Version tested Xbox 360
Whether you've been playing Pro Evolution Soccer since the PSone - chipping your PS2 to play Japanese copies of Winning Eleven between annual instalments - or whether you've been playing FIFA since it was isometric and never set eyes on the competition, this latest instalment of PES is going to take a little getting used to.
Yes! It's finally happened. Konami has succumbed to all the bullying and ripped PES up to start again. The result - somehow manhandled to completion before its traditional October deadline - shares some of the same philosophical DNA as its predecessors, which is to say it's still very hard to create chances and convert them into goals, but it feels different both to past PES games and FIFA's alternative.
In a year that's seen EA Canada tooting its own vuvuzela about improvements in passing, PES 2011 also makes great strides in moving the ball around. Impressive pace, a sensible passing power bar, a flexible fully-manual passing modifier and devilish through-balls keep the action just below the redline at all times, occasionally reaching a Barcelona-esque crescendo as everything clicks. The actual PES football is a bit of a beach ball, but its behaviour is consistent and slots nicely into the passing system Konami has rebuilt, heightening the excitement and tension with its sharp acceleration and abrupt deceleration.
Control is also tight and responsive with some nice new touches, like being able to pre-program your own sequences of feints to map to a particular button combo, but all the same you never feel too comfortable in possession. Defenders can slide in successfully from a surprising distance and press attackers quickly in the final third so their progress is halted, even if they're not completely dispossessed.
All these things in concert mean that you are not going to score from outside the box more than once in a blue moon, and you won't be able to dance and pirouette from the edge of the penalty area to the six-yard box either. But conversely it's still easy and rewarding to move the ball around and slot through-balls between defenders. In contrast with FIFA 11, where chances and one-off spectaculars are also few, PES 2011 is fast, fun and attack-minded despite the fact you never end up with a Leeds vs. Preston scoreline.
Wrapped around all this is a much-improved graphics engine. Players mostly resemble their real-life counterparts, albeit with waxwork facial expressions, and their movement, animations and interactions during tackles and skirmishes in the box are more convincing than before.
While much of the last PES outing suggested the series was broken and did need fixing, that wasn't true everywhere, so some elements of that game have been inherited wholesale - the free-kick system being a good example. Team Style also survives the cull. One of the better additions to the series since it entered its decline, it lets you customise the way your AI colleagues behave in various scenarios and allows you to turn a game on its head with the right tweaks.
In fact, you'll probably spend a lot of time playing around on the Game Plan screen with formations, player positions and other instructions. The menus may be a little archaic, but the way PES is structured off the pitch is still superior to the competition - and official Europa League and Champions League licences are still welcome.