Review: Pro Evolution Soccer 2010
November 19, 2009, Author: Andy Corrigan
It’s been a weird few years for the big two football games on the market. EA, whose FIFA struggled to match the quality of Pro Evolution Soccer for many years, suddenly started reaching a consistent quality from 2008 onwards. Concurrently, Konami stagnated and seemingly forgot how to make a good football game. At the very least they weren’t sure what type of game they wanted to make, switching between sim and arcade styles over the last three years. PES fans, disillusioned after years of unfulfilled promises, started defecting over to FIFA in their droves, especially last year when PES 2009 was not just bad; it was broken. So, as expected the same old promises have been rolled out again this year; have Shingo ‘Seabass’ Takatsuka’s team got themselves back on level terms, or is it too little too late?
League of champions
There are more than a few modes to keep people occupied, but the most important to the series in terms of offline play has always been the Master League. This is done to a brilliant standard this time around, adding more depth in terms of player personalities and their management, whilst making sure that developing your youth team can pay dividends. Releasing players or not allowing them to rest can cause dissent in your ranks and you have to keep an out for the positive factors that can keep the team together. The transfer system works very well; you simply tell your agent what player you want and they’ll handle all the negotiations, leaving you to only consider the effect on your season’s budget the once and if an agreement has been reached.
Speaking of budgets, there are number of minor improvements to praise here, such as the use of real monetary terms rather than ‘credits’, though I’m not so sure about the decision to boast that as a feature on the box. The new menu design and layout for the Master League makes not only navigating all of the various menus you’ll need to access to keep on top of your team a sinch, but also a joy. Most impressively is the flawless integration of the Champions League into the Master League, almost sending a shiver down your spine as you approach the big games as the match presentation steps up notably.
PES’s answer to FIFA’s ‘Be a Pro’ is back with ‘Become a Legend’ and it’s a far more enjoyable experience this time around, even if not much has been pushed forward. The aim is to create a new player and make your way into a team with the ultimate goal of being crowned ‘World Player of the Year’ by only playing as that one player. You start off in practice matches to win a contract, then work your way towards making your début, then being a first team regular, an international and so forth until your retirement. Experience points are earned by playing in the many games and practice matches based on performances, thus improving your stats, but it’s hard to tell what exactly you are being judged on at any given time.
Away from these main options, you can play in sole Champions League or Europa League competitions, standard leagues and cups; all features expected from any football title, however Konami have one more trick up their sleeve: please step forward Community Mode. This is a mode available both online and off and basically allows you to do what it says on the tin; create a community. You can take members in, create leagues, cups and play friendlies, with the added bonus of all your stats being tracked, which is much better than meaningless friendlies against your mates, right? A really nice feature that will add a bit of spice the next time you and your buddies have a night in. The online version has a few features this doesn’t but more on that in a few paragraphs.
Back to basics
In pure and basic gameplay terms, PES is certainly back on the right path. The game has been slowed down to a more methodical and thoughtful pace where realism is back on the agenda. PES stalwarts will be glad to hear that the game once again focuses on clever build-up play with an emphasis on trying to create and then exploit space. Because of this goals only ever feel earned, and are definitely back to their fist-pumping and satisfying best. Back are the glorious and fluid animations that we all loved but seemingly went out of the window for all those years. Once again you can tell who is who not just from their looks or their positioning, but also by their stance or the way they run.
It’s not perfect though; there are still moments of visible scripting where players will be kept back by an invisible shield from making a vital challenge, and sometimes trying to get control of the nearest player to the ball is far more work than it should be. These occurrences are thankfully few and far between in this iteration (and not something I’ve experienced online), so it doesn’t affect the overall balance or make the game feel unfair, but it’s because of this rarity that the moments stick out like a sore thumb.
Another aspect I really did not enjoy was the penalty taking, which is absolutely dire. For some reason in certain modes the penalties are taken from a side-on camera view, where as in others you take the traditional view. However, they are way too regimented and sensitive to be of any enjoyment.
The most important thing to remember is that PES is finally once again a smooth and fun game to play, something that we haven’t been able to say for a good while. The addictive ‘one more game’ factor is back with a vengeance, and as an old-time fan of the series it brings a smile to my face to be able to say that.
There was a line in our FIFA 10 review by Stephen that I vehemently disagreed with: ‘For years Konami’s PES has boasted superior visuals compared to its EA counterpart’. Ask any fan where PES has always lagged behind FIFA and they’ll tell you that it’s in graphical presentation, and this has been the case every year as long as I can remember. However, for once and without irony I can say that PES 2010 is a beautiful game to look at, and is the best looking football title I’ve seen this generation. Players feature an unprecedented amount of detail and look like the real thing, especially when compared to FIFA’s eerie zombified likenesses. This detail isn’t restricted to cut-scenes or celebrations either; it’s all in-engine. You can zoom in on replays to show this, and the detail transitions seamlessly without pop-in.
