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Total Freedom, that was the promise from Konami when they announced Pro Evolution Soccer. The aim was not only to create the most accurate football simulation out there but also to give the player the freedom to play the game however they wanted to.

With the series seemingly on the an endless decline, the time for Konami to live up to their promises is now and with their new, more “European approach” this looks set to be the year that decides the series’ fate.

The European style that Konami have gone for this year is evident from the moment you press start to be taken to the main menu. The layout is clean and the options are clear. The music is also decidedly more mainstream than usual with quiet a few recognisable names popping up in amongst the mixes.

The modes are simply laid out and easy to choose from. Exhibition for a straight forward match against the AI or a friend. BAL where you get to start as a youngster and work your way up to stardom. Master League which puts you in charge of a team of nothings which you attempt to turn into a world beating team. Online to put your skills to the test against people form around the world and finally the new addition, Online Master League where you take your team of nobodies online against other people in an attempt to win money to spend on new, better players until you have your dream team.

Once you’ve decided, you are taken to the team setup menu, where the new changes really come to the fore with the new drag and drop method immediately accessible. You are now able to edit the formation as precisely as you want and can handle the analog stick. On top of this, the new Management option which allows you to set how your team will play during different periods and situations of the game. For instance, I opted for my team to use “Offensive Possession Play” for the first half while swapping wings in the last 15 minutes of the half as long as both team were level, should I score however my team would then switch to Counter attack with defensive possession play for the last 15 minutes of each half. You can have different set ups for if you are leading, trailing or level and when you’re playing the effects are clearly visible. This sort of micro management will please football fanatics while not using it doesn’t have a big enough impact to alienate casual players.

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Another option available on the formation screen is to link feints, this allows you to link 4 different tricks together and assign them to a direction on the right analog stick. This then makes it easier to pull off a certain set of tricks to get past a defender or create some space without having to memorize all the various stick movements.

Once the formation setup is out the way you are greeted with the beautiful visuals of PES 2011. The lighting is perfect and really helps create an accurate atmosphere. Its difficult to comprehend how the player likeness could have been improved over last year but watching the players lining up in the tunnel it is plain to see that Konami have pulled it off. From Xabi Alonso’s ginger beard to Jesus Navas’ eyes, each player looks a mirror image of their real life counterparts.

As the player entrance video ends, you are greeted with a new television style camera, which starts close up on the players standing ready for the kick off and zooms out to to show more of the field just as the camera’s do at every game. A relatively small inclusion but something which really tops off the television feel of the game.

There have been hundreds of new animations added to the game and they are immediately visible, the game flows better and the players no longer seem to be on a track. The keepers have also received an overhaul and are now able to pull of some rather spectacular saves. I did find that while they are now capable of the brilliant, they are still prone to some rather dreadful errors and generally bad keeping in certain areas. Luckily the errors aren’t common enough to be a deciding factor in every game, and the occasional errors actually make for a slightly more realistic experience.

Total freedom is what we were promised and total freedom is what has been delivered. The moment you kick off, you can feel the difference in the way the players move and how they pass. At first, getting used to the power and placement of passing can be difficult but with the inclusion of the power bar, you will be playing inch perfect cross field balls in no time.

As with every other previous iteration of the the game, individualism is still a major factor in how you play. Players like Pirlo or Xavi are brilliant at working some space and playing inch perfect balls around the field while players like Messi and Robben are incredibly good at moving with the ball at full speed. In the same vain trying to play an accurate cross field ball with Titus Bramble will lead to you giving the ball away and then being on the back foot. This means that you really have to pay attention to who you’ve got on the ball and play to their strengths in order to make the most out of the team you are playing with.

