Version tested: 3DS
Fittingly for a sport beset by clichés, PES 2011 3DS is the quintessential game of two halves: one muddy boot sliding into a glorious 3D future, the other trailing stubbornly in the past.
To be clear, Konami's first 3DS title is the most convincing sales pitch for the extra dimension that I've not so much laid my eyes on, but popped them out over in the launch line-up. And yet, at the same time, its implementation serves to highlight the limitations of the technology when applied to the football field.
The endlessly iterative, annualised development of football gaming's top clubs, PES and FIFA, means evolution is rarely revolution. At first sight, spotting differences feels rather like standing in front of a mirror and trying to see your hair grow.
But with PES 2011 3DS – indeed with the console in general – the first time you experience glasses-free 3D is a bit of a 'wow' moment. If I wanted to impress people with my snazzy new toy, the first game I'd show them is PES in 'Player' view.
To gaze from one end of the pitch to the other, with the 3D slider set to max, is to be in awe of the magnificent trick 3DS plays in convincing you that you are staring deep into a real, palpable space. At first sight it's a revelation, pregnant with the possibilities that bold new technology always promises.
The camera locks to a selected player while dynamically following the action, with an arrow icon at the player's feet pointing toward the opposition's goal. On the attack, charging down the middle of the pitch, breaching the defence with a beautifully-weighted through ball that your striker sprints onto, takes around the onrushing keeper and wallops into the roof of the net: breathtaking stuff.
Try defending against a team doing the same to you, though, and it's basically a disaster. At crucial moments, particularly when the opposition whips a ball into the area, you have little awareness of player positions as the camera thrashes around to follow the action. At such times, skill and strategy go out of the window and the enterprise is fatally undermined.
That's not to dismiss this view entirely, as the awareness of space when knocking the ball around the middle of the park is unsettlingly impressive. But it's far too hit-and-miss for serious long-term play.
Konami offers four alternatives: NormalClose, a horizontal view that's basically useless as you can only see half the pitch; VerticalClose, which locks the 'Player' view on the opposition goal, so even more unhelpful for defending; VerticalWide; and Wide.
The latter is standard PES view (though not as wide as some might like), which I can see many will default too before long. Here the impact of 3D is significantly less arresting. But while the sense of depth is diminished, what it does do, cleverly, is make what you are seeing on-screen somehow bigger, drawing you in subtly but irresistibly in a way that only becomes obvious when you turn off the 3D and it all seems rather flat and drab.
Surprisingly, though, my current preference is for VerticalWide, which is set back sufficiently to see enough of the game while giving the wonderful feeling of 3D space. It's familiarity with an exotic coat of freshness and one that, all credit to Konami, in the football genre is only currently available on this platform and in this game.