Like most software products, Pro Evolution Soccer has had its ups and downs over the years. Long-time PES gamers will remember it as a breath of fresh air during the dark days of the EA Sports FIFA franchise in the mid-2000s to it floundering with the launch of current generation consoles towards the end of the decade. While PES 2009 and 2010 were not as bad as some claim, showed some signs of improvement with each version and a gradual return to the heights of Pro Evolution Soccer 5 and 6, Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 is the finest footie offering from Konami in some time. The firm has deemed PES 2011 as a reboot of the franchise. Based on our experience with the PS3 version of the game over the past couple of weeks, we do not disagree and believe PES 2011 to be as good as and a viable alternative to FIFA 11.
Graphics and Presentation
Before we get to the all important gameplay of Pro Evolution Soccer 2011, we feel obligated to mention the fine job done with the re-design of the games Graphical User Interface (GUI) and peripheral features.
The GUI for PES 2011 is one of the best we’ve seen in a sports video game. Indeed, it is the best ever for a Pro Evolution Soccer video game. It is ultra-modern, extremely intuitive and just as suited to a computer as it is to a gaming console. In fact, it is very reminiscent and perhaps takes its inspiration from the much-lauded Mac OS.
Graphically, Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 rocks. Big name players from the ubiquitous Cristiano Ronald to the spotlight-shunning Ryan Giggs carry spot on PES 2011 likenesses. Stadia look excellent and can now even be tweaked with extra features by unlocking them with game points. Alternatively, you can design your own stadium and use it in the game.
Before even kicking a ball in Pro Evolution Soccer 2011, you can spend at least 30 minutes setting up your team’s gameplan. The extremely comprehensive PES 2011 team management system lets you do everything from setting up your man marking to dragging and dropping players to where you want them on the pitch to setting how your team will play in the final 15 minutes of a game if trailing. In fact, the team management system in PES 2011 is almost a game in of itself and very reminiscent of soccer management games like Football Manager and Championship Manager.
Menus, custom stadia and management options are nice but what established Pro Evolution Soccer in the 2000s was its gameplay. With the reboot of the franchise with Pro Evolution Soccer 2011, we can say that the gameplay that made PES great is back and upon tuning can become something to truly behold for soccer gamers.
Here are the gameplay features of Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 that make the game shine.
Levels — There are five levels in PES 2011: Beginner, Amateur, Regular, Professional and Top Player. You might think this is standard for the PES franchise. However, unlike in the past, the Beginner and Amateur levels are not essentially “wasted” levels that are too easy for even a casual gamer. Beginner level is great to figure out the intricacies of the game and if you are a seasoned PES veteran, will see you winning every match handsomely. However, the Amateur is really the starting point of for PES 2011 players. We’ve been playing PES since it was Winning Eleven 6 / PES 2 and wound up losing the International Cup final as Germany to France on this level. Excel at Top Player level in PES 2011 and you will probably be unbeatable online.
Game Speed — Some of our team members love the slowed down game speed (think FIFA 11 normal speed) of PES 2011. It’s no longer as frenetic as that of previous versions of the game and is indeed reminiscent of the speed of the classic PES 6 and real life soccer professional matches. However, if a slower paced game isn’t your cup of tea then up it a notch via the game settings screen.
Smarter Defence — The defence in Pro Evolution Soccer has improved by a gigantic leap from PES 2010! Gone are groups of three defenders chasing around attackers in a pack and the only effective option for a defender under pressure being to hack a ball up field. Now the defenders in Pro Evolution Soccer are more responsive to the attacking team’s tactics and are capable of launching counter attacks via short passes. Individual tacking has also improved with slide tackles more effective than ever and not resulting in yellow and red cards 90% of the time.
Physicality — The modern game of soccer is a physical sport. Shoulders and arms abound in the professional game to such an extent that if every obstruction incident were called by the referee, only 30 minutes of soccer would actually be played in any given match. Pro Evolution Soccer has incorporated such physicality more than ever in PES 2011. There’s no more made sprinting past defenders en route to goal. Instead, expect to have defenders throw their bodies and arms in front of you and knock you off the ball as they would in real life.
Off the Ball Runs — Supporting runs for attackers from midfielders and wingbacks are better than ever in PES 2011. In an all out attacking situation, centerbacks come pummeling forward also. Konami has apparently reworked the logic associated with off the ball runs from PES 2010. No more will Lionel Messi be left on his own to dribble through an entire defense while his strike partner is smothered by defenders in the box with the rest of the team staring in confusion.
Fluidity of Movement — This is where Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 absolutely excels in our opinion. The movement of individual players is now the best ever for PES with what appears to be a full 360 degree range of motion. The result is sublime and allows you to move your man with the ball in a very lifelike and graceful fashion.
Coupled with the better player movement is more control over passing. There’s no ping-pong passing in PES 2011 (not that this was ever really the case with the PES franchise). Point in the direction you want to pass to go and that’s where it’s going. If it’s off and your game strategy is set up correctly, a teammate will attempt to move onto the ball.
Online Features and Experience
The lag is gone! The lag is gone! Finally, the horrible in-game lags that plagued Pro Evolution Soccer since it moved to PS3 are non-existent and hopefully eliminated forever. The outcome is an online game experience that rivals FIFA 11. Throw in the new online (and always addictive) Master League that’s in PES 2011 and Konami has taken the online experience of the franchise to unprecedented heights!
Areas for Improvement
The Pro Evolution Soccer series owes much of its improvement over the years to input from its vocal, internet discussion forum and Facebook-frequenting user base. Konami has incorporated many recommendations from online reviews and gaming forums to make bring the series to its current level of greatness. While we believe that Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 is an excellent game, here is where we think it can be made even better:
1. Too Many Offside Calls
Perhaps this is a result of the strategy employed by the game’s logic in single-player mode. However, it is quite frustrating when it seems that just about every other pass to a forward is deemed to be to an offside player. This kills the momentum of the game as it does in real life.
The goalkeeping in Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 isn’t as erratic as it’s been in the past and is probably at its best ever. However, now that the EA Sports FIFA series has elevated soccer video game goalkeeping to a level previously unseen in any simulation with FIFA 11, Konami has some catching up to do.
Konami has made up for the lack of licensed leagues and players with the excellently presented UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League and now the Copa Libertadores. However, it is the long-held wish of longtime Pro Evolution Soccer games to see all of the major European leagues fully licensed in PES along with actual player names for all of the teams in the game. In the meantime, we shall have to rely on tedious editing and / or user community created patches.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 represents a true reboot of a storied series for the better. The result is a great video game that could easily remain in a soccer lover’s video game console for the 12 months. Now that the reboot is completed and has been successful, we cannot wait for Shingo “Seabass” Takatsuka and his team of crack developers in Japan to tweak it and take it to a new level of excellence!
Gameplay: 9.5 /10
Graphics: 9.5 /10
User Interface: 10 / 10
Online Features: 9.5 / 10
Longevity: 10 / 10
Thanks to Jay for making this review possible!