By Matt Carey
Every morning, the sun rises and when the day is done, it disappears from view, only to be replaced by the moon. Every morning, upon pulling myself out of my pit, I need a cigarette and a coffee, strong, white, with two sugars. And every day, tabloid papers print crap about meaningless people that happen to think themselves’ important because they appear on ‘the telly’. All these things are facts. They happen every day, of every month, of every year, without fail. They are certainties.
Another certainty is that every year EA and Konami both release annual updates to their football games, and every year, right on cue, all the journalists clamour over comparing, contrasting, and declaring a winner in the great battle for dominance. In truth, it is kind of hard not to. I mean, once upon a time, the market was flooded was football games, from the great to the not so great. As such, constant comparisons were rendered moot. But now, there are only two left, so pitting one against the other is easy. Especially when, and let’s be honest here, there isn’t that much different from the last years effort. How do you keep writing the same things year in, year out?
Right, confession time. I haven’t touched a Pro Evolution game for a couple of years now. In fact, the last one I had, I took back to the shop for a refund as I was that disgusted with it. Safe to say then, that I wasn’t looking forward to reviewing this years’ iteration. So imagine my surprise when upon playing the game I was pleasantly, umm……surprised.
The front end has been given a nice polish. It still has that glossy look it had, but there’s something dirty about it. Imagine you have a nice, brand new Porsche 911 and you have spent the best part of the day polishing it up. It glints beautifully in the sun. Then, some kid wearing a hoodie comes along with a fist full of dirt and throws it all over your bonnet. The pristine finish is still there, just with a layer of muck covering it.
Anyway, the menus aren’t important. What they lead to is. First things first. The online is fine. Considering that in days gone by, Konami’s idea of acceptable online play was the equivalent of something powered by a hamster in a wheel, the fact that everything runs smoothly now is a godsend. All the expected game modes are there, with nothing really new, flash, or innovative. But at least it works, and that is saying something.
Ignoring the exhibition match, my first foray was into the Champions League. It seems somewhere along the way, Konami managed to wrestle the licence away from EA and, instead of making a separate game, they slap it into this one. This is a good thing. All the logos, monikers, visuals and other such bells and whistles are there, as well as that infernal “theme tune” that the tournament has, and it makes it all look, sound and feel authentic. Essentially, this is just a cup competition game mode, but with added authenticity. It works as it does in real life (apart from the spectacular fall from grace of Liverpool) and is fun.
The ubiquitous Master League is still here too. I may have missed this over the past couple of years, but somewhere along the line Konami decided against having you pick your favourite team, and then fill it full of a bunch of nobodies. I hated that. Now, the Master League is essentially your season / manager mode, featuring a wealth of options to tinker with. And you get the squad you want. I like that. The mode does everything you would want it to and, lack of correct licences aside, is good fun. Trying to sign players is a little disjointed though. You are only able to approach 5 players at a time and, after waiting 2 or 3 weeks for a response, if you find they have refused, then you have to wait a further week for the system to remove them from the list so you can approach another few players or renegotiate with the ones you want. However, you can continue to negotiate throughout the season, even though you would have to wait until the next transfer window to sign them.
FIFA has Be a Pro. Konami has Be A Legend. There are enough distinguishing markers between the two modes to recognise them as separate entities, both having, as they do, plenty of ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ sprinkled liberally around. Not being constricted by a licence enables PES to slightly change things around, and structure the game mode around what they do have. Upon starting the mode, you play a game for a random team and, upon conclusion and depending on your performance, you receive an approach from a big club to sign you. I signed with Villa. Or West Midlands Village, as they are known. From here, you play a few games in training, hoping to work your way to the subs bench, and eventually a place in the starting eleven. Once in the game, you can be subbed, or brought on as a sub, and you can watch the match unfold when you are not directly involved.
I love this. It really creates the illusion that you are not in control of anything other than what you do on the pitch; there really is a manager calling the shots.
As you progress, your stats increase, you are approached from other clubs, and have the possibility to play for your country. The matches themselves are hard. It is so tempting to go running around the pitch, but you must save your energy and play according to the position you have chosen. Eventually though, things click into place, and you find yourself an integral part of the team.
As with most things in PES, some of this works, and some of it doesn’t. FIFA constantly sets you little tasks, and makes you aware during the game if you are performing well or not. It is all guess work here in PES, with confusing little animations after matches your only link to whether you are getting a managerial thumbs up or down. That’s not to say the mode isn’t fun or a challenge. It is both, and whilst not perfect, still throws up a couple ideas that EA will no doubt pinch at some point.
Graphically the game is stunning. Once you get to the match, of course. The stadia look like the stadia they are supposed to and, more importantly, the players look like who they are supposed to. It’s nice that they manage to capture Fernando Torres’ moon crater complexion. Strange then, that they have applied it to loads of other players too. That aside, PES’10 manages to capture an image of the beautiful game never seen before. I always criticize FIFA for the size of the players. For some reason, they always feel too small and a little lost on the pitch. No such worries here however, as dimensions look spot on.
Such as shame then that the animation is appalling. The players run and stand like they have a serious case of arthritis all too often, and actual ‘on the ball’ movement looks like it hasn’t advanced since 1999. OK, obligatory comparison warning, but FIFA really wins the title on this one. Where Konami’s players are clunky and under animated, FIFA manages to keep intact every animation used before, and then keep on adding to it. This may not seem like much but the effect it has on the game is tremendous. There is always a sense in FIFA that every match will be totally random in this respect, and what you see is relevant to what is happening in the game. In PES however, you can guarantee you will see the exact same things over and over again.
This then goes on to affecting the game-play itself. Playing a match in FIFA now is perfect. Every eventuality or action you could conceive is catered for by way of animation, but PES is limited. Take, for example, a match when the ball came over my head towards my keeper. It was a one on one situation, but I had a couple of yards on the striker, and was looking to simply head the ball back to my keepers waiting arms. Now, in the exact same situation in FIFA, the player under your control will strive to make contact with the ball the second you press the button. Sometimes it will pay off, sometimes I have pressed the button at the wrong time and the pass doesn’t go according to plan. In PES however, the game has to wait until the ball is in a position that it can attach an animation to it. So, it doesn’t matter when you press the button, you have to wait till the game can put the process into effect. It may only be a split second, but that can be the deciding factor between the opposition scoring or not.
The AI isn’t up to speed either. Too many times I have played a game where I want to pass to one particular player, only for the chap under my control to kick it towards a man that is marked. Too many times I tried to play the ball ahead of an on-running left back, only for the ball to trickle off my feet into the path of a defender. Too many times I have seen the AI’s idea of making an opponent difficult (like Real Madrid for example) is to have them pass the ball needlessly around the defence and back midfielders so you cannot get the ball. And as for crosses, they always seem to have the same weight, meaning they always go to the general same neck of the woods every time.
It truly is a shame. The flaws are many. To be honest, however, they do not detract from a fun experience. I honestly balked at the thought of reviewing this game as I really began to hate the series, but now I’m glad I have. Previous iterations took the game in far too much of an arcade direction, but now they have the balance just right. There is enough there to satisfy those that want a quick, fun kick around, without ever taking anything away from those that want to get stuck into the nitty-gritty of man management and tactical awareness. What really lets this down is the AI, the licences (although there are more), and the animation. EA spent a great many years copying what made PES work, but it seemed like as soon as EA discovered it, Konami took it out of PES. However, they have rediscovered their form, whilst far from being the perfect game of football. The biggest problem PES has is FIFA. Not once this generation has EA taken a step backwards (well, apart from their god-awful play-testing prior to release), yet PES has. Glad to see it is heading back in the right direction though.