Reviewed: October 25, 2010
Released: October 19, 2010
It's been 3 years since I reviewed Pro Evolution Soccer (formerly called “Winning Eleven” in the USA). People were telling me how great Pro Evo was and how it was so much better than EA Sports' FIFA series. Apparently Pro Evo has a huge following in Europe. I was not impressed. The game physics were certainly a step above FIFA, but the overall game design was a mess and seemed like I was in an arcade.|
So when Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 arrived in our office mailbox, I can't say I was all that thrilled. I know people are passionate about this game but I really have to wonder if they have actually played FIFA. Not being all that enthused when I put the disc in my Playstation 3, my pessimism was quickly dispelled.
Upon first starting the game I was delighted to see a very slick menu system similar to the side to side motion of the Playstation XMB. I was also surprised to find more dynamic gameplay, including various feints and special moves, over 1,000 new animations, a much more robust customization feature for players and stadiums, but still the same old lack of licensed teams. Well, there are a handful, but most of them are made up.
The opening menu lets you get right into the action. You can play a quick exhibition or play in a licensed tournament. The official tournaments include UEFA Champions League and Copa Santander Libertadores. Other modes include the Master League (team career mode), Become a Legend (player career mode), League Cup, Training, Edit, Extra Content (yes, you can actually play as a viking or pumpkinhead), and Gallery.
Gameplay has improved with better player control and more lifelike movement. The players seem to run more accurately to real life than previous years and in many ways they look and respond more accurately to real life than FIFA. Unfortunately there are still some nagging problems with the goalie reactions. Frequently if I get on a breakaway (and it does happen very frequently against the AI), not only does the ref miss some clear offsides but the goalie most often stays on his line instead of coming out to cut down the shot angle. I just don't understand how such a revered game could have such a blatantly bad game AI. I play soccer a lot, but I'm really not that good. Most games I play online are exercises in frustration for me.
Online play and community options are many. Setting up a “community” is similar to other sports games where you can make friends and leagues. The real blessing on PES online play is I have never had an issue with lag or lockups. Konami supports the game well with a recent update to address some issues too. I suspect some of the lack of lag and lockups can be attributed to the lack of massive multiplayer. The most you can play with online is 6 people in PES, while FIFA 11 has the full 22 (11v11). It depends on what kind of game you are looking for – the team play in FIFA can be great fun if everyone has a good internet connection. But if playing with huge groups with lots of yelling in the mic isn't your thing, PES 2011 has really nice (and FREE) online gameplay.
During play the game responds very well to play input and has some unique features not found in other soccer games. You can't just pause a game out of the blue, you request a pause and at the next stoppage in play it will do so. Then you'll have 2 minutes to make roster or setting changes. It's a nice feature and much less frustrating than having people disrupt your flow of play like in other games. Another interesting feature is during replays for fouls or goals you can send a quick chat text to the opponent saying some generic preprogrammed words like “nice shot” or “no way!”. I don't run into very many people who use the voice chat online for PS3 games so the text chat is a really nice idea.
Customization in Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 is the only place where it clearly beats FIFA 11. Because it has to be that way. The only way for PES to have some remote chance of competing with FIFA is if you make an effort to change the names, logos, uniforms, stadiums and other items to accurately show your teams. The real key is there are places online where you can download the “corrected” rosters and other items like chants and other files. There are some dedicated fans out there who actually edit the player faces and stadiums and just about every other item to be perhaps more accurate than FIFA.
Out of the box, Manchester United and Totenham Hotspur are the only two clubs licensed in the Premier League. Other teams have actual players but their team is a generic “Wearside”, “Man Blue”, “West London White”, or “Booktale”. I guess that's not a big deal for those who can decipher the various names, but I'd rather have the real teams. Other teams represented are in League 1, Italian League, Eredvisie, Spanish League, PES League, D2 League, Other European Teams, and Other Latin Teams. There are some National Teams as well but once again, the players are not licensed in most so you'll have to deal with odd names that kind of clue you in on who the player is modeled after but it's hit and miss. There's just something strange about playing with a team and you don't know your players. That's unfortunately what it feels like most of the time in Pro Evolution Soccer 2011.
Graphically is another area where PES has improved, but is still lagging behind FIFA. The normal view like what you would see watching a real game on TV is excellent. It could easily fool people walking into the room as a real game. However the replays and secondary views take a sharp downturn when you see the doll-like hair and framerate problems that plague many sports games. The stadiums and fans are very well rendered and look like what you can see any weekend on Fox Soccer Channel.
Sound in Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 is a mixed bag. Stadiums have the fans chanting and and you can even hear the coach yelling instructions from the sideline. The crowd reacts accurately and in time with the on field action. However I hate to keep comparing PES to FIFA but it's just such a wide difference between experiences playing the two games, comparison is inevitable. The commentary from Jim Belglin and Jon Champion is anemic. It's not really their fault, I'm sure they were given a script and told to read, and they do a fine job. But they were apparently not given much to work with and it shows. There just isn't the level of realism and excitement I've come to expect in sports commentary games.
The real value in Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 comes not from Konami, but only in the user created downloads you can find on the internet. That is how Konami avoids paying all the massive license fees that EA seems to enjoy. But out of the box, PES just doesn't have as much to offer as FIFA. The “extra content” included in the game comes only when you have enough in game experience points to buy the features. Some of the content includes hair styles, balls – everything from a potato sack to beer barrel, stadium parts, mode expansion kits, wallpaper, teams (classic national teams), players (40 different classic player packs), and amazingly entertaining sound packs featuring Konami retro arcade game sounds from Frogger, Castlevania and others. Out of the box, PES isn't bad, but for me to really enjoy the game means spending time either creating my own content or finding files on the internet to download and transfer to my PS3.
The bottom line is I want to play with Chelsea, not the fake London FC. Pro Evo may have a lot of bells and whistles but they don't have the real teams... and it's a shame because I would actually like this game if it did. I don't like going through the hassle of finding and downloading all these extra user created files to essentially “fix” the game. No player should be submitted to that task after paying $60 for a game! Not to mention the risk of seeking out all these questionable sites and downloading questionable files (make sure your virus protection software is up to date!). Instead PES seems destined for the discount bin of the few USA retailers that chose to stock it.
In talking about this game and writing this review I wish I could say I was talking about all the great features it has, but instead I find myself dismissing it for what it is not. It's not FIFA 11. Top down, FIFA 11 is just the better soccer game. But if you like customization and all kinds of user created content, the possibilities are endless.