Review: Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 (Sony Playstation 3)


Pro Evolution Soccer 2011
Genre: Sports
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Release Date: 10/8/2010

“The return of the king, the return of the king” is the mantra most Pro Evolution Soccer (henceforth known as PES) fans have been repeating since the much maligned PES2008 came out nearly three years ago now. Meanwhile, the hordes of Mordor FIFA have only grown in numbers as Electronic Arts continues to make some pretty good footy games.

But here it is, the 2011 incarnation of our old king. After a very impressive demo, does the full game herald the return of the greatest footy franchise ever?


1. Story/Modes

Last year, we had only one major revamp in the form of an updated Master League mode. Other than that, we were still rolling with many of the same types of modes we were stuck with since the PS2 days with the notable inclusion of a very bland “Become a Legend” mode and a community mode that, while useful, was not very important to a social hermit such as myself.

This year, though, Konami pulled out all the stops: Master League has been revamped again and is even better than last year. One welcome addition is how training works. In the previous edition you distributed training points between six attributes (Power, Stamina, Shoot, Pass, Dribble and Power) and let your player develop, but when you wanted to train him to change his position or learn a special ability, he had to completely stop any other training and therefore stunted his growth. In PES2011, special abilities and new positions are just another bar for you to distribute points into. The more points you put in, the faster the player will learn “” a simple but effective system.

Staff has been changed as well. In PES2010, your coaches, scouts, doctors, and trainers were just level upgrades (Ie, Doctor Lv.2, Coach Lv.3, etc.), and the more money you spent, the better the respective staffer would be. In PES2011, The staff members have randomly generated faces, names, and nationalities as well as abilities. One scout might be better at finding out a player’s abilities while another might be better at negotiating deals with other clubs while yet another might be a super scout that’s good at everything (and will hit your bank account something fierce). My only disappointment is that doctors still only have one bar: how good they are at healing. What about injury prevention or screening new players for injuries, Konami? The biggest feature in the whole game throughout all the modes in PES2011 is feedback. In the Master League, that means your coaches will give you comments on how the opposing team plays before matches, scouts will tell you why they failed to seal a transfer deal, and so on. It really makes the game feel more manager like.

The biggest flaw, though, is still the same it ever was: You’re not a manager. The only way to fail the game is to go bankrupt. You can lose every game and get relegated and you’d still be the manager as long as you have money in the bank. Even if you’re a winner, sometimes you get bored and want to switch clubs, but you can’t do that either without starting a completely new game.

Become a Legend mode has finally gotten the revamp it required to be a decent mode. The first thing you notice is that the game gives you more feedback on how you’re preforming. Before every game, the manager shows you the formation and gives the team a short review of the tactics in an in-game cutscene. Once you’re on the pitch, a small box shows you the strategy and a couple of short sentences on what the manager expects from you specifically, such as keeping the defence tidy or scoring goals or even to move the ball to the left flank. After the game, you’re given a review on how the manager thought you did, and AFTER that you see your manager’s rating of you compared to all the guys who are in your same position. This clearly tells you why you’re on the bench or on the first team and is a godsend. Sometimes, you get cutscenes where your captain talks to you about your teamwork which is nice. Contracts are now better as well: now you can be signed for longer than a year at a time. If you get a four-year contract, that means your team really wants you to stay; meanwhile, a one-year contract means they only see you as a temporary fixture or are unsure of how you’ll fit in.

Speaking of contracts, you can actually do something with the money you earn! You can now hire different agents to represent you, and they’ll give you benefits like keeping your form up as well as getting you deals with better clubs or extracting more money from your current club. Unfortunately, he’s the only thing you can spend our money on. I wish there were an option to buy cool stuff like cars and houses just for the vanity of it all.

Clubs are also very different now. Big clubs like Barca and Man U give you more training points to train your player (who is trained exactly the same as players in Master League) than crappy teams like Real Zaragoza or Birmingham City. They also have different styles in play and you can see this before signing for the club, things like “Emphasizes Teamwork” or “Counter Attack” so you can pick a club that suits your style. Become a Legend isn’t the best career mode out in sports right now, but it’s improved greatly and is fun to play.

The other new addition to modes is online Master League. It works great, but there are fewer options than in regular master league; it’s almost like FIFA‘s Ultimate team mode but without the ridiculous microtransactions. The more you win, the more money you get in order to buy more players with that cold hard cash. The players’ value changes depending on how many people buy them, similar to how Counter-Strike: Source changes the cost of the weapons in-game depending on their usage.

