Review: Pro Evolution Soccer 2010 (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Pro Evolution Soccer 2010
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Genre: Realistic Sports
Release Date: 10/26/2009 (EU) – 11/3/2009 (NA)

Last week, as part of our football special, I reviewed FIFA ’10. I stated at that time that considering how good it was, it was going to be extremely hard to unseat it as the best football game.

For those who missed the FIFA review, here is our schedule, with an addition to next week:

Thursday, December 10 – FIFA ’10 Review
Thursday, December 17 – Pro Evolution Soccer 2010 (360) Review (Today)
Thursday, December 24 – Two parts! Not only will Mohamed Al-Saadoon and I be discussing/arguing about both football games, but our own Guy Desmarais will have a review of the Wii version of Pro Evolution Soccer 2010!

Today, I will look at Pro Evolution Soccer 2010 (Henceforth PES or PES ’10) on it’s own merits, and determine if my former love managed to go out and make up to it’s fans for a few years of extremely off football.

Some explanation is in order: when I was growing up in the PS1 and PS2 era, I loved football, but hated playing football games. The FIFA games, at that time, were little more than hockey games with more players, and all semblance of football was lost in a sea of 7-4 matches. When I started going overseas after joining the service, at the Seaman Centres I would go to at some ports, they had a game called This is Football that I would quickly fall in love with, though looking back on it, it wasn’t that great of a title on it’s own merits. It surely wasn’t for purists.

Then, in America, I was able to play Winning Eleven 6 for the first time. It was unlike anything I’d played. Defenders actually defend well! The computer passes the ball around properly! You can’t just rush towards someone and slide tackle! Naturally, being used to FIFA, it was a rough adjustment, and I constantly lost 5-0 while trying to learn the far more intiutive and involved controls. I eventually improved, just by playing football the way it’s meant to be played. Winning Eleven – also known as Pro Evolution Soccer – became a yearly purchase for me, leading to Winning Eleven: Pro Evolution Soccer 2007, a game I still consider one of the best of all time.

After that, however, the series saw a drop in quality. One more game was released for the Playstation 2 – Pro Evolution 2008 – which wasn’t as good as the previous year’s game. However, the XBox 360 versions started to come out as well, which were absolutely atrocious. I bought the XBox 360 versions of both PES ’08 and PES ’09, and ended up trading them in almost immediately. Meanwhile, last year, FIFA ’09 was a revelation, almost reinventing the entire football genre. I’m not quite as stubborn Lemming-like dedicated as Mohamed (who I’m going to call The Notorious MAS, just because I can), so when I realised that FIFA was a better game overall than PES, the decision to switch over was easier for me; I’m loyal to quality games, not name franchises.

Henceforth, I came into this review secretly hoping that PES found it’s mojo again. Whether it did or not, we will find out. Hopefully, we’ll find out in a shorter review than I needed with FIFA

Modes

Just like the FIFA review, I’ll go through every relevant mode.

Master League – The Master League in PES, for as long as I’ve known the franchise, has been the same; all of the big teams are broken up into groups, with smaller teams in group B, your job is to come up from Group B with the likes of Espinas and Huylens while building your team from scratch.

Master League needed a big change. Boy, did it get it.

Depending on the team you pick, you start with that team’s roster – no need to use the scrubs like past games, though those names are all on the youth team to start out with, for the nostalgic – as well as some money. Different from past years is that instead of an arbitrary points setup, teams get actual money – measurable in Dollars, Pound Sterling, Euros or Yen – which is not only used on annual salaries, but also on your team’s backroom staff, with different levels of assistant coach, athletic trainer, physios, youth team and even the size of your team fan club, all of which are more expensive but more effective at whatever they do; for example, a larger fan club brings in more money from said fans, whereas a better athletic trainer increases the effects of training. I like this because not only does it add depth to the formerly barren Master League, it adds some realism as well; it takes more than good players to make a good team good, it takes backroom staff, trainers, and a solid youth programme. This is also more realistic because the team you pick determines how easy your life is. Do you want to build up a low-level team, or do you want to pick Barcelona and start off with the top levels in everything, in addition to £200m in the kitty? The discrepancy in perks between the smaller and bigger clubs is something FIFA tap-danced around, whereas in PES, it’s a lot closer to reality.

