Pro Evolution Soccer 2010
Twelve years. You’d think after that sort of time, you would know what to expect. Familiarity and comfort, these things breed during a dozen rotations of the Earth around the Sun. It’s these that took us to the Champions League final in PES 2010 – those same old passing moves, overusing the one-two, always looking for the through ball… so why do we now sit, depressed, hurt, staring glumly at a discarded controller with a tear in our eye, humiliated at Champions League defeat? Because for the first time in 12 sodding years, Konami has changed the Pro Evo penalty system, and made our group of plucky individuals look like a bunch of rejects. No players have ever taken worse penalties. Not even England. So, depressing defeat it is.
It’s this discord between the new and the old that pretty much defines PES 2010. It now goes without saying that KCET’s yearly effort lags some way behind FIFA, but there’s still merit in an engine that has served football fans well for many years. But for every step it takes forward, this same engine drags it back. Take the visuals for example – they’re excellent. Famous players have been modelled superbly, better than anywhere else in fact. But when they sprint like stiffened mannequins or jerk between movements like Justin Timberlake, it only makes the Uncanny Valley wider.
This argument can be carried into almost every facet of a PES match. There’s tremendous satisfaction to be had, for example, in threading a perfect through-ball to your striker, but when that same striker stands still, looking gormlessly at you instead of making a run, everything grinds to a halt. When you string together two triangles’ worth of one-twos and set a flying winger down the channel, yes that’s exciting. But when your winger inexplicably moves into the middle of the pitch when there’s an acre of space for him to run into, yep, the whole thing grinds to a halt.
There are examples like this in every part of PES 2010. The glory of a last ditch defensive block is counteracted when your defenders magically go walkabout as opposition strikers wander into your penalty box. Passes go mystically off target at crucial moments but work flawlessly most of the time. These are age-old PES problems that worsen and deepen every year that goes by, especially when the competition is pulling further and further away.
Unfortunately, PES 2010 brings a few new problems with it. It would appear that the game is trying to straddle the gap between sim and arcade, perhaps in an attempt to make its shortcomings more forgivable, but for whatever reason, it again creates disharmony. It’s now far too easy to score from range – players like Rooney, Gerrard and Ronaldo can strike the ball with unerring accuracy from almost anywhere in the opposition half, and when that ball is hit, it stays hit. We’re talking thunderbolt, guided missile, type strikes here. Unfeasible, impossible strikes.
Beyond that, there were some glaring errors in regular play. At one point, when put through on goal, Dimitar Berbatov saw the opposition keeper look at him, then the ball, then turn around, side step away, then stretch out an arm in the wrong direction while the ball rolled softy past him. And it wasn’t the only time. Given that this happened on the ‘Top Player’ difficulty, too, it’s pretty bad going.
In fact, on the whole, Top Player is far too easy, we walked our way through the Champions League final, and if it wasn’t for our strikers missing ten consecutive one-on-ones in the second half of the tournament-closer, we would have gone all the way. More than ever, though, PES 2010 makes you feel that, sometimes, you have absolutely no control over your destiny. Accusations of ‘scripting’ have always haunted PES and ISS before it, and while we firmly believe that most of these cases are more psychosomatic than mechanical, there’s a real sense of futility when your strikers just will not kick the ball at the goal.
Somehow, though, despite the pain, frustration and misery, PES 2010 still gives moments of adrenaline-flooding joy that only this series has ever quite managed. That perfect goal: the perfect move, pass and finish that’s greeted with a primal roar from the crowd and a believable, convincing celebration from the attacking team – it’s still hard to beat. PES has always managed to capture that snapshot moment when the ball hits the net and everyone on the pitch reacts. It’s something that FIFA needs to pay attention to.
Consequently, as a multiplayer game, PES 2010 is still a fervent battleground, and those long-schooled on its intricacies will have plenty here to hoover up and spew out into competitive matches. It has its faults, serious ones at that, but mostly when compared to the competition. On its own merits, it’s still a fast, playable and dramatic piece of algorithmic sport.
Off the pitch, things have improved too. The Champions League license has been made better use of, coming complete with a sexy remix of that famous music and a real sense of occasion as you progress. Jon Champion’s commentary is actually quite good (although Lawro really needs to be chucked in the bin), and Master League is deeper and more compelling, despite being a figment of the developers’ imaginations.
The less said about Become A Legend the better (see boxout for more said about it), but aside from that, PES 2010 is quick and slick off the park, with minimal loading and menus that actually make sense this year. It’s a solid and often spectacular version of the beautiful game, but one whose creaks and cracks are widening each and every year. And yes, it still hurts. 12 bloody years indeed.