Pro Evolution Soccer 11 is the latest installment of the hugely successful football game from Konami. As normal with every years installment we are privy to updated teams (or as best they can do with Fifa monopolizing all the rights to everything football), a few new grounds, and if we’re lucky a nice new game mechanic or two. Before I go into that I feel it obligatory to tell you that in the last 2 years I have become a Fifa boy. Like so many of us I have been bouncing between these two franchises for the good part of 10 years like a cheap hooker playing favorites with her Sugar Daddy. I feel that their hasn’t been a good PES since the 2008 edition and thus with the heavy heart of a harlot I have since moved in with the only game I think treats me right… yet I’ve always remembered the good times with PES and have sat patiently by the phone waiting for it to call me up, tell me its sorted itself out with a glimmer of hope I could sneak out in the dead of night and relive the good ol’ days.

PES 11’s motives seem meaningful with a host of new tricks up its sleeve; new features like the Total Control passing opening up games like never before or the new Master League online function promising a radical step forward in online sports multiplayer. The game has also been showing a bit of a new look and, as mentioned in my Eurogamer hands of preview, has over 1000 new animations designed to make the whole game flow more organically.

Gameplay

While navigating through the entire sub menu’s of PES 11 it became very difficult and time consuming in the beginning, with a strange choice of wording for the very simplest of options, and I often found if you wanted to quickly play an exhibition match you couldn’t just hammer the A button until you saw your players line up on the pitch unless you wanted some seriously messed up ‘Managers’ choices.  I really did enjoy the new ‘Drag and drop’ feature of team placement. Basically if you want to a sub you simply put your cursor over whatever desired player and click, then repeat the process on the character you wish to substitute. This also works fantastically for putting any player into any position on the pitch. If you want Vaan De Varrt playing just send off Defoe. No worries, just drag and then drop. Simples.

The actual gameplay on the pitch is very intuitive. I don’t think I have ever scored a cheap ugly goal thanks to the new power gauge function, where every single kick is determined by how long you hold the relative button down for and what direction you aim. With players making fantastic runs and extremely realistic shot physics I feel properly rewarded every time I score. The defending is stout and with players like Theo Walcott easily being pushed off the ball by someone like Vidic, but then 1 out of 10 times Theo will run straight round the cheating git, leaving him to eat dust. The game offers you a more realistic yet divulging football experience. I will however admit that the passing in the game really does take a lot of time to get used to. Sometimes you will weigh the perfect pass to one of your teammates to latch on to and score a right banger. Other times you feel you play the same kind of perfect ball but it meanders off into the crowd somewhere. I think with time and patience you can start to bend the game to your will.

I’ve also played a nice amount of the create a player mode, where you quite obviously create a character and play as him from the age of 17 as a single player in a whole team, improving your skills, hiring agents, negotiate wages, get transferred to other clubs until you eventually retire. It’s a very nice little addition to an already full game, and while it’s rewarding it is a little bit of a labor of love. There are many times in this mode where you are frozen out of the game for minutes at a time because the ball is quite simply not being played on your part of the pitch. It’s part of real football, but it feels like it shouldn’t be like that in a football computer game.

Finally I had a quick foray in the online master league mode. When I previewed this game I questioned how this mode will work since no-one is online 24/7, but once I got this game home it was as explained. The game works almost like the old master league. You pick a team and can sign players but the way you earn money is by competing in cups, after paying an entrance fee to compete you must play all designated matches or lose your cash. It seems like a good idea but also a bit of a grind. It’s going to be a long hard road to get the team of your dreams and I bet the people who get to that Holy Grail will have to forfeit a lot of social hours.

Graphics

Having not really got into PES 10 I cannot tell you how this is graphically superior to its counter parts but the graphics look crisp and nice, player movement is smooth and I haven’t seen any pixel clashing. The game does boast “Improved facial animations”. I have yet to see them but they have got Gareth Bales pixie like features down to a T. The crowds are lively (god knows how much time it would take to render 40,000 unique fans) and the stadiums are stunningly realistic.

Audio

As usual Konami football games have horrible techno soundtracks. They have tried to jazz it up a bit by putting some ‘cool’ and ‘hip’ bands in like Fever Ray and Crystal Castles. I applaud the effort but the music is never to my taste. Bring back Fifa Road to the World Cup ’98 with Blur’s song 2 playing constantly.

The SFX on the game are as you expect with 10 years of footie sims under your belt. Bang on and realistic. The only one issue I had was the annoying pitter-pattering of feet when you’re playing the single player create a pro mode. For some reason the games creators felt they needed to amplify the sound of your players boots to let you know he’s still alive.

Overall

This is a full and complete game. I dare say it has the potential to become my favorite ever football game once I open it up a bit more and get used to the passing physics. The games redefined direction outlines Konami’s ambition to get right back into the mix of things and show all the Fifa boys what they’re missing out on.

The only truly negative thing I have to say about this game is that you have to give it time. It is not user friendly to anyone new to the series and the menus at time can feel a bit like a puzzle with undefined wording. But get over that and this game spews reward after reward at you right in your face.

I’m genuinely won over by this installment and almost feel like a fully fledged PES whore again. The only thing keeping me from returning to my true love is that I haven’t sampled Fifa’s new tricks yet…I’m expecting a call from him very soon asking me where I’ve been all night.