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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Pro Evolution Soccer 2010 (Playstation 3)

Konami's long-running soccer series seems like its fallen a few steps behind FIFA in recent years, but the developers are looking to change this with Pro Evolution Soccer 2010. Featuring a new 360 degree movement system, improved visuals and better AI, the title has undergone a significant revision that improves both its look and gameplay flow. Additional modes, such as become a legend and master league add depth, but the smooth on-field gameplay, superb pacing and fluid matches make for a solid game. Its excellent controls and an superb interface make this an accessible game and one that should please hardcore soccer fans, but is this enough to overtake its rival? Look inside and find out.

Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer series has a long-standing rivalry with EA's FIFA, and while PES had the edge for a long time, it seems over the past few years, that FIFA's improvements have surpassed PES. This year, Konami is looking to regain some of its lost ground and has made some fairly significant changes to PES. The most important on-field change this year comes in the form of 360 movement for the players. While this might seem like an incremental change on the surface, it plays a huge role on how matches unfold. Instead of being locked in a limited number of directions, you now have many more options available. You can sneak past defenders, pass through shorter gaps and dribble with much more precision. Taking this to another level, it also allows you to perform more accurate shots on goal, because your angles and shots are far less predictable. Along with this added attacking dexterity, additional defensive movements also emerge. You can change your defending momentum, and tackle opponents in more angles, making it much less likely that aggression will be penalized with a red card. Fortunately, the added realism doesn't come at the expense of controls, which remain quite simple to understand and learn, making for a highly-playable and accessible title. Movement is controlled by the standard left analog stick, and players can choose to use either the face buttons or the right stick to pass the ball around. You can choose from several different shots, including crosses and passes, and press down on the right shift button if you want to sprint through attackers. Performing tackles is handled with the circle button, and pressuring rival players is simple enough. It's a fairly simple interface, but it allows you to change tactics on the fly without thinking. Players accustomed to previous PES titles won't have to relearn everything, but the changes make for a logical progression that won't take long to master.

The games's control configurations work well together and create a better sense of being on the field. Konami's developers deserve a lot of credit with these changes, which is especially true when you get onto the field. PES 2010's new open-ended 360 movement makes the gameplay feel much more natural and realistic, and does an excellent job in recreating the feel and flow of a real professional soccer match. The players feel more realistic and you can see the added physicality on the pitch, which makes the games feel much grittier than they have in the past. The computer controlled players show much better reactions to events, and their increased AI makes them better team-mates but also harder opponents. Most soccer games to date seem to become too predetermined, but PES' improved engine makes the gameplay feel more fluid. This added sense of unpredictability makes playing through each match feel more kinetic, the ball seems to bounce around randomly and you have to react to changes on the pitch almost instantly. It feels much better than last year's edition in a lot of ways, and while its still not quite as smooth as FIFA, the added sophistication evident in PES goes a long way towards leveling things out between the franchises in terms of gameplay.

While the on-field action remains solid and fluid, PES 10's other modes deserve some attention. The most interesting of these is the Become a Legend mode. This is kind of like a soccer role playing game where you can take a professional player from their beginnings and build up their career until retirement. You begin by creating a player, then use them in various training matches. You start with a single training match where your performance as an individual is ranked. After your first match, you'll get offers from clubs. Select the club you want to play for than you can try and earn a spot by building up your skills over several training matches. This gives you opportunities to become a member of the starting lineup. During your career, you'll have to make some choices such as which team to play for, whether to take transfers and other things. Each choice you make can make or ruin your career. You only have a few years to play before you have to retire, so you need to choose carefully. For example, playing for a lower-ranked team makes it easier to play matches, but reduces your potential earnings. This is a fairly intensive mode, where you have to play many matches before you make significant progress, but its kind of fun since it offers some behind-the-scenes action. Among the other modes included in PES 2010, there's a practice mode that allows you to learn the basic skills you'll need to play through in real matches. This allows you to configure set pieces, practice shooting and passing and gives you a good idea of how the game will flow. It's a good idea to spend plenty of time practicing your skills here before you head for the Legend and tournament modes, since you won't be penalized for mistakes.

If you want to experience more of what happens off the field, you can also try the team management mode, called Master League. In this mode, you decide which players will be on the team's roster, examine their statistics, make out their training modes, change game plans and strategies and also have to manage your club's finances. Other tasks include choosing players from the youth leagues, transferring players, setting contracts and deciding what to charge for admission. It's a bit drier than some of the other modes, since most matches can be played automatically. Its more of a numbers game, and is somewhat challenging since your progress is charted from week to week. You have to be careful in how much you charge, since you can't run the risk of alienating your fans. Another thing you have to watch out for is the club's overall health, since you can run out of money as well. As the general manager, you are the one blamed if things go south, and you'll be out of a job if the team loses too many matches. Its somewhat less interesting than some of the other modes, and looking at a series of menus makes the Master League mode feel very much disconnected. Its probably more enjoyable for the hardcore soccer fans, but most players will probably want to skip it. However, this is probably the only disappointing section in PES 2010.

From a visual standpoint, this installment of the series marks a huge leap forward in terms of quality and presentation. While the last few years have seen minor improvements, this year you can immediately tell that things are different. Despite lacking the licenses and flash of FIFA, PES still looks solid on the field. Player models look much more lifelike this time around, with improved facial expressions and movement showcasing much more detail than previously. Each player's animation and movement has also been improved to give them a much more realistic appearance. You can definitely tell them apart on the field now and they simulate their real-world counterparts much more realistically. Camera angles look much better and smoother, particularly the on-field player perspective that allows you to feel like you're on the pitch and doesn't have the jerkiness that last year's edition suffered from. Taking a page from other sports titles, the game's menus have a stylish appearance but remain easy to use and understand. PES 2010's sound effects are also quite good with an impressive roar from the crowd and extensive in-game commentary adding some flash to the already solid gameplay mechanics. The game's overall presentation and production values are excellent, and while its not quite as polished as FIFA's professional look, the gap is very narrow this year.

One area that might not please hardcore soccer fans this time around is the game's lack of licenses. This is a continuing problem that stunts the game since it can only include a few club teams. PES compensates for this by including the official UEFA license, which allows you to play through that tournament and other leagues, but its still annoying to find many of the biggest teams reduced to generic representations. You can easily tell which teams are which and their uniform colors are close enough not to matter, but its still annoying to play as North London instead of Chelsea. Fortunately, the license restrictions don't apply to the players themselves and you'll find most of the big names represented this year. While its slightly annoying that one company enjoys a monopoly on team names, its really not a big deal once you get onto the field, these are basically labels after all, and the game is the same no matter what some badge on a jersey says. In the end, Konami's solid gameplay mechanics and excellent AI overcome this minor hiccup to make for a solid soccer title that delivers some intense matches. The new 360 degree movement system is very well implemented, adding more unpredictability to matches while not drowning players in complexity. Easily mastered controls allow players to concentrate on the on-field action without messing around with buttons. The added depth from the master league and legend modes gives PES 2010 added longevity and replay value. With its solid gameplay mechanics very much in evidence throughout, PES 2010 is an excellent installment in the franchise. Despite these improvements, it still remains a few steps behind FIFA's refined gameplay in its overall package. While it's a solid second, PES's flaws mean it doesn't quite overtake its rival this year.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: B+

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