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PES 2011: Pro Evolution Soccer Review

Matt Gardner
Football games, Games reviews, PES 2011, Pro Evolution Soccer, Sports Games

PES 2011: Pro Evolution Soccer Review

Platforms: PC | PS3 | X360 | Wii | NDS | PSP

Developer: Konami

Publisher: Konami

Let's be honest: PES' star has waned somewhat in the last handful of years. Once the king of the football genre, its stubborn refusal to move with the times and evolve has hamstrung and crippled its incremental progress as EA Sports have revamped their own talisman. Winning Eleven has not lived up to its name, and Konami know it.

PES 2008 was an unabashed mess, save for on the Wii where it actually proved to be one of the best games on the console that year with its well-integrated use of motion control. 2009 wasn't much better and last year's version, despite trying pretty hard, failed to bring the magic back. Next to EA's effort, it seemed archaic and apathetic. There's none of that this year. Konami have set their sights high, to try and bring the definitive football simulation to fans everywhere and, to a certain extent, they've really succeeded.

PES 2011: Pro Evolution Soccer Review

Let's kick off with the gameplay. Passing, much maligned in recent years, has been revamped and remodelled to give the player far greater control over where they spray the ball. The optional power gauge, sensitive though it may be, allows those with the skills to pull off perfectly weighted passes. PES has never been a series to molly-coddle newcomers, and FIFA fans won't find the assistance they're used to here, but if you put in the time on the practice field, you'll be rewarded when it comes to playmaking for real. Laying on a perfectly timed through ball for a striker to smash home comes with a real sense of achievement and delight.

Equally, Konami have put a lot of work into making defending as much of an important part of the game as attacking. Just as when in possession you'll be punished for assuming you can waltz through the opposition like butter, thinking that holding down a pressing button or moving in for a standing tackle is enough to win the ball back will quickly be revealed to be optimistic idiocy. It's all about timing: sure, there's a button to press and track and bring in a second player, but only with a well-timed push of the analogue stick in the direction of the opposing player can you cleanly perform a tackle and nick the ball. You can still dive in at speed with two feet if you like, but chances are you'll find yourself headed for an early bath. Don't expect arcade defending here, you have to work for that ball.

PES 2011: Pro Evolution Soccer Review

Unfortunately, these new throwbacks towards proper footballing simulation highlight possibly the biggest gameplay flaw of all, one that Konami have never really sorted out: the dribbling. Boasting 360 degree control, it's disheartening to have to say that this is a complete lie with an 8-way, 16 at best, directional model clearly evident. On top of that, players handle about as smoothly as a cardboard cutout, clunkily wandering around as if their boots were filled with lead. PES has never been the most graceful series but hampering excellent simulation models with godawful ancient handling is a jarring experience to say the least. If I wanted to haul an incontinent fat man around a field, I'd down two litres of coffee and head out for a jog.

Furthermore, whilst I've spent several years roundly criticising the goalkeepers in FIFA games, the PES keepers have an uncanny knack of not coming out for the ball. Astoundingly solid most of the time, I've found on a number of occasions that a through ball into the box will simply be left by the keeper to his defence, at which point a poaching striker can smugly sidefoot into the net from close-range. It brings whole new meaning to the concept of a daydreaming goalie.

PES 2011: Pro Evolution Soccer Review

Graphically, there's a similar sense of slight schizophrenia. The menus look stunning, the in-game camera cuts, replay swishes and facial animations on famous players are better than they have ever been. The grass looks absolutely amazing and the players that trot about upon it have undergone a severe animation upgrade. But it doesn't quite do enough. Players won't jostle for the ball, there's none of that presentational whirr and buzz on and off the field that EA employed so effectively last year to bring the stadium to life (the less said about the crowd the better) and it all seems a bit static at times. Get a game in full flow an it's amazing, but the quieter moments fail to distract from a graphical model that, whilst vastly improved, still has some way to go.

In terms of game modes, though, Konami have pulled out all of the stops. The Master League is back, and better than ever, with more depth than the Marianas Trench. The wealth of customisable options - from player training focus points to the appointment of key backroom staff to variable drag-and-drop game plans - is absolutely staggering. It's easy to feel overwhelmed (PES has never been kind to the newbie), but this time, at least, there are pop up tutorials to help ease you into the game. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that this is arguably the most accessible game in the series so far. Excitingly, there is in fact an online version of Master League, although as the servers only got sorted out a day or two ago, it's hard to say how effective it'll be. There've been online issues in the past.

PES 2011: Pro Evolution Soccer Review

PES has never been one to name drop, but it's worth checking out the Champions League and Copa Libertadores if only to see what Konami can do when given free rein with a licence. Much like FIFA's recent World Cup title, it adds some special pizazz to proceedings, the thrill of a big cup match is there for all to see and experience. Frankly, we'd love to see more of it. The reverse can be said about Become A Legend. You take one player out of the eleven and build him up from rookie to superstar. Unfortunately, however, it's a mode that's woefully underdeveloped, lacking in feedback, features and, most importantly, fun. You'll never play it and, simply because of the Master League and other modes, gets rendered completely superfluous.

PES 2011 is a cause for celebration and disappointment. The former because finally Konami have upgraded some of their gameplay elements, polished the title with pride and gone in search once more of that ultimate simulation for footballing purists. Sadly, though, they don't push it far enough. When it comes down to it, though, I fear that there are too many contradictory elements to fully fulfil the football fan's fervour.


  • Passing is now a joy
  • So too is defending
  • Master League is still utterly fantastic


  • Handles like a pregnant hippo
  • Pedantic refs and no advantage rule
  • Become A Legend mode is dire

The Short Version: PES 2011 goes some way to recapturing the crown of best football series by embracing and updating realistic simulation elements and giving things a bit of spit and polish. But whilst it shines cosmetically, there are still a number of gameplay mechanics covered in rust.

PES 2011: Pro Evolution Soccer Review

Add a comment4 comments
drwhite2001  Oct. 2, 2010 at 02:11

do we have any FIFA fan boys here? oh yes we do the bloke who wrote this. knobjocky

Matt Gardner  Oct. 2, 2010 at 10:26

I beg to differ. PES 5 still stands as one of my favourite sports games of all time. But yearly titles mean that you have to show something of an evolution. These things go in cycles. I fully expect PES 2013 to be the best footballing game ever created...but it's not at the moment. I want it to be the footballing simulation that it so desperately wants to be...but the fact of the matter is that it just doesn't go all of the way.

Haven't heard the phrase 'knobjocky' in ages though...that made me laugh.

ZPE  Oct. 2, 2010 at 15:41

Matt, I'm a long-time PES player myself but this game (if I were to buy to it) would be my first PS3 PES game. Would you recommend I buy it on the basis that I always have played 99% of my PES matches in the Master League mode? I heard there is no player trading which is a big minus for me. :/

Matt Gardner  Oct. 2, 2010 at 20:33

There's certainly a transfer market in the single player, it's one of the first things that the tutorial introduces, but is largely determined by scouts. There's also a variable youth academy mechanic in there too. Master League is still fantastic as ever and cultivating your ultimate team over time is just as satisfying as it has ever been. The training and staff appointment mechanics allow you to tailor your approach in the long term as well.
Online, however, several of the features are different because of the extra human element, making the transfer market a far more hectic process with players often bidding against one another. They're not gone at all...just different.

If you're a PES fan then chances are you'll like PES 2011 and, as a first purchase for the latest console generation, it's certainly the one I'd go for...especially if Master League is your thing.

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