It's PES - but not as we know it
This is the big one for Konami. With FIFA 11 making even more strides towards perfection, as we saw in our FIFA 2011 review, there's a real danger of too much light being put between FIFA and PES - leaving the former with an open goal.
Like Ronaldo in his twilight years, it's still showed flashes of excitement and charm - but once FIFA dragged its boots out of the mud and started showing some real flair, Konami's effort on the pitch has just felt a bit dated.
Konami's fitted the PES-mobile with an entirely new intricate system for 2011 - one which seems to respect the player's 'footballing brain' (as still-woeful commentator Jon Champion might say).
For starters, all assistance has been switched to zero. All. Of. It. When you pass? Zilcho help. Shoot? Nada. What about crossing or playing a through ball? You're on your own, pal.
It sounds daunting (and perhaps conceptually impossible). But it turns out, like all loving parents, PES is actually trotting behind you all the time; its hand just inches from your seat in case you look a little wobbly. And the more you balls it up, the more satisfying it is when you start to 'get it'.
PES 2011: Gameplay
There's definitely no more hammering on the A button and watching your players flick passes about the pitch. Now everything is based around a power bar - and at first it's a bit of a shock. Get lazy on the stick or misjudge the strength of a pass and you'll put it just behind your team-mate or send the ball floating clean over your intended target.
It's the same with shooting; you'll find yourself skying shots for days until you get the feel - and long balls need to be weighted perfectly. Through-balls do get a little bit of help from the CPU - but it's just as well.
PES 2011 is also a much slower game than its predecessors (and slower than FIFA 11, we'd say) - mainly because of the above but also because automatic player and ball control is greatly reduced when sprinting as well. Now build-up play and a mix of passing and quick dashes are the only way to go. A bit like real life, then.
Originally posted on CVG: Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 review
However, it's not uncommon to play 90 minutes, for example, and only see the opposition keeper catch the ball once. He keeps the ball out of the net all right - it's just that every other save he makes is some mad parry - which immediately triggers those classic goal-mouth scrambles.
There's far more space than in, say, FIFA 11 - but sometimes for all the wrong reasons. When on the attack, once we'd made it past the opposition midfield, we often found ourselves jogging towards goal unchallenged. The defence would back off until we got just inside the area - when they would clamp down with incredible efficiency.
PES 2011: FIFA comparisons
So, PES is back in the same ball park as FIFA again. Problem is, when you place PES 2011 head-to-head with EA's offering, it still falls short in the frustratingly typical areas.
Although Konami has a grip on the Champions League licence, it doesn't make up for calling West Ham 'East London' and giving them a random badge with two crossed swords at the centre. It used to be charming - but now, when compared to EA's slick machine, it looks a bit amateurish.
Players either look the spitting image of their real-life counterpart (see the England national anthem) or they're reduced to the default smooth-faced model with lentils for hair.
Animations are similarly mixed. Movement is more fluid when it comes to turning. Players will stretch around the centre circle at kick-off and there are some nice context-sensitive pieces when it comes to colliding with the post.
The responsiveness of the players is also hit and miss. That 360 dribbling can be great for weaving in-between defenders - but generally players feel very light and seem to slip along the ground for much longer than you'd expect once you've taken your finger off the sprint button.
Audio offerings are dire. The crowd sounds like five thousand supporters locked outside the ground - and commentary from Champion and Beglin just doesn't match up to FIFA's seamless and varied offering from Tyler and Gray.
Previously, when PES was quicker and quirkier, it could get away with slightly sub-par extras. But if Konami wants to continue down the sim route - there needs to be improvements in the whole match-day experience.
Sophisticated commentary and authentic sounding crowds (even if they don't look too hot) are all part of what makes FIFA feel like a cup final - where as PES still feels somewhat pre-season.
PES 2011: Other features
Off the pitch, Pro Evo's Master League is still the stand-out feature. It's very similar to previous editions but with the mode being so popular we wouldn't expect many changes. The control the player has over the running and development of his or her team is still deep - with everything from training to club finances available for tweaking.
Make no mistake about it, PES has made a big and important step forward this year. It's managed to combine a new system - which forces you to patiently and skilfully pick your style of play - with the usual hint of lunacy in front of goal that made the series what it was at its peak.
Players now have more control than ever, even more so than FIFA in places, and they won't get their hand held. The ball never feels as though it's on a pre-programmed flight path, nor does it feel like it's stuck to a player at any given moment - even if the men on the pitch sometimes snap to invisible lines.
FIFA is still the better football sim by a fair bit, though; it's fluid yet solid where PES feels liquid but fragile.
Pro Evo's biggest letdown, however, is still its lack of atmosphere and licences - and its occasional awkward movement. It still doesn't feel like the real deal in a lot of places. The new style of play will hurt at first, some might throw the pad down in anger. But ultimately, with the addition of this new "no assistance" system, PES-heads get a completely new dimension to their play - alongside a fresh and interesting challenge.