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PES2011 Preview Code Playtest Impressions

224 miles. 224 miles was the distance travelled for this PES pilgrimage I took and only a few short hours after a pretty eventful weekend in Germany’s capital Berlin at that. 48 hours later I am happy to say it was worth every millimetre of the distance travelled. I can appreciate that this may sound all rather melodramatic and a proclamation of sorts that the perfect football game awaits us come October, something I am honestly seeking to avoid because no game is that perfect. What I will say is that such is the level of change apparent – in so many key areas – that it is difficult not to find oneself optimistic to this degree regards PES2011….and beyond.

PES2011 is quite simply shaping up to be a very different beast this year. With the most recent of assets having just been released – including 7mins of gameplay footage no less – the fans have now finally got to see the game in action and should by now be a little more familiar with how the game is progressing. What I look to do here is to try and go under the hood with some of the games key elements and how I found them in my rather lengthy time with the game.

PES2011 is indeed very much “Engineered for Freedom” and it is the new passing system that is the core of this philosophy. From the very first kick you notice it, yet getting used to it might take a little longer from user to user as I witnessed in my playtest. Konami have somehow managed to retain each players individuality in the passing game without sacrificing a genuine sense that it is only the users imagination, accuracy and nerve that is the only obstacle to playing the football you want to play. Of course, certain teams/individuals are simply better equipped than others to play a quick, one touch passing game. For example, in playing my first game as Barcelona and then playing in my second as Celtic, the difference was obvious in that Barca not only had the individuals to play in such a way but that it was also the case that they were simply more capable as a unit.

That is not to say I wasn’t able to play some neat stuff with my beloved Celts as well, just that it demanded more from me as I didn’t have the individuals to knock the ball around with quite the same confidence. The key thing about it all though was it was satisfying no matter which team I picked. A short mention should be made of the new L2 and X(or O it would appear) manual passing mechanic. Being one who wanted to see manual passing implemented in this fashion I was keen to try it out and I am happy to say it features very much in the way I hoped it would as it does give the user an on-the-fly option to manually place a pass precisely where they want it yet not without some practice being required on the training ground and also the individual players stats playing there part. I found it particularly useful when looking to perform short, deft little lay-offs.

Dribbling in this years up and coming offering is as satisfying as it has ever been in PES title and is again subject to various factors determining the effectiveness a player has with the ball at his feet. This is none more apparent when playing as Barcelona I was able to twist and turn at pace with the likes of Messi and Iniesta and potentially wreak all sorts of havoc, confusion and downright frustration from my AI(or human) opponent with my quick changes of pace and direction, yet once I had Sergio Busquets in possession it was a different story entirely. It is not that you can’t dribble with a player like Busquets and that the dribbling ability is “can” or ” cannot” in how it is implemented into each and every player, just that, like in real life, players have their strengths and weaknesses which you want them to play to and in PES2011 this is realised in videogame form; I could try and dribble and attempt to skin opponents with a player like Busquets but it just isn’t his game and in trying to take on players with him I would just get frustrated very quickly.

All players are confident enough on the ball (as they bloody well should be as virtual professionals!) it is merely that some players are far more gifted than others in how well the can dribble with it. to Watching Adam play I was able to see the benefits of the R2 stop and dribble as well (something which he is pretty damned good at!) and how this can in fact aid the user in dictating the pace of play. Dribbling in football isn’t just a means to beat an opposition player but it is to used to buy time and space for a killer pass, or even to just to kill the tempo and PES2011 seems to be looking to realise this as best possible in digital form.

Regarding tricks, they are not something that I was actively looking to use such was the beauty to be had with the basic dribbling variants but what I can report is that quick flicks of the right analogue stick WITHOUT pressing the L1 button see your player perform the more familiar body feints and alike that we are used to in the PES series. I also can with some confidence state that those little incidental moments of flair that oft occurred when performing quick yet simple movements with the stick/d-pad in the classic titles have made a fine return. The dribbling system really is very deep overall, not only in terms of control but in it’s implementation into the gameplay. Oh, and the days of the d-pad are surely numbered with this new, multi – layered system in place as finally 360 movement appears to be fully realised. When you do have one of these ‘speed stars’ under your control it’s effect it’s presence is only magnified further. This is exactly how it should be. It just feels right.