Another thing I like is that there are two sets to weeks: early part and later part. This is huge when there’s a gap in your schedule because that’s time to practise, go through the transfer market, and do other things that aren’t related to the direct playing of games by your teams. This is better than FIFA’s system, which goes from match day to match day. Speaking of markedly improved, the transfer system is night and day better than FIFA’s, which I called an “absolute travesty”. You find a player to negotiate with, either by finding him yourself or by having your scout narrow down a list of applicable candidates based on a few metrics (kinda like the “filter unrealistic targets” option in Football Manager), and enter negotiations with them. Your success and eventual price depend on your team’s scout level, but once a value is determined – it could take a few weeks – you can determine if you want to take the deal, negotiate further (if there’s time left in the transfer window), or cancel negotiations. It’s a much more streamlined process than that in FIFA, and much more realistic to boot. It’s not QUITE as intuitive as Football Manager, but it’s as close as console games have gotten.

There are a few niggles I have. For one, it’s way too easy to piss off players; there’s a metric on players’ happiness, and frankly put, most of your players seem to have the same temperament as a jilted twelve year old girl. Furthermore, there’s no real managerial career to be had; you stay with your team until you end the game or run your team bankrupt. You could have Chelsea finishing last, and the only consequence is going to be a loss of fans. Finally, money is paid out all in lumps; you pay your team fees for scouts and coaches in one month, and your entire team salary in another month. I would really like to see a more realistic setup that bases compensation weekly, and also adds in incentives for goals and appearances in the side.

Still, as far as console football goes, you’re not going to find a better manager/league mode than this. Organizationally, it’s much better than Manager Mode.

Become a Legend – Be A Pro mode in FIFA was flawed, but ultimately acceptable. I wish I could say that much for Become a Legend mode.

After creating your player, you start out the mode playing for a made-up side, and depending on your performance, you will have one of three teams to sign for; I got lucky, and was able to sign for “Wearside” (Sunderland). From there, I basically played training matches for the first half of my first season while trying to make my bench. You’re measured on your match rating as to how close – or far – you are from whatever your goal is, whether it’s making the bench, making the first team, or staying on the first team. It’s nice that you’re not quite so harshly judged like in FIFA, where “get a match rating of ten!” is a goal they ask of you. You’re also given a fatigue rating, based on how many matches you play in and what kind of training you’re doing, and can “rest” yourself if you’re getting too tired.

One problem is that you’re never given a clear goal to go towards; you are told “make the bench!”, but how to do that is foreign to you. It’s somewhat easier as a striker because goals = rating, but you have no clue of what you have to do or how you’re doing as a match goes along because no metrics are given to you. You could have a good game, but if the final score is tied and you didn’t have any assists or goals, you could get a very low rating for some unknown reason. Furthermore, there’s really no personal interaction; you can change teams at certain points, but you’re just going from match to match, with no real goal in sight.

What really hurts BAL mode is the gameplay of the matches themselves; I’ll go into that more in the relevant section, because that’s where this mode really fails the hardest. For fans of PES, it’s safe to say that this year’s mode is no different structurally than last year’s, which also sucked. The only benefit over FIFA’s Be A Pro mode is that this lasts longer than four seasons, but unlike BAP mode, you won’t want any part of them.

Trust The Notorious MAS on this one: don’t waste your time.

UEFA Champion’s League – You can get to the Champion’s League – or it’s little brother, the Europa League – through the Master League, though for impatient gamers, you can also load up the Champion’s League from the group stages. Essentially, it’s just like playing Cup or Exhibition modes, with the difference being that the Champion’s League pomp and circumstance is played up to the hilt, with the theme played before every match being included, along with the logo at centre pitch during the pre-game lineups.

