The Next Evolution
As you probably know, EA Sports’ FIFA Soccer 10 has been smashing sales records, and not just for soccer but for sports games in general. It’s no wonder, because that footie sim is one great game. While I don’t typically like to compare one franchise to another (I’d rather judge a game on its own merits), I would be remiss in this case because of the sheer dominance of this year’s EA offering. Thankfully, the Pro Evolution Soccer faithful can hold their heads high, as PES 2010 is by far the best console entry Konami has ever made. While it still may be regarded as the red-headed stepchild of soccer titles outside the PC, a lot of craft has gone into the title to make it a quality alternative to FIFA 10.
The first thing that sticks out is how nicely organized the menus are this year. Rather than wading through overly-complicated menu screens, all the game’s options, training, player/team editor, system settings, and gallery items are located on the left side of the screen, while the list of playable modes are listed on the right side of the screen. Getting immediate access to everything PES 2010 has to offer in the top-menu is a snap.
After quickly customizing the settings to your liking, getting into the varied game modes is where you’ll want to head to next. Conspicuously, nothing new in terms of modes went into PES 2010. This is often the death knell for sports games, but PES 2010 has refined specific aspects so thoroughly there is still ample reason to think about upgrading. For starters, the game feels like it was developed specifically for consoles, whereas years past have felt like a phoned in PC translation. Next, and most importantly, the format of the online gaming is truly excellent.
As was the case last year, PES 2010 is the officially licensed gaming product of the UEFA Champions League. This year, licensing was also extended to encompass the newly-formed UEFA Europa League competition (formerly known as the UEFA Cup). Playing in Europe’s premier inter-league competitions is great, and loyal soccer fans will love the authenticity. Of course, you can also set up simple one-off games in Exhibition (especially good for when friends come over to play), but many solo-players will want to head into Master League for a deeper more compelling experience. The Master League allows you to take the reins of your favorite clubs as manager by signing, training, and performing with stars and unknown talent.
The Become A Legend mode returns this year, a mode I typically let by the wayside. It has players creating an alter-ego to develop (and even take online) from rookie status to seasoned vet. While I find nurturing one player to be boring in practice, the ability to bring that player into Legends matches online is very tempting indeed (more on online play later). There is also League Cup action, which lets you set up tourneys and leagues without having to deal with the minutia of the Master League. If you’ve got friends who also pick up PES 2010, getting into the Community functionality is likely an interesting prospect. In Community, you’ll essentially create your own competitions and tourneys as if you were playing online, but access is limited to your buddies. You can think of Community as a fantasy league, complete with in-depth record and stat keeping.
The best, most refined bit of PES 2010 is that of online play. VS. Match is heads up competition. In Legends, you’ll be able to team up with others by importing your Become A Legend character. While this has always been fun in the short-term, rampant ball-hog issues tend to taint the overall, long-term appeal. Still, bringing your virtual persona online helps give the PES community a deeper sense of who you are as a gamer. I really enjoyed the Competition mode. These online, scheduled, developer-hosted tourneys let you strut your stuff to see which one of the entrants is the top dog. Through these varied modes and personal data files, Konami has done a great job of establishing a real sense of community. The incredibly deep stat tracking and persistent ranking system across all forms of competition gives online play some real hooks. Unfortunately, the only downfall of online play is that we experienced a minor yet persistent amount of lag. Since we play tethered to 12 MB broadband, we’re sure it’s not issue with our connection. Likely, considering the diverse group of players picking up PES 2010, some members of the online community are slowing down the experience.
As always, PES players have the nagging licensing issues to deal with. The deep team/player editor allows you to circumvent this problem by tweaking stats and changing names, but this is quite a chore for less-committed gamers. That being said, there is a surprising amount of licensed players and teams Konami brings to the table.
If you are interested in European football, you’ll likely not experience many licensing issues after all. Still, the European-centric feel of the title can be off-putting, especially if you enjoy national team squads and competitions; the U.S. men’s Nats and the Mexican Seleccion are particularly poorly represented in-game, out of the box. However, unlike the nickel and dime approach of the competition, Konami gives users free base-build and online play updates, including additional licensed teams, updated rosters, and improved player likenesses, for free. All you have to do is go to the system settings options in the top-menu and download the latest build, which will then be automatically applied. Thanks Konami!
Gameplay is as high quality as ever, something the series has always been known for. I noticed that wing play is especially dynamic this year. In fact, delivering crosses and getting on the end of them with strikers in dangerous positions is actually far more intuitive than what’s found in the competition. Also, teammate AI does a great job of getting into dangerous spaces, making diagonal runs, and coming back to give you quality supporting options. Interestingly, basic controls are nearly identical to that of FIFA 10 (i.e. very user-friendly), but advanced controls are another story altogether. Unfortunately, some of the button combinations that are needed to perform advanced moves are counterintuitive. While this won’t slow you down while playing on regular difficulty, going up in challenge locally, or heading online to play against seriously technical players is daunting. I’ve got to believe that Konami can do a better job of mapping functions to a more user-friendly control scheme. As it stands, the learning curve is so steep it’ll take you hundreds of hours before you can be truly competitive online.
Presentation is very good, but it is generally not quite as excellent as that found in FIFA 10. Player likenesses are accurate (for those players that are licensed), and the handful of available stadiums you can choose from are especially great to look at. The same can be said for animation quality, as players react to the ball and other players realistically; only keepers stand out as reacting artificially. However, time-keeping, radar, score, and player name graphics still look amateurish. Along those same lines, in the default view, players are quite large, which makes them look a bit too much like virtual avatars, whereas FIFA’s withdrawn default view makes the game look more like a live television broadcast. . Similarly, the commentary crew of Jon Champion and Mark Lawrenson do a quality job relaying and coloring the action, but something seems to be missing from the overall presentation such that it feels like your playing a game rather than participating in a live football match. Crowd noise is decent, reacting genuinely to the action on the field. However, team-specific chants aren’t prevalent, resulting in an audience that does little more than roar at goal-scoring opportunities.
PES 2010 is the best version Konami has put out for home consoles to date. The franchise seems to have matured over the last year, playing like it always should have. The online options are compelling and diverse (though suffer from a spot of lag), and the offline game modes have been refined significantly. While the lack of extensive licensing continues to keep the PES franchise firmly in the number two spot, players that are interested in a European-centric take on footie might not have many qualms in this regard.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
The game is much improved visually over last year. I especially enjoyed the much cleaner menu design and excellently rendered stadiums. 3.5 Control
Controls are still far too complicated when you get into advanced play, but the devs did make the basic controls easy to pick-up-and-play. 3.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Ambient stadium of effects could have been better, and the commentary is still missing some heart. Still, it’s competent enough to get you into the game. 4.4 Play Value
Though the mode on hand are all old hat, they’ve been greatly refined. The online experience in particular is vastly improved. 4.0 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.