Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 Xbox 360 Review

Publisher – Konami – Developer – Konami – Genre –  Sports – Players – 1-7 – Age Rating – 3+ – Other console/handheld formats – PS3, Wii, PSP

My love affair with Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer series lasted 6 long years. You can double that to 12 if you count the International Superstar Soccer games too. For such an astonishingly lengthy period of my gaming life, Konami’s series of footballing titles had been a constant addiction. Then Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 appeared on the Xbox 360. While I’d forgiven Pro Evolution Soccer 6 for its numerous faults as a development team simply rushed into completing a hurried next generation appearance, this one I simply couldn’t abide. It was turgid crap of the highest stench.

Since then I’ve dipped into the series in the vague hope that this was all just a tiny blip. That somehow an earlier version of the game made it into those little plastic cases. But I’d been left consistently disappointed and the unfortunate feeling that Konami had lost the magic touch in its entirety started to swell. Which is why I’m delighted to utter this sentence. Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 plays a pretty decent game of football.

While the menu system is as convoluted and ridiculously obtuse as ever – though not as bad as EA’s FIFA series’ horrific offering – the blood and thunder action out on the pitch is a quite lovely representation of the football we witness every week.

Players are once again very detailed, many of which look like whom they are supposed to be.

The biggest change this year in my opinion is the well crafted passing system. Previously you could happily prod vaguely in the direction of your nearest player, tap the pass button, and nine times out of ten it’d hit the mark as if you were playing with a team full of Lionel Messi-a-likes. Now a handy little power bar appears when you start to initiate a pass, making the strength of said pass just as much of a consideration as direction. All of which makes the game a much slower and studied affair, with less in the way of daftly accurate pass-a-thons.

Player animations have had a huge boost too, with tackles in particular appearing much more realistic as players clash over the ball. Strong tackles will now urge the recipient to fly through the air as gracefully as any Premier League star on the wrong end of a Karl Henry challenge. The only minus point means that almost every coming together ends with a striker tumbling to the ground and a free-kick being awarded. It’s a tiny black mark however, with the way players interact getting a big thumbs up.

Shooting is just as satisfying as ever, with long range efforts – if timed to perfection – flying through the air just as you’d hope. And if your timings a little off, they’ll happily float skywards/drift towards the corner flag. It’s the one major area where the series maintains a big old tick in comparison to the FIFA series, and PES 2011 is absolutely no different in that regard.

There are a few problems. One pretty hefty offering is the reluctance for defenders to make a challenge if you slowly jog along the touch line. Seriously. If you get the ball to your winger close to the line, slowly make your way towards the oppositions goal line and defenders will allow him all the time in the world to whip a cross in. It’s already been promised to be fixed with a soon coming patch, but it’s an annoying little bug that sadly crept its way in.

Other niggles include the aforementioned awful menu system which seems ridiculously eager to tempt you to press more buttons then you’ve ever touched before just to start a simply cup. While some may be overjoyed to discover that Mark Lawrenson has been jettisoned and replaced by Jim Beglin, the commentary overall is just as awful, repetitive, and tedious as ever.

The usual mix of official licenses and ridiculous made up names continues, with the remedy of the ability to utilise fan-made updates available. It’s nice to hear the official Champions League music as you set off on your way to bag the cup mind. Such a little thing in the grand scheme of things, but it does give the whole thing a more grand sense of occasion. Master League maintains the obvious long term single player investment, and it’s just as addictive as ever. It does seem slightly too easy to purchase fairly big players for meager prices mind, so don’t go expecting Football Manager levels of detail.

One of these players is going to end up in a heap on the grass.

Sadly the online options weren’t fully working at the time of writing, but a brief try of the basic options saw a lack of the horrible connection issues that plagued previous titles in the series. Expect an additional paragraph on thoughts towards the Online Master League soon.

Essentially, Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 may not be a return to its best run of form, but its only a few niggles and problems that are preventing it from getting back on level terms with the FIFA series. If I were a betting man – and I certainly am – I’d happily put a few pounds on next year being the first really close run thing between the two footballing behemoths. Unfortunately this year FIFA 11 claims the overall victory, but it needed extra time to battle the Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 underdogs.