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PlayStation 3 Game Review: Pro Evolution Soccer 2011

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Growing up, I always remembered the Pro Evolution Soccer series (or Winning Eleven, as it was called in North America back then) as the gameplay-focused alternative to FIFA. Sure, FIFA had all the real teams and lineups you could ask for, but if you really wanted a game that felt like real soccer, Pro Evo was the better choice. That’s why it was interesting to rejoin the Pro Evolution series after so many years and see how the dynamics between the two games have changed, and how they really haven’t.

FIFA‘s recent total dominance of the market every year happened largely because of its serious gameplay upgrades. Like Pro Evo used to be, FIFA became more fluid and responsive to control input. So it’s no longer such a huge difference to switch between series. They feel almost the same now. Pro Evo still gives you a bit more control, as players will back-heel pass to their teammates fluidly rather than take three seconds to turn around and pass as FIFA often does (because honestly, all of these professional players can back-heel pass, they should not need a high “flair rating” or whatever for such a simple maneuver). Headed shots and goals also feel much more realistic in Pro Evo, as when they connect the ball will splash into the back net with force rather than constantly going just over the bar as they seem to in FIFA. Free kicks are possible for a non-expert to use effectively, unlike in FIFA.

But those realism advantages are a small list compared to previous iterations, and the general feel of fluidity is not as large an advantage as it used to be. It’s as if Pro Evolution can no longer keep up its gameplay advantage gap, and FIFA is starting to really catch up. Which is unfortunate for Konami’s series, because that really was the only true advantage it had going for it.

Pro Evolution Soccer has never had a reasonable number of licensed leagues and teams. This oversight seemed a little more reasonable back in 2000 than it does now. I simply expect to be able to play as any Bundesliga team or any major national team and have all the players represented realistically. Even the U.S. national team is given ridiculous fake names in Pro Evo, and we should be past having to deal with that in 2010. The only advantage having so few licensed leagues gives is that the real players who are in-game all look exactly like their real-life counterparts. I loved seeing every minor player on my favorite team A.S. Roma reproduced so faithfully in Pro Evo.

The graphics (and production value in general) are not impressive in Pro Evo compared with its competitor. Clearly, FIFA tries to seem as bright as possible in its marketing, menus, and the entire look of the game, while Pro Evo goes the exact opposite route. All the menus are set at night and even day games seem significantly darker than FIFA. The graphics are just a touch muddier in PES and replays use a sort of very minor motion blur effect that seems odd at first. I still can’t decide if it’s a good effect or not, it can sometimes seem out of place but it certainly adds something to the game’s look.

Though there are not many entire leagues represented in-game, you can play through a league situation, or the classic Master League mode, or simply a Champions League season. Master League is the original “franchise” type mode which allows you to start with a generic team (garbed in one of the selectable teams’ uniforms and in their league) so you can trade and maneuver your way to the top from that base team. Master League seems old-fashioned now, and given that there are complete playable real-world leagues now, the mode is becoming less and less relevant.

The commentary is perhaps the most unfortunate disadvantage PES has behind FIFA. Commentators are quite silent, talk only very generally about the game at hand, and often-times say things that just don’t have anything to do with what just happened at all. Sometimes the commentators contradict one another, their speech just doesn’t sound natural, everything is surprisingly weak in that department. I would suggest turning the commentary off or changing the language for comedic effect, because it can be a detriment to the playing experience in its current state.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 still has some minor gameplay advantages over FIFA, but it’s falling behind and that’s very clear in this edition. The game is less predictable and more fluid, but everything that surrounds it from graphics to presentation to the league system is lackluster. Konami needs to make upgrades to keep PES from eventually being eliminated by the constantly-improving FIFA series in coming years, and I do hope they can make them.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB for Mild Lyrics. This game can also be found on: PC, PS2, PSP, Wii, and Xbox 360.

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