If you like the Champion’s League, this is a nice way to cut the fat and get into it, and having an Exhibition option for those that just want one game with all the flair is a good thing. It’s not much, but if you have an exclusive Champion’s League license, might as well use it, no?

Community – This is basically a way to get a group of friends together, and keep stats on who’s doing what against who; it’s similar to EA’s Lounge Mode, only without the stupid crap that Lounge Mode contains as well. The Notorious MAS states that it’s great for him because he has a lot of friends that play the PC version of PES. Unfortunately, I don’t have that luxury; MAS is the only person I am friends with that plays PES, and our versions aren’t compatible. Unfortunately, due to this, I couldn’t give the mode a real test drive, but those that want it will enjoy it.

Online – Playing online is never something I enjoy; I am very good at sports, but not so good at sports *games* to the point where I learn exploits, so someone that knows exactly how to win at one particular game usually kicks my ass. Furthermore, I take the Yahtzee Croshaw mantra to playing against people: “Don’t play against anyone you can’t punch in the face”. This is because most of the people I deal with – especially on Live (a paid service!) – are absolute tossers, who would not get away with what they get away with if I had the option of breaking their nose. Testing the online modes in both of these games has stretched my patience to the absolute limit just because I hate playing online so much, to the point where the people in my house leave me alone when they know I have to play something online.

That said, games like NHL ’10 and FIFA ’10 offer things that make me ignore my absolute hatred for whoever is across the internet from where I am; in both of those games’ cases, it’s either the fact that you can play a full game with every other player being a human being, and both games also have outstanding league setups.

PES has a virtual Champion’s League that you can enter, but other than that, and a version of the gameplay you would see in Become A Legend, there’s not much else to be had other than standard 1 vs. 1 and 2 vs. 2 modes. In that regard, the game performs well; they dropped the Konami ID requirement from last year, so getting online with an XBox is easier than last year, and there’s virtually no lag from what I saw, though if The Notorious MAS is correct, that’s more because I have an optimal location (New England, USA). Furthermore, the game gives players ample time to alter their team techniques and strategies. However, the options are bog-dry, and I was not able to get into a game with the BAL play-style because not enough players were playing it. It also took me some time to get proper matches going in regular 1 vs. 1 style.

Online mode has never been a major point in PES’s favour, and though it’s better than years past, it’s still not a major point in favour of Konami’s title.

Every other mode is the same as years past, and is self-explanatory; therefore, I won’t waste time writing about League, Cup, Edit and Training modes.

Overall, Master Leauge is an amazing mode as far as console football games go, but that’s the only mode that’s really going to give people any replayability. After that, things get very narrow. It’s the exact opposite of FIFA, which has all the modes but none that stand out.

Modes Rating: Above Average

Graphics

PES is an absolutely GORGEOUS game when it comes to replays, player models and skin look. The Notorious MAS said it best when he talked about the still shots, and how great they looked; go back to his comparison shots of Gennaro Gattuso to see just how realistic they are. The still images Konami used in their promotional materials were actual gameplay shots. Between player and stadium models, the game looks like a museum piece.

Then they start to move, and everything turns to crap.

The one thing that absolutely has to be done well in any football game is player animations. I spent a lot of time in my FIFA review going over how important it was that animations were plentiful for every style of handling the ball that there was. That’s not incorporated in PES; players seem like they’re moving on rails, and their running animations are stiff and non-believable. I like how they change directions when they do hard cuts with the ball, but even that’s not really done well, because there’s no 360 degree dribbling; it’s the same moves, every time. Animations are CRUCIAL in a football game that prides itself on realism, and as I’ll explain in a few sections, it hurts not only how they look, but how the game plays as well.