Other than those, you have all the modes coming back like Cups, Leagues, Champions League, and Community mode, and they’re the same as ever with the slight exception of the Copa Santander mode, which is basically the same UEFA Champions League mode but with a South American flavor. The downside though is that, due to a lack of licenses, cups like the European Cup and “International Cup” lack the qualifiers and depth found in FIFA and therefore those modes kind of feel boring to play.

Story/Modes rating: Great


2. Graphics

Last year saw one of the first major graphical overhauls for PES occur with some of the best character models in any sport games and great pitches and real-time lighting effects.

But that game’s Achilles heel was the animations. They may have looked great in still shots, but in motion, they looked like crouched monkey robots rather than human beings. This year, though, they’ve finally fixed that great hurdle that’s been plaguing Konami since they’ve jumped to the HD consoles. Players move realistically and have far more animations than before (Konami advertise over one thousand animations but I can’t confirm that). Jostling the ball and player collisions look fantastic and realistic and the new “link feints” feature works surprisingly well, though sometimes it looks a little wonky if you string a lot of them together… but it works well enough.

The character models themselves are pretty much the same as last year, which is not bad at all considering both fellow reviewer Chris Bowen and I loved the player models. However, the creases in the shirts are touched up and look a bit better than before, but if your team has the new Nike shirts then you’re in for a treat. You know those shirts! Those skin-tight shirts that look great on fit footballers but horrible on chubby fans, remember? Well, they’re in the game for the teams that officially have them and they’re implemented beautifully.

In the visual atmosphere front, Konami have stated they’re going for a “broadcast” feel to the stadiums, and at first, I was apprehensive as I basically thought it was Konami’s finally getting into the add-bloom-for-realism fad. But in the end, it turned out great as all the stadiums have beautiful lighting effects, especially when matches take place in the afternoon.

Finally, for those who are somehow enraged if they can’t get a good looking main menu screen for some reason then rest assured, Konami have followed up last year’s great menu with one of their best yet. It looks all sleek and sexy and easy to use as well! So bonus points all round!

The only problems I see is that there is still a little clipping here and there when tackling for the ball and that the animations, while good, aren’t as good as the ones on FIFA. For example, the goalkeeper still tries to save 99% of shots with both hands rather than lunge at balls with a single hand. Why no animations for that, Konami?

Graphics rating: Classic


3. Sound

A second year in the row that we get licensed music in PES and it’s another good one. Sure, there’s less of the alternative rock and more “world” music, some of which is good but others are just awful, but all in all, it’s a very good soundtrack.

I can’t say the same about the commentary, though. When it was announced that the awful Mark Lawrenson was being replaced by ITV’s Jim Beglin, I thought Konami was going to be redoing the entire commentary track. But no, since Jon and Mark never really interacted in the commentary””nor do I think they even recorded the sessions together””it was very easy to simply remove Lawro and place Jim Beglin’s own stilted and boring dialogue into the game. Sure, they have some new lines where they mention the stadium and if the game takes place between rivals (Real Madrid vs Barca, etc) but that’s basically it.

Stadium sounds are unchanged as well, which is also a disappointment. On the plus side the in-stadium PA system has been added into the game, and it sounds great. If you’re playing an English league game, it will be in English (“There will be one minute of extra time”) but a Spanish game? It will be in Spanish. A minor touch, but a nice one all the same.

Please, Konami, I’m begging you! Please redo the entire commentary. PLEASE!

Sounds rating: Decent


4. Control/Gameplay

All those fancy modes mean nothing if the gameplay on the pitch isn’t up to scratch, and I can safely say that this year Konami has FINALLY brought the goods. PES2011 has heralded the return of the king.

This IS the game we’ve been waiting for since PES6/WE9! Passing, dribbling, and defending are sublime and work great, with my personal favourite being the new passing system.

It works like a strange hybrid of manual and semi-automatic passing. You hold (X) for how fast the pass should go as well as holding a direction on the D-pad or analogue stick to direct the pass, and your player will do his best to put it where you want it to go. It’s very hard to explain in words and you really have to try it to know what I’m talking about. Of course, better passers generally place the ball much closer to individual players and farther away from opposing defenders, so it’s not one-hundred percent dependent on your own skill.

Dribbling can be done the old fashioned way by using angles and bursts of speed, but it’s not as gamebreaking as it was before because the game is really trying to emphasize passing and teamwork over individual ability. However, you have a new link feints system, where you can map certain feints such as Roulettes and flicks onto the right stick and unleash them in quick succession. Get it right and you look awesome, but get it wrong and your opponent will thank you for giving him possession so easily. It finally gives feints some use other than showboating, but it doesn’t break the game as it’s difficult to pull of effectively.

