The demos of both Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 and FIFA 11 are both released today. This means we get to fight all over again over which is the best soccer sim on the planet. Last year's match-up proved to be a bit of a non-event given that the improvements made to FIFA 10 pushed it so clearly ahead of the floundering PES 2010.
Thankfully, console football's biggest rivalry has just got interesting again. The new version of Pro Evolution Soccer is a marked improvement over the last attempt. EA has a few tricks of its own though, and FIFA 11 is more polished than it’s ever been. Here are my thoughts so far, having played both demos.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2011
I’d have to say that the gameplay refinements are much more noticeable in the leap from PES 2010 to PES 2011 than they are between FIFAs 10 and 11. This is almost certainly because Pro Evolution had way more to fix, of course.Pro Evo 2011 feels almost like an entirely new game, when compared with the last version. The sluggishness, over-automation, and general lack of control that blighted the last version have been more or less eradicated by the overhauled game engine in PES 2011.
Passing has been tweaked to allow you to measure balls more precisely. A power meter now appears when passing that lets you move the ball around with pinpoint accuracy, rather than the old way where the ball seemed to get magnetized to the nearest player’s foot.
PES 2011 now gives you more control over your defense. Gone is the horrible AI whereby defenders would all automatically hone in on an attacker (even the ones you weren’t controlling). The intelligent new system now allows you to decide exactly when to bring the defense up, when to apply pressure and when to hang back.
Pulling off tricks is now a much finer art in Pro Evolution 2011. There are lots of new flicks, tricks and special moves to try out. The best thing is, you can assign these yourself to certain button combos, so you’ve got your favorite ones ready at any time.
The gameplay in Pro Evo could still be better. For example, the AI of the computer opponent is still frustratingly predictable. This means that it becomes very easy to beat once you’ve played a few games.
The new gameplay features in FIFA are more subtle than they are in Pro Evo, but they really help to add polish and class to the game.
Perhaps the two biggest innovations are Personality+ and 360-degree jostling. Personality+ is a system whereby players move and behave as they do in real life. This means, for example, that the ball will stick to Lionel Messi’s foot like glue, Wayne Rooney will run around like a chicken after loose balls, and Didier Drogba will score lots and lots of goals.
The new 360-degree jostling makes defending more realistic. A player is now able to hold off an opposing player by backing into him and swivelling around to try to gain space to move away with the ball or pick out a pass.
Handballs can be switched on in FIFA 11, adding a new element of excitement to the game. It seems that you can’t handle the ball on purpose, but occasionally a defender will automatically stick out his hand to stop a shot or a pass. This can be frustrating at times, but, of course, it could sometimes save your skin.Another interesting innovation in FIFA 11 is the ability to control the goalkeeper, which adds a new dimension into the gameplay. In general, keeper AI has been improved to make them more fallible and to give them characteristics of their real life equivalents.
One of the changes we didn’t like is the new penalty kick system, which is based around a power-bar. This feels very clunky and unresponsive and spoils what was a perfectly good system before.
Graphics and presentation
Animations of both player and ball have been improved in PES 2011. Player movements are slicker and the way they run feels more lifelike. The flight of the ball is much more realistic and it carries more accurately than the 2010 version.
Up close, the player likenesses are better than they were, although the facial expressions still need some more work. Every time a player opens his mouth and I see his chewing gum smile, it reminds me of how much slicker the rendering of the players in FIFA really is.
The last release of Pro Evolution saw some welcome improvements to the menu system. This time, PES 2011 goes even further, adopting a cool look interface and delivering a formation and tactics menu that actually makes sense.
Although in-game graphics and animation don’t appear to have changed much, the up-close face detail in FIFA 11 is much improved. Likenesses are even more realistic and the wow factor is heightened by the fact that facial expressions now differ from player to player, adding more character to the matches.
In terms of audio, FIFA 11 is ahead of Pro Evo. The in-game commentary in the latest game is fantastic, and feels much more ad-libbed than the rather wooden chat of previous versions. The commentators make astute observations in the right places and regularly make conversation about specific players or teams, which gives FIFA 11 a real TV feel.
I love the fact that you can now add your own crowd chants to the game. You can either record your own or use real-life audio footage of fans singing your team’s songs. You’re even able to change the music that the players walk on and off the field to.
Although the demos of both games are restricted to exhibition matches featuring a small selection of teams, we already know more or less what game modes will be in the final versions.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 retains the Champions League and Europea League modes, adding with it the Copa Libertadores and the UEFA Super Cup. Much more tantalising though is the proposed online Master League mode, which will allow you to assemble your own teams then compete in real time leagues with others online. Online has traditionally been woeful in PES, so this could be the catalyst the game needs to improve in this area.
PES 2011 also boasts a new stadium editor, team editor, and an Extras section where you can get access new match balls and accessories for your players. As a result, you can play as a team of dogs running around after a barrel. If you want to.
FIFA 11 still has about a million different officially licensed leagues to play in, from La Liga in Spain to the Irish Premier League, as well as exhibitions, training modes and the Be a Pro.
The one big change is to the Manager mode, which is now known as Career mode. This is apparently a mixture between Manager and Be a Pro, allowing you to start off as a player then move to become a player coach, then a fully fledged manager, as your career progresses.
As a die-hard Pro Evolution fan, I’m very pleased that the game I know and love is becoming fun to play again. The new game is almost unrecognizable to PES 2010, so Konami has clearly tried to forget about that sorry chapter in the history of the game. Pro Evo still isn’t perfect though. Not all of the AI has been corrected, and I’m not convinced that PES’s car crash of an online mode can be rescued just with online Master League.
EA was starting from a much more comfortable position, in that FIFA 10 was already a consummate product. So, instead of having to make major overhauls, the developer’s job has been largely one of refinement. The new intelligent player likenesses and the intricacies of its gameplay make it a near-perfect simulation of football.
Does this make FIFA 11 the best game out of the two? Probably, yes. But I think FIFA still lacks some of the charm and cuteness of Pro Evo. Just as the last couple of times I’ll be buying PES first, wanting to like it so much that I refuse to get FIFA, then getting FIFA, realising that it’s better and not going back to PES, then feeling bad about tossing my trusty old favorite aside. I feel a bit like the kid in Toy Story.