player, crowd and commentary reaction and I am happy to say it all kicks in instantly as the ball crosses the line which just adds to feeling of satisfaction. On the commentary, it appears to be getting a bit of a lukewarm reception in some quarters but while Champion and Beglin are a little sparse with delivery overall and can become repetitive, they do call it well (especially Beglin – good riddance Lawro!) and in my experiences seem to come to life in the final third, so in this respect it works rather well. The final third is where the magic really happens and the duo – who have worked together in real life when commentating for ITV adding another layer of authenticity to proceedings, particularly Champions League matches – work off one another reasonably well. One little detail that might go unnoticed or unloved is how both men will often emote at the same time when something spectacular happens in front of goal. It is something that I don’t think I have heard in a commentary track for any sports game before and thus deserves some praise for adding to the on field drama. Yes, both deliveries can sound a little forced on occasion and repetition is an issue – the commentary isn’t going to win awards but improvement is apparent.
The stadium ambience has been vastly improved with announcers reading out the teams and any substitutions in a variety of languages. Player/manager calls are also clearly audible in a number of dialects and much to my amusement the crowd chants have improved with some I swear even having the odd…well…swear. One of the main issues with the crowd in the last couple of outings was a lack of away support or any reaction at all bar silence when the visitors scored and this has thankfully also been addressed.
Keepers?…..Vastly improved over previous releases and can possess the reactions of a mongoose, making double and even triple saves and at point blank range too. These are the guys who can make or break a footy videogame and it is more a relief than anything to see that they seem largely fit for purpose. There are still issues with them of course; some questionable reactions to soft, deflected efforts, having a tendency to rebound the ball back into a play (though thankfully their reaction and that of the defence helps) and lacking in variety in animations. What I still find to be apparent is that of the keepers diving range – they seem to reach a point in their dive and stop and fall back down to the turf when it looks like their momentum should carry them a greater distance. Unfortunately, while manual keeper effectiveness seems to be improved, the same wonky, unintuitive control system is in place from PES2010. L1 and triangle worked just fine and needs to come back. Making reference to the competitors game in this department is a must. The developers of the game in question have really excelled in capturing the unique characteristics of goalkeepers both in animation and overall reliability. WEP team take note.
If there is one department where the game is unrivalled however and that is in the AI both of your team mates and the COM. At first you will think that player movement off the ball is restricted and might wish that there is an input that will enable you to get a player to make a forward and while it could be a little better still, the movement off the ball is largely satisfying. Technically there is an initiate player run button by simply pressing R2 after making a pass and it should also be noted that when using the manual modifier control for passes and then pressing R2 you can play into space for a team mate and the passer will also make a forward run which generates further movement, as does the 1-2 controls. PES2011’s movement is largely controlled by the AI however and only once you dig deep into the fantastic tactics and formations screens do really begin to see what is possible.
The tactics timeline is a work of genius and can be set up so as your team will adjust their strategy automatically and react dependant on your team being level, losing or leading a match. The timeline allows for up to two strategies to be in play at any one time so in those final 15 minutes when you are trailing you can set it so as your going ‘all out attack’ with your ‘CB overlapping’ as well. These same strategies can be assigned to the face buttons as is the norm, so potentially you could have up to six strategies activated if you wanted. During the match you also have the attack/defence emphasis gauge in place too so another tactical option is available on the fly. Then (yes, there is more!) we have the Team Style variables that have been set to a scale out of 20 and will make a huge impact on your teams playing style with overlapping, player support and pressing amongst others all available for further tweakery. Then (yip, even more!) we have Auto Trigger Settings which are a series of on/off options which will allow to instruct the AI to perform the offside trap, auto slide or make subs for you. Make no mistake – this game is deep with tactical options.
As for the challenge the AI presents I think ‘solid’ would be the best descriptor. Even on regular difficulty while looking to relearn and adjust to the games nuances and demands it presented a decent challenge to warm up with. Top Player is where most PES aficionados will ultimately find themselves taking on the AI and should provide the challenge you eventually want to be faced with. It also of course helps that there seems to be something in the code that increases difficulty when progressing in a competition or playing in an away tie. Could this be the ‘secret’ difficulty Seabass spoke of and his words were lost in translation? Finally and most impressively by some distance is the AI’s reactive and proactive inclinations. It is as if it makes use of all the tactical options available to the human player. Impossible to prove completely of course, but there can be no doubt that this is an AI that knows when it needs to change things. Goals change games as the saying goes and PES2011 looks to take those wise words and implement it into the AI behaviours. One slight concern and it has been well documented is the ‘greenzone’ issue in which the AI often refuses to press a player when deep on the wing when defending and only if a second player is present will it try to dispossess you. It is being looked at and it will be interesting to see how this and any other potential issues that may surface will be addressed.
So there we have it – PES2011’s on the field performance given a thorough run out. Footballing perfection? No, there is still much work to be done and I can’t emphasise enough how the franchise needs further technical advancements in order to really wow the player. That said, it is a game that moves well in it’s own right and it would be simply wrong to deny that obvious progress has been made in this key area as the game ebbs and flows wonderfully well and is not short of quality and variety in the animations department. This is just the start of the journey for Seabass and co. (with a little help form the Blue Sky team) in looking to achieve excellence on a technical level. Brilliant but inconsistent in places visually, with sound also taking a rather large leap in quality, it is clear this is a game that has been laboured over by the WEP team in all departments and is more than mere incremental update.
Under the hood is where the game really shines however, with a deep and rewarding experience that really does require patience and lots of practice in order to experience every facet of what the game can and will offer to the player. License troubles still remain but an incredible level of customisation options available in the games edit mode ensure that option file makers the world over will be kept busy (just wait to see the WENB option file!) and we now have the introduction of a stadium editor as well – something I don’t think anyone could say they saw coming. Online is always going to remain a mystery and it is best not to say anything other than so far, so good in relation to performance thus far. With Master League Online now being a feature and should it come to pass that online stability is present for the masses, then we have a real game changer of epic proportions for many a hardened multiplayer gamer. With the core foundations very much in place in the gameplay department what we have right now in PES2011 is title that can be proud to bear the PES name but at the same time infers that the best is still to come.
Before closing, you may have noticed that this review is purely one based on gameplay and hasn’t touched on assets such as the Master League or Become a Legend in any great depth. There are two reasons for this. First, I feel it was necessary to go this in depth with gameplay as it was is on the field that PES has undergone it’s most significant changes and therefore should be any reviews main focus. Secondly? Well, for as much as football games don’t really have spoilers I do wish to avoid giving anything away. Discovery is part of the experience in any game.
So how has the second half panned out ? 3-0 down is quite a mountain to climb but the team have come back out and are displaying some of the free flowing football we know they can play. There is still a fair bit of time on the clock but it is
for the composure, skill and desire on show.
Welcome to PES2011.