Graphics Rating: Above Average

Sound

On-pitch sounds are very good; hard tackles, the ball hitting something, the crowd’s chants, all of that sound good, and the crowd is much livelier than FIFA’s crowd, constantly doing chants (though some of the chants get old after awhile). However, the on-pitch sound is made to sound worse by the commentary team of Mark Lawrenson and John Champion, who are comically horrible. They’re boring, repeat lines all the time, and almost never say anything that has actual bearing on what’s actually going on in the game. Some of my favourites:

(after a sub) “It’s obvious he had to come off, he’s way below par!” (We’re winning 4-1, and this player’s match rating was a 7.5)
(halftime) “I don’t think their fans are going to be pleased. They have the lead, but there’s no varyance to their game. They’re very predictable right now!” (If I’m up 3-0 going into the break, I think my fans will manage, thanks)
(beginning of the second half) “We’re back, and it looks like the manager’s made no changes…” (he says, as the graphic showing who I’ve subbed out/in is still on the screen)

In short, the commentary team would be bad in any game; when you put them alongside Martin Tyler and Andy Gray from FIFA, they’re made to look that much worse.

In terms of soundtrack, Konami finally bit the bullet and went with a licensed soundtrack this year, like EA’s been doing for years. Unlike FIFA, there’s a very heavy alternative rock influence, with bands like The Chemical Brothers and The All American Rejects dominating the proceedings. Since there’s so little wiggle room in terms of interests, I’m going to dock a small bit of score because those that don’t like alternative rock are going to find this soundtrack unbearable. As for me, I like Keane, but gUiLLeMoTS couldn’t have been deleted from my play-lists fast enough; everyone else was completely disposable, and there’s only so many times I can listen to the Champions League remixes.

Sound Rating: Poor

Control and Gameplay

Playing PES put me into Bizzaro World. What universe is this, where FIFA offers the most realistic version of the sport of football, whereas Pro Evolution Soccer – the champion of the realistic footy fan for almost a decade – has become the arcade game where running, lofted chips and thirty foot shots are routine?

The good news for PES purists is that gameplay hasn’t changed much from what I remember on the PS2. I was able to jump in, with minimal fuss, and I haven’t consistently played this game for two and a half years (though I use the PES-inspired alternative controls when I play FIFA, which helps). They haven’t changed, except for adding in (almost impossible to do) tricks.

The bad news is that gameplay hasn’t changed much at a time when FIFA has evolved. The Notorious MAS says that the days of half-pitch runs with Messi are over; I’m quite frankly not sure what the hell he’s talking about. Even on Top Player I was able to avoid my marker with subtle dribbling and quick diagonal moves; on lower difficulties, it didn’t really matter who had the ball unless it was a low rated defender, which once led to me laughingly exclaiming “Lorik Cana just split the middle!”. Any time you can say something like that unironically, there’s something wrong with the way the game’s AI handles runs. You have to run as well, because passing is so piss-poor; passes STILL go too slow when going to their mark, and unless they’re lead passes, they STILL force receiving players to stop right where they are to receive the pass. The fact that passing hasn’t improved one iota from ’07 – in fact, it’s probably gotten worse – is inexcusable.

There was also word that a 360 degree dribbling feature was added this year. I’d like to know where it was; dribbling is every bit as on-rails as it has been in years past, but since it’s still easy to do a quick diagonal juke, that doesn’t matter much. With that said, remember how I stated that animations can hurt gameplay? Lack of animation hurts Pro Evolution because everything feels scripted; doing one thing WILL lead to this animation, doing another WILL lead to that. There’s no variance between moves, and no smoothness in transitions; going from up to left immediately jerks your player from up to left, unless he has the ball, in which case he’ll stop the ball THEN jerk to the left as if he’s being controlled by the big hand in the Smash Bros. games. It creates a game that is jerky in it’s operation; it makes no mistake to people watching that they’re watching a video game, instead of a real match. Considering what the new standard is, that’s not good enough.

One thing that I do like over FIFA is how much more exhilarating shooting the ball is. FIFA’s shots tend to float, and a lot of balls are held. When you first let go of a laces shot in PES, it zooms towards the net, almost like it’s on a lazer-guided path toward the net with a rocket pack attached to it. It’s not to the point of being unrealistic; in fact, I consider it more realistic than FIFA’s floaters. The main complaint I have about shooting is that shooting finesse shots is needlessly hard; you have to, while shooting, hit RT while the gauge is moving. It’s easy to screw up, in times when you really want a soft, controlled shot instead of a booming laces shot.

