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PES 2011 First Look Play Test by PESFan

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PES 2011 First Look Play Test by PESFan

I’ve been a PES Fan news editor for a number of weeks now, and the only thing I needed to start proving my skills as a journalist is a story – something worth putting pen to paper for. Well, that’s exactly what I was given when I was asked to attend the PES Fan’s PES 2011 play-test… and it was definitely worth a column inch or two.

I’ve read all the major details that have been released since the Tokyo demo at Konami HQ, followed the news as it tweeted out of E3 – and watched, then re-watched every second of video that has been released over the last two months in both standard and high definition, striving to digest every little detail that this year’s release has to offer.

And in hindsight – it’s good to be clued up, but no amount of scanning the early PR materials will give you a hint of the feeling you get when you actually play the game (and despite that sentence I have the difficult task of trying to pass on my experiences to you).

It’s over a month since the first tests took place, but in no way did I feel that we were less privileged than those who sat down with Seabass et al in Japan. On the contrary, I was conscious of the fact that this version of the game would be significantly different from the one seen then – and hopefully any noticeable faults would have been ironed out and possibly a few extras added in.

Despite this being my first major piece for PES Fan and the first chance I’ve had to lay my fingers on a game a considerable period before its release date, I was quite laid back – though I’m sure my note pad may have suggested otherwise. I utilised the morning train ride to scribble some last minute notes, detailing the main positives and also the shortcomings of PES 2010; what we liked, what needed work – was there anything that stood out particularly, etc – and I eventually converted that mess into four headings: User Interface and Appearance, Passing, Keepers, and Player Movements, reactions and positioning.

User Interface and Appearance
It’s worth mentioning that we were playing an offline copy and we were locked to certain areas of the game – so I can’t give any information on the online capabilities or go into major details about the overall UI at this stage.

We essentially had two versions of Exhibition mode – the general setup-and-play that has been present in previous years’ demos with a small selection of National (Germany, Italy, Ivory Coast, Argentina) and Club teams (Manchester United, Inter Milan, Real Madrid, Benfica). Alternatively, we had the option to taste the newly acquired Copa Libertadores licensing – with Estudiantes, Cruzeiro, Corinthians and Internacional all available for selection, and ready to march out to the Copa Libertadores theme – in a style similar to the current Champions League offering.

You can see the foundations of PES 2010 within PES 2011 – the entrance scenes and tunnel shots occasionally look like they’ve been lifted from the previous version, only to be polished and pampered before being delicately placed into the new incarnation. To put it simply, it looks like PES, but the picture quality looks more like airbrushed imagery that you’d expect to see coming from the marketing department rather than a moving-parts product from the development team.

The visual improvements start from the menu and stay with you all the way through to the pitch. Player likenesses have been improved even further than last years’ advancements, at least in the teams we had at our disposal – and this is highlighted with the pre-match setup. Little details catch your eye, like the kit selection screen which now features animated models – rather than stationary stars as seen on the previous iteration (I was impressed to see Eto’o run a few paces before freezing, allowing you to savour the personal detail as well as the player movements). The on-screen display when in-game has been simplified – now showing a much more minimalist, broadcast-resembling score board; simple, clean and professional.

Jon Murphy mentioned that this game doesn’t feel as “Japanese-y” as PESs of old, and that’s for sure. Gone are the bright, sparkling backgrounds that had a hint of youthful exuberance – and in comes a sleek, shiny/dark world map picture (when I say map – think ‘PlayStation Weather Channel’ on PSN as opposed to ‘school atlas’) which works very well. This PES feels like it has grown up, and the sliding main menu located at the bottom of the screen brings the clean accessibility that we can see throughout.

Minimalism seems to be the theme in this PES, and this is never more apparent than when using the new drag-and-drop system that we’ve heard so much about. Think of it like the new Google homepage, leave the options in there but don’t have them on display unless you need them, and when you do – a slide of the cursor and few button presses will allow you to do everything you are used to.

Tying in with this, Konami announced that they’ve spent a lot of time looking at broadcast standard footage with the intention of instilling the same look and feel into PES as we see when watch it on TV. The re-worked wide camera angle that moves with play is a major step towards realism. When the match kicks off the camera lowers from an elevated position to the regular viewpoint – and similarly when play approaches a goal the displays swings when necessary, with an undeniable professional smoothness.