Defending is also very good, but Konami have done a really bad job of explaining it. I had to actually look in the manual to see how it is done. If you hold down (X) like in the old games, you’ll close down the ball carrier down but you won’t tackle. If you hold (X) and aim the stick or D-pad at the ball carrier, then you’ll tackle as soon as you get in range. This is so you can choose to tackle at the right moment. Why not just tackle as soon as possible, you ask? Because even the regular standing tackles can cause fouls, and you really don’t want a clumsy foul near the box. Finally, (X) and holding the D-Pad or stick to the goal line makes your player track the ball carrier, hold up play, and generally keep a yard or two away from him so fast players like Messi don’t blaze past a clumsy tackle attempt. It’s a great system but it really takes time to get used to. I consider myself a defensive master but I’ve been left red faced with some poor defending because I really haven’t broken the old habit of “Hold X ’til you get the ball back”. It’s been over fifteen years, so it’s going to take a while.

You do have a new advantage though: If you jostle the ball carrier, his shots and passes will be weaker and less accurate, so that gives even more importance to simply closing down your opponent rather than just outright tackling him.

Keepers are improved this year. They react and hold the ball better rather than parry it away, but they’re not “super keepers” and do occasionally make mistakes like real human keepers. There are two flaws keeping them from being perfect: First, when they do parry the ball, they sometimes parry it straight to the middle of the box rather than out of bounds. This has happened quite a few times when it would be easier to parry the ball in any other direction except the middle of the box, but that’s where it goes. It seems to me like a cheap trick from Konami to increase the goal count. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s definitely there. Second, they rarely use one handed lunges to save shots, which is completely abnormal. They always look weird when they jump two-handed saves every time a ball gets near them, as though their hands are tied together by a mysterious force. Sort it, Konami!

Strikers have a harder job now with the aforementioned jostling messing up their game. But even without the jostling, shots with either the foot or head aren’t all powerful bullets anymore. Some of them balloon into the stands while others are mistruck and fall easily into the keeper’s hands. Basically, you need some skill in finishing now and not expect the game to hold your hand as often. You need to use R2 to cushion a delicate shot in rather than just blast it in as you would normally do. FINALLY, some skill for the strikers other than “Hold down (square) for goal”. Maybe it’s just schadenfreude because I’m a defensive-minded player, but I like this new tweak.

The new animations look very good with the new 360-degree dribbling that’s truly 360 degrees, unlike last year’s pseudo-360 degrees. They actually serve something in the gameplay, such as when the ball is in an awkward position and you try to pass or shoot. In older titles, your player will most likely try to trap the ball and then preform your order, but in PES2011 they’ll play clever backheels, flicks, half volleys, volleys, and bicycle kicks or anything else to get the ball moving as quickly as possible.

The AI itself works very well and generally plays intelligently in both defence and offense. The one thing that really gets me is that, in “Become a Legend,” the AI is horrible! Your team is as dumb as bricks and don’t pass, can’t shoot, and can’t dribble. I was dumbfounded at how bad they played, but then I found out why. Whenever you join a new team, your “teamwork” stat drops to something like thirteen out of a hundred, and you have to build it back up. Normally, this means your teammates can’t anticipate your passes and runs until you raise the stat, but in the weird world of PES2011, it means your entire team can’t pick out each other with simple passes and play almost like a playground team.

Why does this happen? One new player doesn’t completely destroy the entire fabric of a team, Konami! Sort that crap out!

The final flaw in an otherwise great game is the referees. They call the softest fouls I’ve ever seen in my entire footballing life. A simple foot out of place will earn his wrath, and he’ll be showing yellow and red cards with annoying frequency. To be honest, ninety-five percent of his calls are correct, but are just so soft that most normal referees would just let it go while the remaining five percent are Uriah Rennie bad. There are times when I hauled down a guy with a brutal tackle that deserves at least a yellow card, but the ref waves play on with me in possession! Sometimes, the AI comes as close to sexually molesting my players as possible and the ref doesn’t bat an eye. I don’t recall Konami advertising World Cup refs in this game, so I’m assuming it’s a bug or poor programming.

Overall, Konami has a flawed gem in their hands. In the previous years, they were polishing a turd (and as Mythbusters and PES2010 proved, it is possible) but now they’re polishing a gem. So a year or two of some shining and it will be flawless. Keep it up, Seabass!

Control/Gameplay rating: Great


5. Replayability

Now we have an updated version of a classic that was already updated plus a career mode that finally works as advertised, coupled with a game engine that’s finally fun to play and worthy of being on an HD console in addition to a persistent team building online mode. HOT DAMN that’s a lot of replay value right there! Even without these modes, I have a great time simply playing pick-up matches with whoever happens to be around at the time. I literally played the PES2011 demo more than any other demo ever. That was how good the multiplayer is!