It’s not just the players that receive this treatment either; stadiums are also masterfully modeled. As a Liverpool fan I’ve never seen a more faithful virtual representation of Anfield before, but even the fictional stadiums look beautiful. The crowds do let the side down a little, with the supporters wearing drab browns and blues and with little movement, as if 40,000 sedated Niko Belic’s decided it’d be a good day to go watch a game. If even possible, they seem to be less lively when goals are scored. The general presentation is excellent; replays resemble that of TV coverage and don’t resort to unrealistic cut-scenes and it helps keep an authentic football feel in spite of other factors. Even the menu system has received a great face lift, and while it still retains a little of that stereotypically eastern basic feel; it’s definitely a lot more pleasing to the eye this time around.
What does still let the game down immensely is the lack of licenses, specifically when it comes to English teams. Aside from the licensed teams, we’re still stuck with the likes of ‘Man Blue’ and ‘Lancashire Claret’, and as much as gameplay overrides visuals in my book, it really does hurt the authenticity of the experience. I mean, is it really possible to license the name of a town or city?
You’re a Liverpool legend, but shut it Lawrenson…
Please, sit down, for what I’m about to tell you might shock you to your very core. For the first time in its history, PES has a fantastic soundtrack. Out are the cheesy synth pop tracks that sounded like elevator music on speed. In is an eclectic mix of proper artists such as the Stereophonics, Chemical Brothers, DJ Shadow, and Paul Weller (seriously!). There are 27 licensed tracks in all and it’s a deeply refreshing change to be able to navigate the menus minus an overwhelming urge to try make your own eardrums implode by the power of thought alone…
In-game the crowd chants are functional but disappointing. I would have thought that, considering they are both licensed, the crowds of Liverpool and Manchester United would have been able to use club songs in their repertoire. The lack of audio polish doesn’t just stop there; one ritual of the typical PES player usually involves turning the commentary off almost as soon as the game boots and many might persevere with that particular rule.
The commentary has improved ever so slightly since I last purchased a PES game, with Jon Champion sounding a tad less robotic and a lot less behind play, however many of the sound bites are repeated far too often from game to game. Undoubtedly worse is Mark Lawrenson’s contribution, whose efforts sound far too scripted and out of place alongside Champion. He clearly feels awkward recording these lines, so why persevere with him? Another bugbear, especially in league modes, is that our pundit pairing only ever talk about what’s happening to your team, without referring to the team directly. This can get a little confusing at first until you realise that they’ll never talk about the other team. This is one of the areas that ‘Seabass’ has often openly admitted needs improvement, but still we’re here, three years down the line still having to put up with a sub-par vocal pairing, despite ‘fluid commentary listed as a feature on the back of the box…
A wealth of online options in PES… are we talking about the same game?
Rumour has it that a separate team have been working on the online mode for PES 2010 and it shows, as it’s in the multiplayer arena that PES has seen most improvement. The games are no longer an unplayable lagfest; in fact the games I’ve played have actually been lag free (around 15 online matches at the time of writing) but the online improvements don’t just stop there; there are some nifty options to choose from. From the main menu you can select VS. Match, which enables you to start quick and ranked matches against others either 1v1 or 2v2. You can also set up or join a match room, where people can come in, chat and challenge.
In the midst of a game during replays of key moments, people who don’t like to use their headsets are able to communicate about events by holding LB when prompted and choosing a pre-selected comment, which players can tailor to suit in the online options menu. Speaking of replays, players can now finally watch and save online highlights (post game) on their hard-drives for future prosperity. This is a feature that’s been lacking from either football title and is much welcomed here.
Legends mode allows you to import a player from your ‘Become a Legend’ campaign and play against an opponent one on one. This seems a bit lackluster compared to FIFA’s 10v10 extravaganzas, but something that many could overlook in place of online stability this year. The community mode online is a welcome addition. It functions pretty much as the offline version, only you can restrict who you want in, locking down your community to prevent waifs and strays entering and spoiling your fun. Allowing for all the normal online options privately as above it also lets you play Legends matches against fellow community members, and again tracks all the relevant stats. A useful tool for friends and community/league sites alike, I’m sure you’ll agree.
At the very least, this year Konami have given the impression they give a damn about the online mode. Not only have I received two online patches since I bought the game, they have proudly displayed DLC and patch version numbers in a prominent place on the online mode main screen, which is a little more heartening in compared to previous years’ maintenance efforts.
The classified result
Overall PES 2010 is such a huge and necessary step in the right direction for Konami, and almost makes up for the recent wilderness years. However if you already own FIFA 10 there are honestly not many reasons to consider switching as you already own the superior title. Those that do plump for PES 2010 ahead of EA’s master-class will more than likely be more than satisfied with their purchase; I know I am. Although I have to admit that I still find it disappointing that I’m essentially listing the same issues in certain areas that we were in 2001. Back on the straight and narrow they might be, but Konami still have a way to go if they want to reclaim their title.