While Ronaldo and Messi are great at running with the ball, the newly implemented defence system means that they aren’t unstoppable and if defended against correctly can easily be taken completely out of the game. You now have three different options when defending, holding X will make your defender get close to the opposition player and without jumping in, attempt to push him away from the goal area. This works great against the quick footed tricky players such as Messi. The next option is holding back (towards your goal) and X which will make your defender hold off until the right time to put their foot in and make the tackle. The final option is the aggressive forward and X which will send your defender diving in to get the ball. Once you have got the hang of the defending, keeping other teams away from your box will be a lot easier which in turn makes scoring a lot more difficult for them.

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The learning curve associated with both the passing and defending could be rather daunting to newcomers and casual players and could easily make the game less enjoyable for anybody looking to pick up and play.
The referees are also a lot better this year. They pick up on every blatant foul and give the appropriate cards where needed. While there are the inevitable arguments over whether or not a foul should be given, the referee’s will no longer be the deciding factor in tight games.

Konami have also added a whole new range of tricks to the game while still keeping the game true to real life, using the right trick at the right time can be devastating to your opponent as it can either make space for a cross or shot or leave room in behind for your player to run into. Thankfully, spamming tricks or linked feints might get you somewhere once or twice during a game, it isn’t something which can become a style of play as all the emphasis is on the timing of the trick as opposed to just pulling it off.

The AI has also been massively improved, gone are the days of being able to turn on the ball with your striker and run at the defence. Time on the ball is a luxury and how you use that time on the ball is the key. Creating space and time on the ball is often more important than making the right pass. This adds a much needed level of realism to PES 2011 and is something which any football enthusiast will love to see. Unfortunately, this will further alienate the casual pick and play audience as learning to deal with these new elements can be very difficult.

The only element left to top off a very realistic playing experience is the commentary and even after losing Mark Lawrenson in favour of Jim Beglin, the commentary still leaves a lot to be desired. There is very little depth to what the commentators say and after about ten games you will most likely have heard every line they have.With each commentator seemingly in different stadiums commentating on different games, the overall atmosphere and realism factor is somewhat spoiled, however there is always the option to turn the commentators off and just listen to the greatly improved stadium sounds and fan songs.

The last mode is one which Konami have had a lot of problems with in the past, online. With the addition of the new Master league Online mode, the pressure was greater than ever to succeed with a game that was playable online. The good news is that Konami have pulled it off. There was the occasional button lag but in general the online experience is a very pleasing one, not to mention that Online Master League is one the most entertaining modes I have ever played and one which I’m sure I will be dedicating a lot of my free time to.

It remains to be seen whether, as more people get the game, Konami’s servers can hold up but at the moment everything is looking good on the online front.
It was also very nice to see that any option files you have installed for your game now carry over to online which means that even if you a team is unlicensed, should you have an option file which contains the correct emblem and name, you will now see that online.

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Conclusion:

Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 is a fantastic game and offers an exceptionally realistic football experience. The game is one of the most rewarding, enjoyable experiences around and really captures the spirit of the beautiful game for anybody who is willing to give it a chance. Anybody looking for a game which they can immediately pick up and play may be better served elsewhere though, as the relatively high learning curve can be very daunting at first. Anybody willing to stick it out though is in for a footballing treat.

Gameplay 9.5

The new passing and defence system is brilliantly implemented, this coupled with great AI and the game is incredibly challenging and at the same time rewarding. The only let down is that the keepers are still occasionally prone to errors

Sound 7.0

While the stadium sounds and songs have been greatly improved and provide for a very realistic atmosphere, the sound aspect is greatly let down by commentary which lacks depth and originality.

Presentation 9.0

PES 2011 looks amazing, from the player likeness to the stadium lighting to the new television style camera, the presentation is top class.

Value 9.5

Master League is still the most addictive mode in a sports game anywhere, with the addition of online master league, there is no reason why you won’t be playing this right up to the release of PES 2012

Overall 9.0

The king of football games has returned and it means business

[Reviewed on Playstation 3]

Last Updated: October 15, 2010

Pro Evolution Soccer 2011
Summary
9.0

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