It is all fair and well having a great passing and dribbling system in place but if the defensive side of the game is not realised in a similar fashion and the balance is not right, then it could break the game. I am delighted to report than in my playtest with this preview build of the game that defending has become an art again and like the passing system and dribbling mechanics comes with it’s own brutal, yet utterly satisfying learning curve.

By now we are all familiar with the depth in theory behind the new multi-tiered system PES2011 looks to boast but experiencing it is something else entirely. The one element of the new defence system I was most happy about was the ability to stand-off the ball carrier whilst not completely conceding too much in the way of space. Performed by pushing the left stick towards your own goal whilst holding X admittedly felt a little jarring at first but it soon became second nature and my understanding of when and when not to use it became more clear, as did the use of second player press.

The physical side of the game once you do finally decide to commit a challenge (something else which requires practice) is equally as satisfying with a lovely variety in collision animations that never seemed to be OTT. There was the odd little glitch now and then after a collision but such things are normal in a preview build but more often than not however, players were quick to regain balance and continue to scrap for the ball. Slide tackles also appear to have been improved greatly with the better defenders in the game able to slide in and win the ball with some authority and class and the satisfying physicality holding firm in these instances as well. As said earlier defending really is an art and I do feel that this will be the one gameplay feature which will separate the great from the good such is it’s potential depth.

As far as shooting goes, PES2011 takes the tried and trusted formula which has always been strong and layers on yet more variety in how players strike the ball and the resultant movement of the ball once it is struck. Think of a system that sits somewhere between PES and FIFA in recent years and you will be some way to visualising how it is implemented in the game. I did score an absolute cracker from distance as Japan against Australia that I rate as one of my finest PES goals ever and this is something I haven’t opined about a PES goal for some time, certainly not in this generation.

R2 finesse strikes are back in as they were in the classic titles with my only minor concern being how effective they were with certain players in certain situations. Thankfully, with a wiser AI and defensive system in place, along with much improved keepers (more on this in a moment) it wasn’t something that surfaced too often. I am sure with further tweaking and refinement of all the key elements this little concern should be all but eradicated come release.

So now is the moment of truth regards what has been PES’ Achilles heel for a few years now. I am of course talking about Goalkeepers…

…Delighted with the progress made. What we have in PES2011 are keepers that don’t contravene the trades description act. They actually are – FINALLY – goalkeepers worthy of the name. They are not absolutely perfected yet (something else I have been informed is still undergoing further improvement) as there were some odd moments apparent from them but none more so than in a real match if I am being honest and it did seem their calamitous moments were technical glitches as opposed to AI induced errors. What I found most heartening though was the athleticism and generally very commanding presence they had. There was one particular save from Lloris that will live long in my memory such was the quality of his reflexes and it did actually remind me of how the keeper has a tendency to perform in real life. I don’t know if I could say with complete authority that keepers have the same sense of individuality as the outfield players in the game but what we look to be getting in PES2011 suggests that reliability from the men between the sticks shouldn’t be a problem.

A quick word on the games technical assets and progress before closing. Firstly the animation is excellent ( I still think the youtube videos do not do it justice) in it’s own right and is very convincing in portraying the reality of the sport. Perhaps not quite FIFA levels of technical merit just yet but it is heading in the direction and the game really doesn’t need to match FIFA blow for blow in this department to be considered excellent in any case. The art has somehow been improved again and is truly marvellous yet oddly it plays very much second fiddle to everything else going on with the game. Motion blur in replays and the level of detail present too is simply stunning with more polish still yet to come.

The one stand out in the presentation of the game is the new panning ‘broadcast authentic’ camera along with the turf in the various stadia present. This really takes PES2011 onto another level entirely in aesthetic quality and this was particularly pronounced just as I was about to kick off in my first game. It really was that immediate and striking.

As my time with this latest preview of the game came to an end, and being well informed as to how much the game has progressed since the E3 demo code experienced by many in mid-July, my mind boggled as to what could await next with Gamescom so desperately close now.

I think what stood out for me most in my time with the game was that this did not feel like a game one year or so in the making but has been vision of Seabass’ and his team for some time, perhaps as far back as 2007 (maybe even beyond) such is the dramatic change apparent in PES2011.

I think the franchise is in very safe hands if this is the case as the quality of the game design and all it’s component parts is very plain to see in PES2011. Roll on October!

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