As a result, goalkeepers react much better to shots, constantly getting across and stopping boomers unless they’re heading to the corners, which is what I expect professional quality goalkeepers to be able to do. They’re also able to be rounded, depending on their abilities; this contrasts with the supermen found in FIFA, who suck up anything at their feet. Everything is delightfully realistic… except for a couple issues. For one, I see way too many balls going through goalkeepers’ arms, that should be at least deflected. Once again, this is the lack of animation in player models coming back to bite the gameplay in the butt. The second issue is that goalkeepers are absolutely, totally, uselessly blinkered on headers. I have, in over a week of playing this game, not seen one header saved; not a single one. In fact, most headers I’ve seen are watched as they fly into the net. This bit me in the butt playing against other people, as any time I lost, it was after having most of the ball, but being beaten by someone employing a tall striker like Fernando Torres, Peter Crouch or even (infuriatingly) Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, pumping crosses or corners into the box, and winning them.

The other way I was consistently beaten was by lofting chipped through balls to the striker, who would often just win a battle to the ball. However, I was able to combat this with the new tactics options, which give a lot of nice options for zone or man marking as well as some pressure based sliders, making PES’s tactics a lot closer to other simulation games like Football Manager. It worked much better in the higher levels than I thought it would. The problem comes from defence, as playing as a defensive player isn’t as responsive as it has been in the past; often-times, I would get the ball just by running into the guy with the ball instead of making an actual tackle, as pressing the tackle button was often useless in that regard. Most of the time I was able to dispossess a runner, it was with the secondary man, because one on one defending is a bit of a pain this time around, unless someone dribbles into your feet.

A separate paragraph is necessary to describe playing in Become A Legend; simply put, play mechanics in this mode, especially when compared to Be A Pro mode, are atrocious. Having the ball isn’t the problem; you can get around with no problems. The two big things are what to do when your team has the ball, but you don’t. Unlike in FIFA, you can’t command your teammates to do anything; you can ask them to pass you the ball, but that takes two presses of the RT button, a very unnatural motion for receiving a pass. Everything else is totally up to the whims of the AI, and the AI in this mode is atrocious, shooting when you don’t want them to, passing to players nowhere near the play, you name it. I guess it could be considered “realistic” that ten other players aren’t on your wavelength, but considering these aren’t ninety minute games, there’s not enough time to really screw around.

Don’t get me wrong: Pro Evolution Soccer 2010 is a good football game. It’s good like the old games were. Fans of the series and fans looking for a faster paced, exciting game are going to look toward this game with a happy eye. With that said, just saying that fans wanting a faster paced game are looking to Pro Evolution is weird.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Above Average

Replayability

Master League is extremely replayable; just the way it sucks you in and never lets you go makes the mode an immense time-sink. Everything else, however, is not meant so much to be a time sink as it is something for fans of the older games to jump into. There’s nothing here that’s going to bring in new fans and keep them coming back; online mode is relatively bare-bones, the Champions League is doable from Master League, and Become a Legend isn’t replayable because it sucks.

Unlike FIFA, Konami is putting forth a package for fans, and making the on-pitch game the star of the show. The results are mixed.

Replayability Rating: Decent

Balance

I had a bit of a better time attacking the centre of the pitch than The Notorious MAS did. Of course I did; my game relies on short passing, so I have to find a way to make it work or I’m just not going to win. However, there’s too much of a reliance on headers for me to really score this area well; if you get a header on net, it WILL go into the goal unless you accidentally hit something other than the goalkeeper. That can be somewhat mitigated by playing back more and taking away any idea of playing an offside trap, but accidents do happen. I still find that my flanks are attacked way too often, I still have problems passing to players off of free kicks (you get one option; you HAVE to loft the ball in on free kicks against humans, otherwise they’re going to pick a short pass clean), and the fact that any tall striker can beat me when I have 60% of the ball is bothersome.

Poor header balance hurts what is otherwise a fairly well balanced game of football.

