Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 • Page 4

Open play.

But further experimentation yields rewards and the flexibility becomes engagingly apparent the more I practice. Konami's claim of total control over the direction and destination of passes holds up; the one potential downside is the need to rely on AI with no apparent way to send a free player into the space for which you're aiming.

Off-pitch, a drag-and-drop system tidies up tactical tweaking of player positions from a manager's-eye view. Meanwhile, automated switches can be set up to change tactics according to certain conditions. For instance, you could set it so that a 2-0 lead initiates a defensive strategy to preserve the lead; or so that going 1-0 down triggers a more pressing mindset as you push for the equaliser. This can also apply to formations, and should save a lot of menu fiddling while maintaining a realistic flow to a match.

The licence issue is always a sticky one for PES and at this stage it's too early for any concrete news on developments in this area other than a "yes" - that there will be new licences added. Watch this space.

And then there's Master League Online. A massive feature that's been a long time coming, sadly we're shown nothing of this, but we are assured that it's another vital part of the team's desire to change and improve - in this case an acknowledgement that online play hasn't quite cut it to date. Seabass also teases us with the promise of a further major "surprise" to come. But that's all he's saying for now.

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The PES community is vast, deep and outspoken, and Konami rightly pays lip service to fans, insisting it now listens more closely than ever. An example of this, shared with us by PES European Team Leader Jon Murphy - his community-facing role in itself symbolic of this - is with nets. Yes, nets. A minor point to most of the universe, but enough fans have asked for the ability to edit the net style and so I'm assured it's now on the team's agenda (although that's not confirmation it'll make it into this year's version).

Seabass' team's passion for the beautiful game remains utterly undimmed. On my last night in Tokyo a few of us are taken out for drinks by senior members of the team. The language gap is unbridgeable for the most part; but in a wonderfully charming backstreet bar that might as well be (come to think of it, might actually be) someone's living room, at a table with a computer terminal, the exec producer beams with delight as he plays us YouTube highlights of great footballers: Zola, Ronaldo, Weah. Suddenly, we're all on the same page.

It's a side that has been sadly hidden from view before now. But for PES to move forwards and stem the flow of FIFA converts, reconnection with its fanbase is vital. And that connection will always be strongest on the pitch.

The PES team has, of course, claimed each year of this generation that its new game would be the profoundly improved, overhauled masterpiece footy fans crave. However, here in Japan the mood this time is unmistakably one of genuine, self-aware change. Whether that is, at last, the change PES needs and fans demand, we'll see more clearly over the coming months.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 is due out for PC, PS2, PS3, PSP, Wii and Xbox 360 this autumn.

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