There are some huge improvements – as well as an array of small details that add to the game, and it’d be criminal not to give them a passing mention. I spent a good few minutes in the replay section analysing the little details on the pitch in the new man-on-the-pitch camera angle (or over-analysing as the look on Fury’s face suggested). It’s not a major thing, but being able to move around the pitch at eye-level of a player allowed you to really put yourself into the action – and the grass, when zoomed in looks like it has some distinct layering and texture to it, you can see that it’s computer generated, but it’s not a long way away from the real thing.

Passing
PES has been criticised since its glory days on the previous generation machines for losing the lifelike flow that it was synonymous with. 2010 didn’t play how you wanted it to play – and you were inevitably looking for breakthroughs that were different from the natural routes. Konami recently confessed that the game’s engine has been progressively weighed down by annual additions which, though they were made with good intentions, lead to an overcomplicated mess. Things were stripped back – and a new passing system with promises of “Freedom” was built on the exposed foundations.

Three simple questions: one simple answer. Is the Passing better? Is it good? Does it feel free? Yes.

I had worries that the hit ‘n miss through-ball from last year would be completely reversed in 2011. The vast majority of passes I tried through the defence on 2010 were often played way past the bye-line, or into the heels of the defender I was looking to outpace – compare this to the E3 video and you see Pirlo, amongst others, easily playing defence splitting passes. So which was one was it – painfully easy or practically impossible? Neither – and both.

I had numerous passes going astray – plenty were over-hit and some barely trickled off of my toes (particularly a couple of back-passes that I was lucky to get away with) but I never had the feeling that I was hard done to. The mistakes that were popping up felt like my mistakes. The new power gauge system takes a little getting used to but you quickly start to feel that you are personally involved in determining ball placement. It’s a double learning curve – you can pick it up and play pretty well, but it’ll also take a good amount of play time for it to become second nature, allowing us to remove the rainbow swoosh (which, despite my reservations, is surprisingly good at evading your attention).

Perfecting the new style of play will give you more options in attack – but doesn’t necessarily mean that you can continuously carve up the opposition with single a killer ball. Fury and I played for a number of hours – but there was only one or two long defence splitting passes, often caused by bad positioning on our parts. That wonder pass can only be played if the situation arises – trying to force it just doesn’t work (just ask Fury, he did a great job of shutting me out).

The passing is different, but it’s not completely different. There is still a lot of what we know – and I don’t doubt that some will see a little too much of the past as they play, but for me it’s a good thing. The passes still feel like passes you’d play in a PES title, but the added freedom of control neatens it up. Think of a pass you play in 2010 – you know it’s going to end up somewhere within a couple of yards of where you aim it, but now you can drop it on the proverbial sixpence. Its last years passing, but it feels like it should have felt.

There is still some noticeable AI assistance – but generally for the better. Passes feel like they are helped slightly in terms of direction, but that can all go to pot if you stick too much power on it – particularly over distance. Also, to emphasise individuality different stars seem to receive a varying levels of support from the AI. Paying a ball with a midfield maestro such as Xabi Alonso or Carrick you, as you’d expect, has a higher success rate than playing a similar ball with a dribbler, like Nani.

True 360 degree passing would be excruciatingly difficult even for the most dextrous of gamers, it always needs to be honed down to some extent, and this AI support works. Every ball we had the vision to play – we could, providing we executed it properly. I dragged Roberto Carlos up from the back – only for Fury to dink a through ball over his shoulder, his attacker had already started a run and met it perfectly for a first-time strike. My mistake – his brilliance, and though I conceded – I’m happy to admit that it was a beautifully worked goal.

Keepers
It’s no secret – goalkeepers haven’t been the greatest aspect of Pro Evo. Over the course of a decade playing Master League in the last instalment, I tried and tested a selection of young, old, catastrophic and world class keepers but found that they all shared a common trait – the Robert Green effect.

A quick look on YouTube and you can see evidence of Keepers diving over pea-rolling mis-kicks, flapping around a clear yard to the side of where they should have been – or even just watched shots bounce past them without the slightest of effort to stop it.

So, how do they compare now? My honest answer – I’m not entirely convinced.

We saw many commanding leaps to pluck crosses out of the air, and smiled in approval after the Ivory Coast stopper pull off an instinctive flick of the leg to deny a low driven effort with the top of his instep. Keepers looked to have been given a wedge of new animations to pull out of their bag as and when they see fit, a perfect example being Van Der Sar’s reaction save to stop TheBoss after he tried to place a ball through his legs. Edwin, dropped to the floor with a realistic thud to shut out Sneijder’s attempt with a well-timed block using his shins – a smooth animation that I’ve never seen before.