Konami also brought back a great concept from the PS2 titles: The PES shop. As you play matches and win tournaments in ANY mode, you earn GP. You can then spend this GP in an in-game store that offers classic national teams (such as Maradona’s Argentina or Bobby Moore’s England) as well as classic players and wallpapers for adorning the main menu as well as completely crazy things like unlocking the ability to play with a barrel instead of a soccer ball!

This game will keep you busy easily until PES 2012 drops.

Replayability rating: Great


6. Balance

Alongside the new feint and pass systems is the new defence system. Now when all the players know how all of these work, you have a great game of a football.

However, the mechanics of how the new defence system works are more complex than feinting or passing, so the learning curve is higher. This means you’ll be penetrating the defence quite easily early on, but the ability of the keepers and the toning down of the accuracy of the shots should still keep score lines respectable.

Konami inserted fifteen players in the game known as speed stars that completely own every other player in the game. They’re not marked in any way in their stats, so you just have to use trial and error to find them. I know Messi and Ronaldo are two, but I have no idea who the other thirteen are. I was just wondering, Konami, why make kickass players even more kickass? It becomes a chore playing against these players, even more than the usual Messi in older PES games.

Balance rating: Above Average


7. Originality

Annual sports game release. There’s really nothing more to it than that. Sure you have the fancy and shiny tactics, pass and feints system, but the game still feels and controls like PES which is a kind of a catch-22 when you think about it. You WANT the game to feel new but familiar at the same time.

The new online master league is cool, but really, it’s just the old Master League mashed with FIFA’s ultimate team mode. So yeah, annual sports release.

Originality rating: Poor


8. Addictiveness

The new additions to the master league really keep it fresh and interesting even after several seasons of gameplay (especially if you start with the default squad of Castolo and Co. in Division 2, THE MAN’S WAY OF PLAYING THE GAME) and this year it’s accompanied with a career mode that’s actually worth playing. Not to mention that the online offerings are very good and the game is quite stable online.

The one problem I see is that sometimes, the flaws in the game can cause some frustration and burnout, especially when you lose a game you really should have won if not for a single loose ball or a trigger-happy referee.

But, oh god, the PES Shop. Just five more games and I can afford the Contra 8-bit music track. Just five more games and I don’t care if it’s midnight already IT MUST BE MINE!

Addictiveness rating: Great


9. Appeal Factor

PES2010 was a decent game in its own right, but it really couldn’t repair the damage done to the Pro Evolution Soccer name and no matter how many times Konami promised that THIS time they’ve got it right, it’s hard to believe them when they’ve cried wolf so many times already.

They also made the decision to move up the release date to directly compete with FIFA11 and the sales numbers aren’t very encouraging as it was completely demolished sales wise by their main competitor.

However, even if it can’t match FIFA11‘s numbers, it can easily rack up over 2 million sales across all platforms, so it still has a dedicated fanbase.

Appeal Factor: Decent


10. Miscellaneous

Konami decided to load up the nostalgia factor in this game. In the PES Shop you can buy 8-bit tunes for classic Konami arcade and NES games like Castlevania, Frogger, Contra, and more. When I was debating whether to buy Thiago Motta or Abou Diaby in the master league, the Castlevania theme came up while I was reviewing Motta’s stats so, and I took it as a sign from the dread lord Dracula that Motta was the right way to go.

On top of that, I really can’t imagine a greater PR rep than European PES team leader Jon Murphy (except South Peak’s Aubrey Norris, who I think is somewhat mentally unstable, but that’s cool). He’s always responding to fans via twitter (@JonMurphy_PES) and actually informs the PES programmers in Japan of bugs and suggestions from worldwide fans. Good job, Jon!

Miscellaneous rating: Classic


The Scores

Modes: Great
Graphics: Classic
Sound: Decent
Control/Gameplay: Great
Replayability: Great
Balance: Above Average
Originality: Poor
Addictiveness: Great
Appeal Factor: Decent
Miscellaneous: Classic
FINAL SCORE: Good Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

This is the game we’ve been waiting for, the “Return of the King” we’ve been anticipating since the halcyon days of Pro Evolution Soccer on the PS2. While it’s not so good as to completely overshadow its rivals, we finally have a Konami title that plays a great game of footy. If Seabass and Co. can fix the small flaws in the AI, refs, and goalkeepers and get a better commentary team, we would have the best footy game ever made. But what we have now is a good one still worth your money.

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