For years now there has been a rivalry amongst a pair of video game franchises for the right to be declared the best soccer game on the market. During the last generation of games, Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer brand reigned supreme but in recent years Electronic Arts has stepped up their game with the perennial FIFA Soccer franchise and for the last few years the line between the two has been blurred with many feeling that the FIFA Soccer brand has become the new standard bearer for soccer games. Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 is the latest entry into the long running series by Konami and it may well be the deepest controlling soccer game to date.
Simply put the control options that players will have at their disposal in PES 2011 are remarkable. Seeing the amount of options in PES 2011, it is quite easy to see why fans would consider FIFA Soccer to be inferior but there is so much in the way of ball control and field control that it can be quite daunting for new players. There are literally four full pages of controls in the extensive manual and that doesn’t mean four pages of controller diagrams but rather itty bitty text. Fortunately the game can be played effectively without ever learning all the intricacies of the game however learning them will present you with far greater control and a marked advantage over those that are not as familiar with the controls.
No matter how much control you give over the ball though, if the pacing of the game is not accurate the authenticity of the game is lost. Sadly PES 2011 seems to run at a much faster pace than it should and while there is certainly nothing wrong with defenders pressuring their marks to force a smaller play space I never felt at ease with the game. Some of the pacing issues might be attributable to the actual size of the in game pitch. Sure it looks like a full sized field but it feels smaller and traversing the entirety of the field seems to happen much more quickly than it actually would in a real match. With that said though the games played out as an actual soccer match would with a lot of midfield play as teams positioned themselves to make runs at the opposition goal.
As a result of this year’s World Cup and the United States run in the tournament, interest in the sport of soccer is at an all time high so it is perceivable that there are going to be many new fans flocking to the two big soccer franchises this year. However if these fans got into soccer because they wanted to play as Landon Donovan or any of the Major League Soccer teams then PES 2011 is not going to be for them. Due to licensing issues PES 2011 has the most of the major European leagues and some of the major South American teams but it is devoid of the MLS.
League options aside, PES 2011 offers plenty of different tournaments and leagues to play in. Be it the UEFA Champions League, the Copa Santander Libertadores, managing your own franchise, competing in your own playing career or taking your skills online against others, it is next to impossible for one to not find something to enjoy in the PES package.
The two biggest draws will no doubt be the Master League and Become a Legend modes, both of which offer you unprecedented control of the inner workings of your league and / or player. The Master League puts you in charge of every aspect of your team including the finances. There is a very delicate balance of keeping your team in the black and spending money to upgrade your team. In Become a Legend you will virtually run a created player’s career deciding who you want as your agent, which teams you want to sign with and your on field performance. Both modes offer a great amount of depth and will require players to sink copious amounts of time to build them up to be the best in the world.
While gameplay control and options are the most important aspect of a sports title the games still need to look and sound good. PES 2011 blows the doors off the competition and is the most realistic looking soccer title on the market. Matches look as if they are being broadcast on television and replays step things up a notch looking downright amazing. The animations for every player are top notch and the hit detection is generally spot on. While everything looks as if you were watching a match on television some of the AI routines made for some awkward moments involving goaltenders walking into their nets and getting tangled in them but aside from that minor quibble, the game is a phenomenal performer on the graphical front.
John Champion and Jim Beglin provide some solid commentary but much like any sports title, it does become rather repetitive the more you play. Sadly the commentary is the high point of the sound design for the game as stadiums do not sound like the games are being played in front of sold out arenas, despite the visuals showing to the contrary. Sure there is some cheering but much like the pacing of the game, it never felt right to me and that does a lot to take you out of the experience.
When all is said and done Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 is a fine soccer title but it will not be for everyone. While the control and presentation is top notch, the lack of licensed teams from around the world and some mediocre sound design leave PES 2011 as a title for hardcore fans of European and South American soccer. Should you fall into that category then this is the title for you, otherwise you may want to give FIFA Soccer 11 a try as it is aimed at a more mainstream soccer audience.
4 out of 5.