I have to admit, ever since Pro Evolution Soccer first came onto the market in 2001, I was hooked. The thought of buying a FIFA title never even crossed my mind, as the gulf in quality was just too much. Well, it used to be. PES, for the last few years, just seemed to be stuck in a rut. The changes made to the engine were marginal and the changes made to in-game modes weren't inspiring either. It gave EA Sports the chance to bring FIFA back from the brink and last year, FIFA 10 showed that they still had what it took to make a quality football title.
It was a huge wake-up call to Konami and PES creator Shingo 'Seabass' Takatsuka. Their domination of the genre had been whittled away and they had to go back to the drawing board. I can only see this as a good thing. The roles have now reversed and it's up to Konami to prove that they can still cut the mustard in this genre.
Bearing all this in mind, I approached the PES 2011 demo with a degree of apprehension. I half expected it to just feel like all the other titles before it, but as soon as I kicked off, I was completely wrong. It no longer felt like a PES game, and I take that as a good sign. The camera was more dynamic and that was just the start or what I felt was a good experience on the whole.
After playing through a couple of matches, I was left with a pretty mixed opinion. There were some elements that annoyed me, such as how players run. There seemed to be some kind of stop/start problem, and it felt like players were being weighed down by some kind of invisible force. Messi was easily caught up by defenders and it felt like dribbling of any kind was quite redundant and stamina sapping. I supposed this is good though, as nobody likes games where it's possible to dribble through the entire team.
What I did like about the experience though, was that it actually felt like a proper game. And by that I mean that it wasn't perfect. Passes didn't always meet their intended target and that's in part due to the new passing system that's in place. Users have a larger degree of control now as it's effectively a toned down Manual Pass from previous games. But what I liked most was that there was no magical "instant control" button and deflections were much more natural. It meant that the whole experience was a bit more unpredictable, just like real football.
Whether or not the game has enough meat to take down FIFA this year is unclear, because some of that will depend on the success of the game's modes, but I'm glad that Konami have decided to make some solid revisions to the in-game engine. If they can sort out the weird feel of running and continue to grow, PES will be on the road to recovery.