by Al Warwick
previewed on WII
Battle of titles
Few franchises are in as desperate need of a revival and a return to fortune as Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) series. The speed at which the franchises fortunes and status has reversed is quite unbelievable but completely undeniable – EA’s Fifa is and has been for a few years now the undisputed king of soccer titles for critics and fans alike.
In football gaming there would only ever be one title on every football fans' gaming Christmas wish list and that yearly instalment would then go on to become the chart-topper year after year. It was only in 1997 when ISS Pro came along and especially its follow up ISS 98 that the momentum began to shift. Fifa games had the licenses and the unmatched presentation, but Konami’s little number had such fluidity and flair that it mattered little if the player and team names were hilariously inaccurate.
The series became one for the fans and not the gamers as it were. No one seemed to mind that Edwin Van Der Sar became Farzel Haar – the whole experience allowed for deft touches, seamless tactics and user controlled gameplay that far outdated Fifa’s rigid but polished product.
The peak of PES’s success was reached in the mid 00’s (where Fifa 03 and 04 did nothing but further cement the series’ miscalculated priorities of fancy menus over footballing pedigree on the pitch) but as the decade closed and the next console generation broke into its stride it was EA who rediscovered their form and utilized the new hardware best.
Konami merely sat on their laurels promising an overhaul with every sequel before merely changing the menu screen and little else. With Fifa 10 now universally regarded as the benchmark title and Fifa 11 not too far away how does Konami’s make or break title look?
Well early reports suggest a marked improvement but these aren’t without some tell-tale niggles. For a change, lets look at the plus points first.
There are a host of new features and goodies introduced no doubt with the many superior aspects of Fifa 10 in mind. The biggest of these thankfully revolves around the gameplay itself. Players can now allegedly enjoy 360 degree movement around the pitch. Everything from movement, short and long passing and throw-ins should now be achieved with more freedom. It sounds so minor but this added realism is an important thing to have for a sports game.
Individual player fitness metres, which change throughout the course of a match, and power bars for passes will allow for a more challenging but rewarding slice of realistic action. The through ball dynamic looks to be more rewarding, as does the slower, more logical game pace (particularly for those using the sensitive Wii version).
Additionally, an improved defence and goalkeeping AI is promised as well as a total revamp of player animation and physics. Early reports of the beta version have not rated these very highly, stating a rigid almost awkward looking player mechanic which will hopefully be ironed out come the release date.
Some additional aspects that intrigue me are the ability to map your favourite feints and deft skills (a trademark of the series that remains unrivalled) to the right analogue stick, as well as the fact that there will be more licensed teams in the game than before (Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur are the two fully licensed premiership squads) and some new leagues are also added.
A stadium editor and other editing options for boots, badges and balls as well as customisable leagues will all be present and correct for the latest instalment but, as we know, this alone does not a great game make. Add to the mix some much needed changes in pre-match prep such as the replacement of menu scrawling with a drag and drop tactical system and the overall impression is one of a decent overhaul.
But PES 11 has to deliver elsewhere too; in particular an online Master League – if conducted well – will really help the game’s cause to dominate once again. The prospect for players to compete with their rivals across the globe for star names and bid to make the ultimate squad are salivating.
However, such fine recipes will be soured if the rumoured niggles aren’t at least slightly eradicated; the presentation values reportedly still cannot match Fifa’s and the animation which has been called ‘stilted’ wont be helped by an apparently woeful AI.
One last factor is the aesthetics which look to be greatly improved, something which is much more significant for the Wii. The Nintendo wunderkind’s technological gap from the big boys is always deepened with this genre. On that note we have come a full circle: the highest quality aesthetics perhaps making way for improved gameplay and player flair and freedom.
Whether the package as a whole is indeed an overhaul enough to tempt back the most fierce of devotees to their once beloved series remains to be seen.