Three simple words have been the focus of Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 so far; Engineered for Freedom. Words that were accompanied by some very impressively written press releases that read so well it seemed more like a wish list the fans had been hoping for, rather than a checklist of new features to tell us all about.
Yet despite the impressive press releases and the very good looking trailers it was with a feeling of caution, rather than uncontainable excitement, that I approached Konami’s latest football offering. As I picked my team and played around with the tactics I hoped that the answer would be yes to my question: has it all just been hype like the past few years, or is Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 really engineered for freedom?
In short, the answer is a resounding yes: you can literally put the ball where you want. However, this is not a game where you can immediately appreciate its biggest strength; its freedom. Like with PES games of the past, it took a little getting used to. The game as a whole is a lot slower than any previous PES from the Next-Gen era or the PS2 days. It’s the first thing you notice when you start playing the game and this is maybe why I had a few problems in my first game.
Short simple passes to the fullbacks were going out of play whereas in previous versions they’d be played straight to feet like they were on auto pilot, which backs up Jon Murphy’s claim that the AI has been toned right down. Passes were being both over hit and under hit into the midfield and trying to get some rhythm into the game seemed hard. The first game I lost 2-0, I couldn’t get to grips with it at all, but as I played more games I was getting used to having a power bar for passing and it was all becoming a little bit easier. Passing became a little bit crisper and the tempo a little bit higher, I was getting used to it and I was enjoying it more and more.
The animations, just for passing, are so varied that the animation seems almost different every time, players will side foot and use the outside of their foot to pass the ball when appropriate. One great moment that had me pause for a replay was when Veron seemed to put all his weight into passing the ball down the line with the outside of his foot: the animation for the shape of his body as he made the pass was just something not normally seen in a PES game, it was awesome.
Through balls are much more effective and might have players making sure they play with a deep back line because of their effectiveness at beating a defence. The weight to them is superb and the power bar really does make it easier to determine how high or far the through ball is going to go. Having a power bar for through balls is something I see as key feature because the fans have been asking for it for a long time. This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s something that people can exploit in the game as it’s hard to execute consistently, but catch it right and it can become a really dangerous weapon against the opposition.
As stated in a number of previous play tests the X button pass can also be used as a through ball if hit into the space because of the freedom afforded by the power bar. Hitting the ball into space for on rushing wingers and fullbacks is a treat as is also passing the ball towards a teammate’s stronger foot. For example, say if you want to lay off Podolski for a strike on the edge of the box you can so, almost inch perfectly towards his left foot whereas as in other PESs it was nowhere near as fluid or accurate.
The freedom of passing is a massive improvement for the series and it seems Seabass and the team have gone a long way in trying to get rid of the ping pong passing. I can see many people having really good midfield battles against each other and when you score a goal the feeling of achievement that we've felt with PES in the past looks like it's back this year.
However, there’s still a few niggles that I hope are fixed in time for release. Sometimes a fast pass can somehow slow down immediately as if the ball is rolling through long grass and high balls from goal kicks seem to go a bit too high and hang in the air for too long. Other than these points the passing offers freedom never seen before in a PES game and I look forward to engineering moves with it.