Talk to any person familiar with football games about the PS2 era, they will most likely get a wistful look on their face as they recall the days they spent playing the several iterations of Pro Evolution Soccer released on Sony’s seminal system. Swift passes, outrageous dribbles, powerful long range shots and best of all: Beautiful goals.
Pro Evolution Soccer and the football genre as a whole reached its zenith during the sixth generation of videogame consoles and in Pro Evolution Soccer 6 we don’t only have what is arguably the best footy game of all time but also what some football nuts consider one of the best games of all time! A quick look at Metacritic.com shows that most of the PS2 iterations of PES scored above 90% with the original Pro Evolution Soccer and Pro Evolution Soccer 6 ranking the highest with 93%, so the claim is not without merit.
Talk to that same person about Pro Evolution Soccer on next gen consoles and what you’ll get is a verbal tirade of epic proportions. Lackluster graphics, poor AI, unrealistic gameplay and lack of new licenses were the major sticking point with most fans. The rage is usually directed at the game’s director Shingo “Seabass” Takatsuka for not being able to adapt to the new power of next-gen consoles and also for falling behind the once struggling FIFA series in recent years, which has become a great game of football.
We’ve had promises that PES 2009 would fix the series but despite it being an improvement over the abysmal PES2008, it was still a mediocre effort that was overshadowed by a truly great FIFA09 title.
Now Konami have rolled out the PR statements again saying that they will “fix” the series for the 2010 iteration and listen to the fans complaints. Of course, jaded fans rolled their eyes at this statement but it seems Konami have changed their tone and have actually invited several non-profit fansites such as pesgaming.com and pesfan.com to try early versions of the game and offer suggestions for improvement as well as direct comments to fans on the official Konami blog.
Early impressions were positive and when the demo was announced much earlier than expected, fans (including myself) couldn’t wait to see if the hype was warranted and if the “King” was back.
The first thing you notice when you turn on the game is that for the first time, Konami have licensed bands playing the menu music. There’s only three or four tracks in their but bands like Chemical Brothers and Kaiser Chiefs are in. I personally don’t care about menu music in a sports game but some people obviously do for reasons I don’t understand.
The menu itself is well laid out (although 90% of the game is locked out) and looks decent enough. Again, I couldn’t care less about the menu but some people froth at the mouth when you mention the menus in PES2008 and 2009.
You have a selection of only 6 teams: Two clubs (Liverpool and Barcelona) and four national teams (Spain, Italy, Germany and France) which is kind of disappointing as I don’t play as any of them but beggars can’t be choosers I’m afraid. In addition you have two stadiums to choose from: Anfield and a fictional stadium called “Ville Marie” and only during daylight and clear weather.
When you hit “play”, the game starts straight away with no load times at all (the game loads in the background while you’re selecting) which is a great touch to get you into the action as soon as possible.
The graphics when you first start the game are sublime, for the first time since forever, Konami have a better looking game than EA Sports!
The players are superbly modeled with great looking kits, boots and shin guards and the ball is so detailed you can see the stitching on it!
The one thing that fans always complained about however was the robotic animations that ruined the feeling of gameplay and “smoothness” people always loved. This wasn’t helped by the fact that FIFA09 had some of the best animations in any football game.
So how does PES2010 stack up? It’s a mixed bag. There are some great new kicking, walking and tricks animations but the most crucial of all animations, the running animations, are exactly the same as last year’s Robocop mocap sessions.
Why do this? Why not update the animation that most players will see most of the time?
Now maybe I should give Konami the benefit of the doubt, this is a 70% build dating from around July and Mocap sessions with Messi didn’t start until a few days after the Champion’s league final, or in other words, early June. So they didn’t have enough time to implement the crucial animations.
This isn’t too farfetched. When early builds were tested by news outlets and fansites, people reported that control was still only 8-way instead of full 360 degree like FIFA10. Fast forward a month later and a new build comes out with full 360 degree control.
As far as AI goes, defensive AI has been tightened and defenders will work to close down any attacking threat, especially if you instruct them to press the team. Attacking AI is so and so.
If you instruct your team to support the man in possession by moving forward to open up passing opportunities you’ll often see team mates rushing forward automatically. This is nice effect seeing your team execute your pre-match instructions but I’d wish they’d move around smarter, as they move forward in straight lines and don’t look to find space from the over-enthusiastic defenders. That makes it incredibly difficult to build attacks from the middle of the pitch unless you have two things: The “dummy runner” ability which creates some space for other team members (Dirk Kuyt has this) and the “free roaming” ability which gives your players more freedom of movement (Gerrard and Simone Perrota have this).
So now you’re trying to go down the flanks, correct? Well, here you discover something rather strange: Offensive headers are incredibly powerful and accurate, especially with strikers such as Torres and Ibrahimovic who will rape you.
This changes your game plan a lot. For example, when playing as Barcelona I replace Rafeal Marquez with a statistically weaker player, Gerard Pique, because the latter is a very tall 192cm and has a better chance of reaching headers.
Maybe headers would be less dangerous if goalkeepers weren’t so flawed. Goalkeepers not only spill the ball often but act completely crazy at times in addition to being very poor at reacting to shots not aimed close to or directly at them.
According to Jon Murphy (European PES team leader) on the official Konami Blog, they have noted this from play testers and have fixed it the latest build so maybe these headers will even themselves out when keepers get better.
There’s also a response issue in the game. Players seem to respond a split second after you press the shoot or pass buttons, as though there is some sort of slight lag. The razor sharp response was always a hallmark of the Pro Evo series so it’s strange that this is an issue. I certainly don’t feel that it is as bad as some people do but it is a problem where split second reactions are required (ie, the penalty area). According to people with later builds, this issue has been tweaked so I’ll reserve judgment on this.
360 degree dribbling is real plus compared to the old eight-way control. It’s not evident in gameplay videos but if you’ve been playing any old PES title, you can “feel” it. Of course, you don’t have to worry about players like Messi abusing this system and dribbling past five players easily like in recent versions because defenders also benefit from this system and are better able to maneuver and meet dangerous players.
Also, long range screamer shots are back, with a vengeance. Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 made long range shots almost impossible to score but 2010 fixes this and gives you a reason to close down players like Gerrard with the “Long Ranger” ability. Even if the shot misses, I’m still happy because just looking at the ball floating majestically is beautiful even if it does go into the stands and it looks even more beautiful when it hits the back of the net! Pick that one out!
This is a game that will split opinions. I personally think that it’s great but not as great as the glory days of PES5 and PES6 but miles better than PES2008 and 2009. It’s gotten to the point that I can’t play PES2009 anymore because this 70% demo is better than it!
You can debate if FIFA10 is the better game and I understand that view because FIFA10 is shaping up to be a damn fine game but if try to claim that Pro Evolution Soccer is getting worse, you’ve discredited yourself immensely.