Balance Rating: Mediocre

Originality

If you want to be totally specific, there’s not one original idea in this game. The tactics system has been done in Football Manager and, to an extent, FIFA, and the rest of the game is basically the same as past years. Become a Legend was never original – it was introduced because FIFA came out with Be a Pro – and even Master League – while an outstanding mode – has no real original elements.

It’s going to hurt to give this rating, but…

Originality Rating: Dreadful

Addictiveness

The new Master League is a massive time-sink, and it’s easy to get lost in it, as it requires the right level of management and in-game involvement to get really good; it’s extremely easy to get lost in “one more game” mode with as immersed as you have to be to succeed, especially with a lower level team. Everything else is in the eye of the beholder; if the player is a fan of PES, the game will be addictive because it’s been addictive for the past eight or so years. Furthermore, more casual fans can get sucked in by the faster-paced gameplay that FIFA‘s more defensive approach just doesn’t have. In short, for those that choose to play PES, there’s a chance of becoming totally addicted.

Addictiveness Rating: Very Good

Appeal Factor

Just like FIFA, this is a bigger deal overseas than it is in North America, just because most Americans don’t give a rat’s ass about football. The fact remains, however, that while FIFA has become a marketing juggernaut behind EA’s considerable financial clout, PES has fallen into niche game status. It’s still popular among fans, but it seems the developers – to their credit, mind – are comfortable catering to their loyal fans that have stuck with them throughout the years, instead of worrying about taking any of EA’s newer following.

If you’re The Notorious MAS, you likely are more in love with Pro Evolution than most people love their wives. If you’re like most football fans, however, you likely preordered FIFA before even thinking of PES. There’s even a chance you knew what you were preordering.

Appeal Factor Rating: Decent

Miscellaneous

I’ve been fairly ambivalent on PES up until now, but I’m going to give Konami some credit here: not only are they loyal to their fans, but they really, really listen to them as well. Before I started writing this review, The Notorious MAS linked me to an extensive survey, asking gamers what they liked about the game, what they needed to improve upon, and asked for weights in terms of what was the most or least important thing to worry about. What’s heartening about this is that Konami historically listens to their fans in this regard; the past three games have steadily improved upon the previous one after they lost their way on the next-gen consoles, and I have faith that, if Konami reads and takes my review into consideration (I would hope so, they sent me the bloody game), they’re going to take mine and everyone else’s words seriously, and we’re going to see a markedly improved game for 2011.

I don’t have that level of faith with EA, who, despite making a superior product this year, more or less bluffed us on what they improved upon, and has shown us with some of their other franchises (Madden, NASCAR, Tiger Woods) that, if they’re not threatened, they’ll let it stagnate. They made FIFA better only because they were tired of getting killed by Pro Evolution every year. Konami sees who their loyal base are – those that bought previous versions, felt spurned, but came back and bought this year’s game – and want to serve those people. I can appreciate that, no matter what the game or what the competition is. I look forward, despite what is probably going to be a mediocre score, to playing PES ’11.

Now, if only Konami would decide to grace us with their exclusive J-League license…

Miscellaneous Rating: Very Good

The Scores
Modes: Above Average
Graphics: Above Average
Sound: Poor
Control and Gameplay: Above Average
Replayability: Decent
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Dreadful
Addictiveness: Very Good
Appeal Factor: Decent
Miscellaneous: Very Good
FINAL SCORE: DECENT GAME


Short Attention Span Summary

Pro Evolution Soccer 2010 is a good football game for football fans, especially those that have been playing the series loyally for years.

Unfortunately, it’s not the best football game. In a market where second place is often irrelevant, EA Sports’s worldwide flagship franchise has outpaced PES, and is superior in all of the ways that truly matter. While there’s faith that next year’s PES will be the game that finally closes the gap once again, we’re not there yet.

If I have to offer one recommendation, it’s that FIFA ’10 is a better football game for everyone, with the exception of either diehard Pro Evolution fans, or fans that really don’t like FIFA’s slower pace.

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