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Shingo 'Seabass' Takatsuka and his Konami team serve up their latest helping of PES goodness...
- Improved visuals
- UEFA licenses in Master League
- Good music!
- Few Gameplay Innovations
- 360 Dribbling Doesn't Impress
- Animations lack refinement
When we saw our first demo of FIFA 09 at the 2008 Leipzig Game Convention, we were surprised to here the game's Producer (and widely heralded saviour of the FIFA series), David Rutter refer to PES as an arcade game. He was winding us up for playing FIFA 09 like a PES player and could instantly tell our allegiance to Konami's series as we went hands-on for the first time. Rutter, by his own admittance, had been a fan of the PES series for years and liked its arcade elements, although his aim was to advance FIFA's simulation aspects so that it could sit apart from the PES series.
We were confused by this at the time. PES had, until then, been the game of choice for footie nuts. FIFA fans were mere glory boys concerned with style over substance, rather than the more well observed gameplay of PES. It had been that way for years - throughout the lifetime of the PS2 generation and into the early years of current-gen machines - as FIFA attempted to get its act together with FIFA 07 and 08 (as well as a wholly forgettable 'Road To World Cup' launch title for Xbox 360). FIFA had started to turn the corner by the 08 game though, with an instalment that borrowed more from PES' trailblazing than it actually innovated itself, but showed a commitment to better gameplay nonetheless.
It's perhaps ironic, then, that one of the headlining new features for PES 2010 has been lifted straight out of FIFA 09. The new tactical sliders, found in the standard formation settings menu (now referred to as 'Game Plan'), allow users to tweak nuances of their team's performance and see the results in animated formation diagrams. Moving a slider through increments finely tuned out of 100, users can order everything from a deep lying defensive line, to attackers moving further apart to find space while you're in possession. It's a decent enough system and does appear to genuinely affect how a game plays out on the field. However, as we did with FIFA 09, we've got to ask whether 100 separate slider increments are really necessary, as their appears to be only three discernible results per slider.
The slider settings join a few other tactical additions to this year's PES, which have been put in place by Seabass and the Konami team to please a European audience that wants more realism in the series (that's according to Seabass himself - check out the video below). Perhaps this is why we're a little confused by the presentation of the new Card system, which actually has more in common with a JRPG than it does a footie game. It essentially replaces the old star system for special abilities of the '1-on-1 shooter', or 'side player' types. Previously these were indelibly set for the game's library of players, although now users can chose to turn certain abilities on or off to tune a players' performance and style from the 'Game Plan' menu.
Seabass outlines the key improvements being introduced in PES 2010...
In most cases with these Cards, you'll be asking yourself why you'd actually want to turn off these abilities in the first place. Unsurprisingly, we weren't particularly interested in stopping our star striker from being able to perform Marseille Roulettes, or our midfield workhorse from having both strong attack and defence abilities. However, there are some occasions when the Card system does make sense, such as turning off a winger's tendency to cut inside. This would obviously be undesirable if you're trying to play a wide game, and so the Card system does have its applications in parts, although we'll bet that most users will set the vast majority of them to 'on' nonetheless.
Both the Card system and slider settings do have a knock-on effect in-game, although whether it's enough to lift the gameplay experience overall is another question altogether. By and large, the sensation of actually playing PES 2010 is still worryingly similar to what we remember on the previous-gen consoles. Things have obviously been tweaked here and there since then, such as the control setup for tricks, but the fundamental design is now decidedly outdated at a point where the series should be up to full steam on the current generation of hardware.
It's FIFA's huge strides forward over the last two years that has exposed PES' lack of answers. There's now nowhere to hide for the rusty AI, which operates in and around the box in a way that would make PE teachers shout, "Stop Bunching!" FIFA's forte over the past two games (player animation) also points out huge deficiencies on the PES side, with jarring animation that not only affects the visual appeal of the game, but the sense of control you have over a player as well. All too often, a simple change in direction results in a sluggish and jittery movement, while first touches are a lottery that doesn't appear to rely on your skill or the player's stats at all.
These types of inconsistencies in the gameplay, as well as the ludicrously fast paced action of pinged passes and rocket shots that the series is famed for, are what make us finally understand why Rutter does refer to PES as an arcade game. Perhaps the inconsistencies were forgivable when FIFA was sub-par, and were conversely perceived as realistic variations in the game. Now though, when FIFA provides such silky-smooth control over the subtle movement and technique of players, PES languishes in its past glory with stilted transitional play and impossible touches that simply haven't been addressed over the years that FIFA has been focussing on them so intently.
While Konami's PES team may not have addressed the animation adequately this year, one area that has clearly been focussed on is graphics. Without a doubt, the biggest improvement in PES 2010 comes in the form of its character models, which even better FIFA 10's on some occasions (Messi and Torres are certainly looking good) even though you'll still get the occasional 'Who the hell is he supposed to be!' player. It's an area where game critics and fans alike have been yearning for improvement over the past few years, so we've got to applaud Seabass and the team for delivering as promised this year.
You'll also find a couple of curious additions to the basic player controls, such as the ability to take control of goalkeepers by pressing in the right thumbstick and left bumper button simultaneously. Controlling the keeper isn't exactly new to football games, although PES 2010 arguably offers the widest scope of control that we've seen yet by allowing players to switch to the keeper continuously while off the ball, move him around at will, and then prompt saves where necessary. Konami has also tinkered with the penalty controls this year, although the less said about that, the better. We're still trying to figure out the system, although we will say that the difference between shooting wide and on target does seem to be overly fine on the directional and power controls.
As far as the new '360-Degree Control' for dribbling is concerned, we really haven't noticed any difference over last year's system. In fact, we'd say that both FIFA and PES have fallen short of the sort of fidelity boasted by their apparent 360 degree dribbling schemes, although at least FIFA 10 offers more subtle dribbling movement than last year with its new controls. Apart from the Konami marketing spiel we've received that promotes this feature in PES 2010, we'd be hard pressed to say that it even exists at all.
There aren't really any standout new modes in PES 2010 per se. The Master League has been spruced up with more managerial options and a Europa League license as well, although the Europa League isn't playable separately in the same way that the Champions League mode allows. This Champions League mode is largely the same as last year in that the tournament's official logo and video sequences have been dealt out lavishly, although the actual mode still lacks all the official club licenses and is limited to the regular array of unlicensed teams in the game (i.e. only Man Utd and Liverpool in the Premiership, although the rest of the European leagues do have considerably more licensed sides).
PES' Become a Legend mode - which surfaced last year and is essentially Konami's take on FIFA's Be a Pro mode - also remains largely the same as last year's effort. As with all things PES, it lacks the production values of its FIFA equivalent, but the more worrying absence is functionality that connects your player to other modes in the game. EA Canada managed this with the Virtual Pro features in FIFA 10, which tie your avatar's progression into every mode in the game (both on and offline) with impressive depth to match, although Konami's lack of innovation in this area means that the only outlet for your Legend is the 4 player online co-op once again.
A final note on the sound: While the commentary duo of Jon Champion and Mark Lawrenson offers up the same level of punditry and analysis that we've come to expect over the last couple of PES games, the musical score is a huge improvement this year. Fully licensed tracks (most of which you will probably have heard before) are played throughout PES' various menus and, while some tracks are a touch outdated (e.g. Andrew WK's 'Party Hard'), there's no ignoring the significant improvement all-round.
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