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Review: Pro Evolution Soccer 2010

It’s one of the most hotly anticipated head-to-heads in football, but it only comes around once a year. PES has the historical advantage, but in recent years FIFA has become the consensus top dog. What have the Konami boys got in store this time?

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Claiming the title: But is PES 2010 really a return to former glories?

It’s been a tough time on next gen consoles for Konami’s once lauded Pro Evolution Soccer franchise. While PES 6 on the Playstation 2 was arguably the finest version of the game to date, sequels on the latest range of consoles have often failed to liveup to the hype.

What is more, their Canadian-based rivals at EA Sports have had no such troubles, with their previously mundane FIFA franchise going from strength-to-strength in recent years. FIFA 09 was arguably the first time in the history of the rivalry that the Wayne Rooney-backed game was better than the Fernando Torres’ preferred — will this year prove that to be a blip, or the state of things to come?

The good news, if Shingo “Seabass” Takatsuka and his team will see it that way, is that on the whole PES 2010 is a superior game to FIFA 09. It’s the same joyful playing experience of old, with passes zipping around with ease and games never feeling the same.

Long range shooting, something that EA have never really managed to get to grips with, is the same blast it has always been. When the ball bobbles free outside the box, the sense of nervous excitement is palpable — anything could happen as the ball is fired goalward — and provides a tension that also contributes greatly to making multiplayer such a great experience.

There are areas for improvement, many that have long need some attention. The typical lack of licences will anger some more than others — especially as things seem to have regressed in recent years with La Liga no longer fully licensed. Goalkeepers are also the same erratic bunch of past versions, and consequently some otherwise good goals feel ‘cheap’ as replays highlight the ‘keeper’s woeful reflexes.

There is obviously a balance to be got in this area, as tip-top goalkeepers would make almost all games 0-0 (unless shots were given an unrealistic propensity to hit the corners) but it is clear that Konami still haven’t got things quite right.

Equally, the physical aspect of matches is not as well realised as in FIFA, with it really feeling like players are really tussling for the ball. Pace is also a undervalued skill in this game, and only the very quickest dribblers— Walcott, Messi — seem able to get away from their markers.

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Liverpool's number nine: Torres is on the cover this year

Commentary is another area where things, inexplicably, are still lacking. Jon Champion and Mark Lawrenson take the microphone, although many of the banalities of past games are repeated. Sometimes their comments hit the nail on the head — such an infrequent occurance that it actually impresses — but more often than not their observations are downright embarrassing.

Why, for example, does Champion get so excited about the referee’s whistle for half-time (“he’s going to blow any second!”) but not at full-time?

The sound team at Konami need to take a leaf from FIFA’s book. By all means stick with Champion and Lawrenson (they could do better, but both men are no all-but part of the PES experience), but give them more reign for unscripted dialogue. Make it feel more alive. And get a native English-speaking person to test that their comments make sense.

At the moment the words from “up here in the gantry” are the biggest let-down of the in-game experience.

It is detractions like these that are a problem for the PES teams, as in football games it is often a case of if you are not first, you’re last — especially when your competition is so fierce. And with FIFA on the shelves three weeks ahead of PES, they were certainly last.

How many casual gamers went out and got FIFA on release, purely because it was out a full three weeks earlier? Only the most hardcore of PES fans (and there are many) would have happily waited to get their football fix. It would surely make sense for someone at Konami to get the developers in early so they can break down that three-week delay for the 2011 iteration.

Frankly, in an age where American consumers get the new Madden to coincide with the start of the NFL preseason, it’s a bit of joke that fans of the round-ball game have to wait until the season is in full swing before they get their fix.

Nevertheless, fans will enjoy what they have belatedly got. The inclusion of the Champions League and Europa League into the Master League is welcome addition, especially as they are implemented so well. The music, layouts and atmosphere are there in the stadiums and at the menu screens, and combine to provide an engrossing single-player experience.

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Great wall: One way of dealing with Ronaldo's prowess

Indeed, Pro Evo’s career mode has always been far the superior of Fifa’s ‘Manager Mode’, which is about as soulless and dull as such a mode can be. The joy of building a team from lowly beginnings all the way to Champions League domination is something that never gets tiring, and with the individual feel of every differing competition things rarely get boring.

That’s as much a testament to the gameplay as anything else, as every team feels like a different tactical proposition — something that doesn’t always feel the case with FIFA. While most games are hard-fought affairs with shots few and far between, occasionally a game will explode — for no obvious reason — into a 4-3 thriller that keeps you constantly engaged.

And it does help that the game looks fantastic. A more impressive percentage of players than in years past are accurately modelled, and some look the spitting image of the real deal. Replays and some the animations are a let-down, but the game undoubtedly looks better than its rival. But is that enough for the neutrals, especially with FIFA enjoying such a massive advertising advantage?

Conclusion

It increasingly feels these days that Pro Evo is the free-flowing kindred spirit of Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal, whereas FIFA is more akin to Chelsea’s ruthless professionalism. At the end of the day, perhaps your preference will come down to which of those team’s styles you prefer.

The game mechanics themselves are relatively equal — although both have their own strengths and weaknesses — and while FIFA excels in online play and its wealth of options, PES arguably provides a more loving and personal single player experience.

While both games boast the introduction of 360-degree dribbling (a less game-changing addition than it sounds), FIFA’s attempt is far and away the more assured. Indeed, where the year’s work has gone is more noticeable on EA’s game. Konami should reflect on this when they redouble their efforts in time for next season.

Because, with a greater range of licenses and a three week head-start in FIFA’s favour, you feel next season the good men at Konami have to do more than they have this time round if they are going to keep from even more of their hardened fans going over to the dark side.

Score: ****

Just about reaches the bar raised by FIFA. But is that really enough?

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October 30, 2009 - Posted by | Reviews, Video Games |

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