Pro Evolution Soccer 2010
Once the first choice of football purists everywhere for its unrivalled gameplay and strategic complexity, the Pro Evolution Soccer series has recently fallen into decline since home-based gaming hardware made the generational leap to PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Moreover, Konami's longstanding series has become increasingly saddled with criticism and complaints for feeling old, looking older, and drifting inexorably away from being a true representation of 'the beautiful' game.
Yet, as the fraying patience of PES fans prompts them to seek their footballing thrills elsewhere, it would appear series producer Shingo 'Seabass' Takatsuka has paid a visit to the local otologist and had his bunged ears syringed, because Pro Evolution Soccer 2010 (PES 2010) actually does show concrete signs of processed feedback, implemented change, and welcome improvement. That's right, strap on your boots, tighten your studs, slide in your shin pads, adjust your cup, and pull on your jersey of choice - Pro Evolution is back.
So let's deal with the aforementioned criticisms and their subsequent improvements, most of which are subtly rooted in gameplay, presentation and game modes, and make a marked difference without much in the way of fanfare or gusto.
Accusatory fingers have been pointed at more recent Pro Evolution releases with regard to whistle-happy referees, which are missing from PES 2010 thanks to officials that encourage flowing play by waving away heavy but clean tackles and only punishing the most cynical or crunching challenges. Similarly, patchy goal-scoring opportunities from crosses and corners have been tweaked so that towering headers and shock volleys are now a hard-earned possibility as opposed to a fluked rarity. Also, super-stingy goalkeepers - while still incredibly agile and difficult to beat - are now prone to spilling the odd rasping drive, which means following shots into the penalty area can often result in a fortuitous goal scored on the rebound.
In terms of A.I. opposition, teams equipped with sickeningly skilful superstars will retain possession with ominous intent, engage in mesmerising spells of one-touch passing, and scythe almost effortlessly through supposedly impenetrable defensive lines. Conversely, teams without such talented resources will often park 11 men behind the ball, attempt to bully the match, chase tirelessly, and assert physical pressure across the pitch. In short, it's not just Real Madrid and Barcelona that pose a threat in PES 2010, even smaller teams can spring a well-oiled counter attack or score from a set piece in a split second without ever seeming to pose a threat. The player is never truly safe, even with a healthy lead, which makes for some extremely tense but fulfilling moments as the on-screen clock ticks around to 90 minutes and the crowd whistles relentlessly for the referee to end the game.
Perhaps one of the biggest alterations to this year's PES is the introduction of a semi-automated squad evolution system in the Master League, which improves individual training stats without the player having to choose between manually or automatically divvying out accrued experience points. While the end result is the same as other series offerings when it comes to speeding up the improvement of youngsters, realising the full potential of established stars, and prolonging the threat of aging squad players, the hassle-free adjustment of sliding scales means virtual managers can concentrate on taking care of the action on the pitch rather than in the office. A new Skill Card system also allows team members to avoid regular training and instead spend a period of eight weeks learning a fundamental or flair attribute, or even honing tactical awareness so they can play out of their default positions.
The concept of simply sliding scales also bleeds over into the realm of preset strategies and on-the-fly tactics, with the player able to place precise assignment ahead of individual games based on the known strengths and weaknesses of an opposing team. Again implemented for the benefit of those players more intent on the thrill of the game as opposed to studying and analysing it, PES 2010 is willing to shoulder the burden of adjusting in-game tactics to suit varying situations if the player would rather just play. However, full manual input is always an option and can be sought out at any time by those looking to lose themselves in the minutiae of tactical application.