It's a couple of years since EA got their act together and won the hearts and minds of football gamers and it appeared that Konami had run out of ideas. FIFA has dominated possession of our wallets while PES fell away into niche status. Has Pro Evolution Soccer 2010 changed that?
This year the focus of the folks in Japan appears to have been legitmacy. Something that FIFA has always had over the Japanese games - even as far back as the International Superstar Soccer days - is licenses. It has to be said that PES has steadily improved in that respect since the days of "Ryan Gills" and "Craig Bellasie" but we still have to deal with clubs names like "North London" and "West Midlands Village." Strides have been made with some clubs like Manchester United and Liverpool now fully licensed from the ground up but the big news is that Konami have secured the licenses from UEFA for the Champions League and Europa League. They really want you to know about it too!
Right from the opening sequence PES begins to flaunt its new partnership, dropping snippets of the Champions League theme tune into its own intro music. After that you'll see that the main menu has a new Champions League mode right at the top of the list, which is helpfully highlighted by default so that you can quickly validate what must have been a big money deal for Konami. The European competitions have also been integrated into the two most significant modes for many players: Master League and Become A Legend. It's here that you really notice the lengths Konami have gone to.
Whenever a Champions League or Europa League fixture rolls around you'll be treated with a pre-rendered video sequence to amp up the drama of the competition before it drops you into an entirely new user interface for each one! Fixtures, results, and group tables look just like they do on the TV coverage and the themes carry right through to the match HUD with regal red flourishes for the Europa League and the iconic silver stars for the Champions League. It's purely aesthetic but it shows that Konami have put a lot of work into creating an authentic experience.
The Master League mode itself has had an interface overhaul of its own and a slight shift towards realism with the use of real currency and sponsorship deals instead of the nebulous use and distribution of PES points. The mode also introduces improvements to player scouting and training, with the integration of a new "Card System."
To give players greater individuality they will each have cards assigned to them which influence the way they play, similarly to the Player Preferred Moves system in Football Manager. For instance, Cristiano Ronaldo has the "Trickster" card which will make him more likely to use skill moves when under AI control. There are 42 of these cards and in Master League mode you can choose from 21 of them as goals for your players to train towards learning (the remaining 21 cannot be trained and are instead innate to some players).
The Become A Legend mode once again allows you to run around the pitch like a headless chicken as a single player, just like FIFA's Be A Pro mode. This solo mode has quickly become my favourite way of playing football games and I've been thoroughly enjoying FIFA 10's version of late but I have to say that I now prefer the PES version! FIFA binds you to four years of league football with no domestic or European cups and the only player who can ever be transferred is you. PES introduces you as a 17 year old playing in a trial match with the eyes of the scouting world upon you and your performance dictates the level of the club that signs you.
It was Aston Villa that came knocking for me but I spent the first few months trying to impress on the training pitch and making occasional substitute appearances. It sounds dull as dishwater in comparison with FIFA's approach of giving you a full 90 minutes every week right from the start but I actually prefer it Konami's way. After all, PES2010 allows you to keep playing from the age of 17 to 35 so there's plenty of time to get into the gaffer's good books. In my game my cameo appearances at Villa alerted the Spurs scouts and I was offered a move in the January transfer window. It pained me as an Arsenal fan to sign for the old enemy but they offered Europa League football and I couldn't say no.
I ended up making enough impressive appearances for Tottenham to warrant a place in the England squad for the 2010 World Cup where I became a national hero, saving the country's bacon time and time again as a supersub before we were eventually dumped out in the semis by Cameroon of all people. The World Cup and European Championships play out in the appropriate years throughout your career and for me that's a very significant improvement on FIFA's offering.
I've told you about the modes but how well does it actually play? Well... not entirely well in truth. Konami claimed to have matched FIFA 10's 360 degree movement but in the version I played it certainly felt like I was bound to eight directions and that really stands out as feeling strange after playing the new FIFA for an extended period of time. Tackling also feels indescribably but palpably wrong and frequent strange refereeing decisions don't help at all. In general it still feels like the arcade alternative to FIFA's simulation but I'm not so sure that it's the selling point it once was as FIFA has learnt to be both accurate and fun in recent years.
Even though the football might not be as good as FIFA 10, PES2010 is still very playable. The problem is that the rest of the match experience is woeful. The chants from the crowd are terrible without exception and I'd absolutely love to know how they were recorded. I got the impression that they bundled a mob of slightly tipsy Japanese men into a recording studio, presented them with the words for some typical football chants, and encouraged them to figure out the rest for themselves. Jon Champion and Mark Lawrenson provide the commentary and they're just as bad. Lawro makes no effort to hide the fact that he's reading from a script and whoever had the responsibility of programming exactly when their lines would play really made a hash of things as the comments are very rarely accurate or relevant.
Visually PES is pretty good. It meets expectations but is perhaps slightly behind the standard FIFA 10 has set, particularly when it comes to animation. Many of the player likenesses are exceptionally good and the options offered for creating and editing players of your own are impressive. The PC version performed flawlessly on my machine at maximum settings but the game's external configuration utility offers options to scale everything down to improve performance for less powerful set-ups.
Having already reviewed FIFA 10 for Game Debate I suppose it falls to me to tell you how to spend your money if you're yet to decide on which game to get this season. Here's my recommendation: if you have a console then buy FIFA. If you ever tire of it then rent PES and enjoy its Master League and Become A Legend modes until you get your hunger for FIFA back. If you prefer your football games on a PC monitor then PES2010 is absolutely the one for you. It's fully optimised for a gamepad and runs rings around FIFA's awful PC port.