Konami has lead the way in the last decade with its hit series Pro Evolution Soccer. For the most part this has been the game to beat in terms of the soccer video gaming. FIFA was popular worldwide, but PES always led the way with the full package of football realism... until 2009 arrived.
Marred with mechanic issues, especially in the ball control category, and what many consider to be just a lackluster release, Pro Evolution Soccer gave up its crown to EA Sports' FIFA series; and it's been smooth sailing for EA Sports since.
Now Konami has come back with a vengeance for the crown and this time they brought the goods. Was it good enough, though?
The first thing you'll notice when you load up PES is how absolutely gorgeous the presentation has become. From the menus, which have that Aston Martin look to them, to the scenes during loading, you're treated with style and grace that you certainly (and myself) don't deserve in a game. I haven't seen Blu-ray menus look this good on movies. So right from the start you're instantly going to feel good about the game.
Now comes the animation and environments.
The animation is probably one of the smoothest I've seen in a soccer game to date. You get a full framerate of motion captured beautifully by whoever did the motion capture. The running, the diving, the tripping, the kicking, everything you would expect from a real soccer game has made it in Pro Evolution Soccer 2011. Konami was pushing the animation really hard in the presentations since E3 and they certainly lived up to their words. FIFA can't touch this animation, as it's the best I've seen to date. What's even cooler is that when you see the replays of missed opportunities or made shots you're going to be even more impressed. The facial movements are pretty tight in this area. The way the players react to each other is pretty accurate. For example, I had two players accidentally collide during an opponent's made goal and when they replayed the shot they collided perfectly, as if it really happened in real life. When you see the ball hit the net just sit there and enjoy the physics of the net and the ball meeting; simply put it's like a visual orchestra playing perfectly together in harmony. Cheesy? Definitely. Perfect metaphor? You bet your soccer balls.
Now, as for the environments in the game you get some perfectly replicated soccer stadiums with a rowdy and obnoxious crowds. Much like FIFA Soccer 11, you will find the enjoyment of praise from your fans and disgust at your opponent's supporters booing the hell out of you. The environments are perfect for PES, just as the animation is perfect.
Outside of mere presentation, you will also find some very improved controls. Instead of passing to the nearest player on your team, you are now able to pass in a general direction. This is better because it puts trust/faith in gamers to know what they want and do what they want. For example, when you're racing down the field and you see a teammate wide open to your right you need only press in his general direction and pass the ball. Now, your judgment will either be spot on our off, but regardless the ball is literally in your court for this type of control. Fans of the series have wanted this type of control over their players and last year nearly got them there; in Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 you are there. Personally, I do think that FIFA's controls are a bit more natural, with the dual stick action a little bit more smoother, but it's very close; just a personal preference on controls, of course.
Other nice improvements in PES this year also include a very competent power meter for your kicking. You can easily gauge the strength of your kick when you perform a pass or a goal kick. Be warned, though! It's going to take a few games to get use to the meter, as it can be a bit sensitive at times. Once you get it down it will become a valuable ally that allows you to perform the perfect type of kicks the way you want them, which is huge.
So what else has been added to make this a better package? In addition to the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League, you now get the Copa Santander Libertadores (translation for you non-soccer folk -- South American league). While I don't know much about the Copa Santander Libertadores, it's nice to see a game like this stretch itself more 'worldwide', so that it can reach a broader audience. You also get other goodies like a more improved, more technical manager option (for you Europeans out there! This reviewer still doesn't care much for that option) and a cool Become a Legend option.
The Become a Legend option can be compared to the career mode in FIFA Soccer 11. You get to name your player, create your player, and then negotiate your player to a team (via agent). You get opportunities to train them, cultivate the skills and just become a 'legend', if you're good enough. I love this type of gameplay because it keeps me coming back for more. It's the reason I love NHL 11, FIFA Soccer 11 and other sports titles. When you can get your player into the character and have them generally be concerned with the success of that player then you have something special going on.
Now, the big question after all of this is 'what should you do for a soccer game?'; that is a great question. FIFA Soccer 11 is a pretty powerful game that is friendly to everyone. It sports great controls, good gameplay and excellent looks. With that said, it's more geared towards 'everyone' instead of just soccer fans. That's not a backhanded compliment; it's just that EA Sports wants everyone to try it and not just hardcore fans. FIFA Soccer 11 wins in that category. On the flip side to that coin, Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 caters to the hardcore soccer fans. It offers only the most sophisticated soccer experience, just like its presentation, and it doesn't beat around the bush in terms of what it's trying to do. If you aren't good or great at soccer then this game is going to be a little tough, especially online. Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 does ask a lot of you, but at the end of the day it will make you both of these:
1. Really good at soccer games.
2. A huge soccer fan that might be ready for managing .
Patience is the key, dear gamers. If you can stick with it and understand it then you will appreciate what Konami has done in this package. If you're looking for more of a quick, flexible arcade type of experience in your game then you might be a FIFA fan and not know it. Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 literally is the most technical, most realistic soccer game out there. But, enjoyment is the key to soccer games and should be the factor when it comes to decide which way you should go when deciding on the appropriate franchise. Konami did its homework with Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 and it shows.