That said, then men in the sticks were still prone to the odd flap on occasion – and though we had a full day to play, I can’t commit myself to saying whether it seemed to be a flaw or it whether it looked intentional. We regularly called keepers out to rush onto heavy through balls – but once or twice, what looked like a comfortable catch ended up being a strange fumble. It didn’t happen often – but if Julio Cesar can parry an un-challenged bouncing ball then I’m a little concerned. Perhaps we held the keeper charge button for too long causing him to run through the bounce – or perhaps we just witnessed a couple of the calamity moments that occur semi-often in the real game? I honestly can’t say. To put a positive spin on it – the recoveries after the mistakes were faster, and you actually had the impression that the keeper was aware of the ball’s location before he got back to his feet.

We did see one howler – I nodded the feeblest of headers in at the far post. The keeper was in the perfect position – and my wild swing of the head resulted in a powerless effort on goal. The keeper spread himself and had the perfect shape to stop the shot – but forget to put himself in the ball’s trajectory. I looked more embarrassed than Fury did for putting it away. It sounds as if it’s a step up from their display a month ago – I just hope Konami use the time that they have left to fine tune.

Player Movements, reactions and positioning.
PES 2011 has over 1,000 new animations. So what exactly does that mean? – Basically, players have been given the permission to perform a range of new movements and manoeuvres. Do you notice it? Definitely.

There are nice little touches – like players rushing to lean out of the way of shots and ducking under high passes, we even saw one star practically squat to get under a throw-in that crossed his path. You also get tastes of individual brilliance that could have been lifted straight out of Match of the Day – Berbatov, back to goal, laid off a lazy but accurate pass with the outside of his left foot to Carrick who used the instep of his right boot to curl a pin-point effort towards the top corner.

It’s not just animations – player awareness and positioning has been upgraded, particularly noticeable in the opposition AI which hardcore fans will be happy to hear wasn’t scared to venture up field. I watched on as Fury played a game that he eventually lost – the computer scored and seemed to press for more until the last few minutes where keep-ball became the chosen plan of action. I’m not sure if this was a situational tactical change – which is now possible to organise in the pre-match setup screens, but it certainly looked like it.

The new defensive system makes the game more tactical. You now have the option to steam in with a tackle, or to track an opponent – with the aim being to shepherd them into a bad position, or wait for the perfect time to stick your foot in. This, combined with a slower pace makes you think about the options at your disposal. On the subject of pace, the five different game speeds are very distinct. We played most of our time on the default rate (“0”) – but I had a particular affection for “-1”. Last year’s action played more closely “+1” (+2 was too fast for my tastes – and -2 felt like trying to run in water).

Another improvement that needed to be included was a complete reworking of the referees. It took over 300 games against the AI before I was awarded my first Penalty on PES 2010 – though I should have easily been into double figures with the amount of times I ended up on the deck. But, the blind referees that we’ve had forced upon us recently can suddenly see again – and called fouls in and amongst the box! I don’t recall a single case of the “Come on ref” syndrome surfacing on either side – which is vital if the trick stick is to be utilised more in PES 2011. If we’re inviting players to risk taking a foot instead of the ball, we need the correct decisions to be made.

Fury benefited from this more than I did – I was pretty much a one-skill man. The rainbow flick lifts the ball diagonally over the opposition’s feet allowing you to cut in at pace, which I combined with the odd flip-flap. I was pretty happy with my skilful displays, but Fury looked to Riverdance his way past my full back on the odd occasion – and also sold me for a foul a number of times too.

Taking everything into account – I’m ecstatic, and personally a little relieved to say that this is a huge step forward. The game looks amazing, but that was never the issue. This demo showed me that PES can still play great too – the crucial factor that has been missing for the last few iterations. To cement our conclusions, we played one game on 2011 – and played the exact same game on 2010 a few minutes later. The development is there for all to see.

I still see a lot of the past, but I also see the future – and I wouldn’t have it any other way. This ‘all new’ but, at the same time it’s a PES that I feel familiar with – and the first offering on the next generation that finally looks and feels like one I can truly be proud of. Konami don’t just want to stop the rot, they want to flip the script and bring back their hardcore fans – well, this is definitely the way to go about it.

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