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.

If you can wade through the lame menus, the level of customization available to you is just crazy. Not only can you fiddle with your team’s strategy and personnel makeup but you can also mix up the national teams and design your own stadium. The really fun stuff, such as fancy hairstyles and stadium parts like pink fences, is all purchased with “GP” which I guess translates to “Game Points.” You earn 10 points for every match that you win, and most of the purchasable items cost 300 GP or above. So you better get winning some matches! I think it makes sense for weird beanbags instead of balls to cost a lot of GP, but I really wanted to give my player a nice afro. I had to play over 30 matches before I could earn the honor of playing a footballer that’s 6 foot 3 (6 foot 9 with the afro).

The Become a Legend mode is just as robust and customizable as the rest of PES. You can create player that fills one of six set profiles or tweak your professional to make him play exactly like you want. When you start your career, your agent offers you a few contracts and you begin playing in practice and then league matches. Depending on your nationality, you also have the chance of being chosen for your national team to compete in international play. Of course, because some of the licenses are exclusive to EA’s franchise, these teams might not look or act like their real world counterparts. If you can put up with fictional team names like The Potteries instead of Stoke City, PES allows you to tweak the rosters to your liking without messing with the perceived “realism” and that may be a draw for some players.

The biggest problem that I had with the Become a Legend mode is that you can only control your player in the matches. On offense, it’s tolerable because you can call for the ball to be passed to you but on defense it is just boring. I made a center forward, so when the opposing team had the ball I would be relegated to standing around and waiting for a goal kick. That is, unless I ignored my assignment and helped out on defense as much as I could. This, of course, left me out of position when it was my team’s turn to attack. Like playing real soccer when I was a kid, I didn’t like the downtime and often found myself just chasing the ball. Konami should at least give you the option of controlling the whole team in Become a Legend mode to placate the more ADHD players like me.

Bottom Line: Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 is much better to play on the pitch itself than its chief competitor, while the lack of important football licenses and a unimpressive menu interface keep it from being a full package.

Reccomendation: If you haven’t yet bought a football game, I’d pick PES 2011 over FIFA, but, even if you’ve already got FIFA, it might be worth giving Konami’s offering a rent to see what you’re missing.

[rating=4]

This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.

Game: Pro Evolution Soccer 2011
Genre: Sports
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Release Date: October 19th, 2010
Platform: Wii, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, Xbox 360, PC
Available from: Xbox Live, PS3, Wii

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