When competing sports games are released in a calendar year, it is impossible to discuss one without mentioning the other. Let me lay it all out for you: On the field, Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 is easier to control and looks way better than FIFA 2011. PES is more fun to play, but it lacks the slick presentation and exclusive licenses for all the leagues and teams that FIFA boasts. Still, there is just as much depth in the career modes, league play and online multiplayer in PES. If you can deal with some fictional teams and players, you might want to pick Konami's offering this year over EA's.
Controlling play on the field in PES is a dream. I stopped thinking about which button performed which action after only a few games and was able to concentrate on strategy and the flow of my attack. Passing is especially easy to control, and the 360 degree feature that Konami is touting turns out to be pretty apt. I was able to pass a ball into the open space between defenders accurately so that my speedy strikers could breakaway. And while the 360 degree control can make for some flubs, it felt more like user error instead of the game screwing up. Specific fakes and feints can be mapped to the right stick, which gave you the sense that how you moved your player across the pitch was to your personal tastes. The AI of the offensive players tracked down loose balls and had a genuine knack for passing to me when I made a break down field.
Defending is easy to control as well. I like that PES automatically switches to the defender that the AI thinks has the best shot at stopping an attack. No need to continually mash buttons to take over the right defender, the AI has got your back. Sure, sometimes it backfires and you end up moving a defender out of position because you were just controlling someone else but I vastly prefer this setup. In the Become a Legend mode, when you only control one player on the pitch (more on that later), the defenders do an excellent job challenging and regaining possession from the opponent. Tackling seems more intuitive and holding down the defend button will seriously hamper a striker's dribbling.
Konami supplied some amazing animations for PES by capturing over 100 hours of motion-capture footage. The number of the varied animations is incredible; I don't believe I saw a motion repeated or replayed at all. When you craft your Legend, you can pick from ten to twenty different animations for his free kicks, penalty kicks and dribbling style. Hell, when your player scores a goal there are 86 different celebration animations that you can choose. All of these numbers mean nothing until you play the game and realize that tripping a player looks just as it does on TV. Watching your player perform an aerial diving header to score a fantastic goal is just the icing on the cake.
The commentary from Jon Champion and Jim Beglin isn't stellar but it doesn't seem to repeat itself as often as other sports games. Unfortunately, the rest of the presentation is not as slick. The side-scrolling menus feel a bit dated and the interface to enter names uses the standard console programming. Maybe I'm spoiled by the fancy menus from EA, but navigating through PES feels as if I'm playing a game from the last generation of consoles. The only good side of the menus is that the indie music soundtrack for PES is quite catchy. I found myself singing that Vampire Weekend song "Cousins" for the past week or two before I realized that I got it stuck in my head from playing PES.