Master League remains the highlight though. It's still a carefully balanced mixture of fantasy football transfer dealings and long-term player development that will happily absorb hour after hour of single-player play, although playing against the AI is inevitably a lot less fun than battling a clued-up human opponent. The new online version sees you earning money from matches won, which you can invest in a transfer market where prices reflect demand from your fellow players, building your squad of nobodies up over time and graduating to higher divisions to play against opponents with similarly long-term vision.
With only a year to rebuild an institution, of course, there are still a lot of areas where Konami has work to do. Refereeing is inconsistent - you will appear to win the ball in a lot of tackles only for the ref to pipe up and give a foul the other way - and while the attacking style of play is engaging, it is frustrating to watch so many defenders ignoring a ball running slowly past them until it reaches the attacker running onto it, especially as this is a problem FIFA has now ostensibly eradicated on the other side of the football-game divide.
Perhaps most frustrating though is that shot after shot bounces back off the keeper or flies wide when the goal is gaping and you're manifestly directing your shot on target. The animation doesn't help in these situations either - the difference between what results in a fierce shot on target and a looping no-hoper that wafts away to the corner flag is too hard to gauge. It feels as though Konami built the free-flowing passing system first and then ratcheted up the difficulty of actually scoring to compensate for the imbalance it created.
Animation blending also feels like it's a few generations behind the norm, with players firing shots and long passes out of their feet at a visually incongruous pace, or changing the trajectory of a ball with a header despite running the wrong way and facing an impossible direction. Sometimes they even head the ball when it clearly makes no contact with them in replays - of which the game is guilty of displaying too many, perhaps obsessed with its divisive motion-blur effect.
There are also quirks galore. At one point a ball was cleared out to the touchline and a midfielder responded by bicycle-kicking it in the direction of the penalty area, where another player immediately bicycle-kicked it over the bar. Elsewhere, defenders often run the ball out of play when they should have no difficulty keeping it in, while the pivoting in-game camera is likely to divide opinion. At least Jon Champion and Jim Beglin's commentary is still reliably hilarious. Champion will reduce you to tears as he screams "Possibility!!" or says "Guess who!!" for no discernible reason.
Nevertheless, while FIFA 11 may be the better, more polished and controllable simulation of football, in many respects PES 2011 is the more charismatic of the two games. If you're only interested in the finished article then you might want to wait another year for further progress, but in the meantime PES fans can hold their heads high, and fans of the beautiful game are on the road to being spoiled for choice again in light of this encouraging instalment.
PES 2011 is released on the 8th of October for PC, PS3, Wii and Xbox 360.