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Beta Impressions: PES 2011

September 14, 2010, Author: Andy Corrigan

After a few years in the wilderness, I felt that Pro Evolution Soccer had made decent strides to regain a little bit of form last year. While Konami had taken the gameplay back to its fun roots, the most refreshing aspect, in my opinion, was that they were finally taking the online mode seriously, regularly releasing patches, team updates, free content and even new modes throughout the year. Even though it was a massive improvement on the three or four years that came before it, it was only just a return to form. This year, Seabass and the gang have once again promised to make the most drastic changes in the series’ history, and with the recent release of the Online Master League Beta I have to say that for once these promises ring true.

An online Master League is something that series creator, Shingo ‘Seabass’ Takatsuka, has been dreaming about adding into the PES series for a while now, touting it back as early as when PES4 was ruling the roost. Much to Pro Evo’s detriment over the years, it’s taken longer than it probably should have but now it’s finally here with the upcoming release of PES 2011 and lucky selected beta testers have been able to help test it for stability pre-release.

The first thing to say is that the beta goes to great length to point out that you are going to be experiencing a ‘work in progress’, going as far as to list several items that are still very much up in the air. Aspects like the controls, sensitivity, and goal keeper characteristics could still invariably change, and to be fair, there is a lot that needs refinement before release, but this is a fairly early build, and after all, as a beta, we’re here to test, not judge. Saying that, it should still give us an indication of how the game is shaping up before its October release.

Instantly you’re greeted with a snazzy new menu, which would be slicker if it wasn’t for the fact that there are only two options; options and Online Master League. A lot of what you see here is purely placeholder. For example, last year, PES had a proper licensed soundtrack that was actually worth listening to, but for the here and now, we’re left with a single cheesy J-pop instrumental on constant repeat. Expect this to be dropped for the full release.

Entering the Online mode option, you have to go through a few items before you can get into the core of the mode. First of all, a user agreement (which bizarrely comes up every time you start up the beta), then you have to choose regionalised settings and then set up your own team. Rather than picking an established team, here you pick a team’s set-up to copy; this takes things like the kits and copies them over to your brand new team. Once done you have the option to rename them and choose an acronym. In the full release I’m really hoping for the ability to create a new team and club from scratch and design your own kits and logos in a similar way to PES’s usually awesome editor, but for now we make do with what we have. Also, something that isn’t a major surprise for PES, not all of the teams are licensed, and at this current time it also seems we’ve seen the number of licensed teams decline in the Premier League stakes too. Again, I have to state, this could all change, but still it makes my eyes roll, especially when my beloved Liverpool are no longer a licensed team.

Once the formality of team creation is sorted, you are given £500,000, and you can make a custom announcement regarding your arrival in the world, which will then display to others across the ticker at the top. The usage of this seems fairly limited so far allowing you to do press friendly sound bytes whenever you sign a player. It would be nice to see this extended to some degree, as it could be put to good use for banter purposes.

So from here, the premise is simple; win games to earn cash to buy better players towards your dream team. The twist is that it costs you to play games. A friendly, for example, costs you around £45,000 of your in-game money. Win, you’ll get a little bit more, lose and you can still make some of it back in ‘gate receipts’, which is the game’s consolation prize. The winnings you can get here are fairly minimal, and the main bulk of the money is made through the competitions mode, where you take part in scheduled tournaments to win the big cash.

Konami have offered up a decent amount of variation in there, with cups and leagues split by divisional standings that kick off every hour. Not only that, there are even some ‘Coach’ only modes, where you simply play the role as the manager; Not something people would probably want to play all the time, but it’s a nice option and a way to earn decent cash prizes fairly quickly using only your tactical nuance. The thing I really like about this set-up is that rather than playing endless friendlies, you actually feel like something is on the line, and that your performance is part of a bigger progression. A nice touch here is that there is a real time valuation of the players, although it’s contained within the game. For example, if in the online mode, thousands of people suddenly buy Fernando Torres for their team, his in-game value will rocket.

That’s all very good, but many people who haven’t been lucky enough to get out to the big events this year are still wondering just how it actually plays. Thankfully, in my opinion the signs are promising, although in this early form, there are a fair number of kinks to iron out. The first thing to mention is that the pace has been slowed dramatically and the game has a far more tactical feel to it than before. This makes for a far better and more realistic game of football. If you’re one of those who in various iterations kept your finger on the dash button and just constantly tried to run with the ball, you’re going to be in trouble here. The game rewards patient build-up and trying to force a ball through for the sake of it is going to get you nowhere.

Also, the ball no longer feels on rails, and early on people may find this difficult to get used to, as often a ball might miss a player altogether if your aim isn’t spot on or it’s been slightly over-hit. This is something I like. A slick passing game requires gentle taps of the buttons, even in the cases of long passes along the floor. Shooting is something I’ve struggled to come to terms with so far, and I’ve not been helped by the hapless bunch of useless players you start the mode with. Golden opportunities will be spurned until you start adding better players to your squad. Again, this means that you feel like you’re working towards something better by playing more games.

Still that said, at the moment it’s all a bit ropey in this form. There were times where I was fighting my own players to win a loose ball, as if an invisible parameter was purposely preventing me from getting to the ball. I’d even go as far as to say that at times it was actually pushing me away. Also, the beta suffers a little bit of slowdown when getting into the final third, slowing the play down, preventing quick, incisive manoeuvres.

As promised, we see a massive step up in terms of animations, and while much of the beta looks visually sub-par compared to last year’s full release, the animations of the players are faultless. In fact there were times when I honestly found myself gawping at the fluidity and realism in how the players moved and ran; this really does help PES play a realistic game of football.

That’s the overall thing that stands out the most from this taster, the realism. Add the most in-depth tactics set-up I’ve seen in PES (or FIFA for that matter), and you’ve got the framework of an extremely impressive football title here. The right amount of polish and gentle refinement could see this as the best PES that has graced shelves for years. Whether it’s enough to reclaim the crown from FIFA is entirely up to Konami, but the framework is definitely there. In terms of the mode that this BETA is here to test, I can definitely see myself spending a lot of time in the online Master League upon the full release, I just hope the rest of the game is up to scratch come October.