Pro Evolution Soccer 2010 Review

By Sterling McGarvey - Posted Nov 09, 2009

Although Pro Evolution Soccer 2010 lacks all of FIFA 10's fanfare, it's a remarkable return to form for a series that has spent most of this console generation languishing. If you're a truly hardcore soccer fan, there's room on your shelf for two soccer games this year.

The Pros
  • Series has regained simulation focus
  • Master League effectively integrates Champions League license
  • In a series first, has gorgeous visuals
  • Deep tactical customization
The Cons
  • Be a Legend mode is a bland grindfest
  • Standalone Champions League tournament is short
  • Online is good, but lacks pizzazz

It’d be forgiving to think that Pro Evolution Soccer took a nosedive when Konami dropped the Winning Eleven name for North America. After all, the development team’s awkward transition from one of last generation’s greatest sports games to a relative has-been did coincide with its rebranding on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3…

On second thought, let me put this in terms that soccer fans know.  PES is Ronaldo and no, not the champion Portuguese diver. Once upon a time, PES was winning World Cups, gaining accolades, and rubbing shoulders with the greats of its era. It epitomized the heights of the Beautiful Game. Then, somewhere around 2006, it stopped training, got really fat, and suffered a potentially career-ending injury (Konami IDs in PES 08). Slowly, it went back to basics (in Ronaldo’s case, it was a return to his native Brazil), and although it hasn’t regained its former glory, it’s in much better shape than it was in years past.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2010

Out On The Pitch

Pro Evolution Soccer 2010 is the Konami soccer game that should have launched with the PlayStation 3 (and the one-year anniversary of the Xbox 360). But since you can’t lament lost time, you must celebrate what you have. In this celebration-worthy case, a revamped engine evokes the simulation focus that defined the series during the PlayStation 2 era. Overall, silly functions like the dive mechanic take a backseat to mechanically sound elements like jostles. It took me at least an hour to get used to PES 2010’s more realistic approach to jockeying for an aerial ball, but after several hours of play, I can say that it’s one subtle thing that FIFA could stand to take a page from.

The dribbling system is more spartan than the skill-based fun of FIFA 10, but it’s easier to hang onto the ball in PES. Defense feels more tactical too, partly because you’ve got to have a better eye for positioning and intercepting than in FIFA.

Overall, the gameplay feels remarkably better than in years past. If you’re playing on PS3, Konami has added a slight bonus in the form of full 360-degree control of the D-Pad. It no longer makes a big difference whether you play with the analog stick or D-pad thanks to the advancement.

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Make It Yours

One of the elements that made PS2-era PES such a fan favorite was its degree of customizable depth. It set the standard for tweaks to tactics and formations in ways that EA shamelessly aped in later games. Although FIFA has plenty of user-driven adjustments and personalization, PES 2010 contains a wealth of variables for those interested in digging deeper, including sliders to decide just how much AI assistance you want on the pitch and how you wide or narrow you want to set up the attacking trident on a 4-4-3. You can even decide if you want your teammates to shield the ball carrier like the Secret Service. There’s a wealth of customization options that hardcore fans will love, and American soccer noobs (it is a World Cup year game, after all) will probably overlook. They’re all great additions to this year’s game and reflect Konami’s new focus.

My, You’re Easy On The Eyes

It’s not just the gameplay that’s better in PES 2010. In the prior console generation, soccer fans traditionally boiled down the FIFA/PES divide to “FIFA has all the licenses and better graphics, but the gameplay is shallow” and “PES has better gameplay, but it doesn’t have any licensee and it’s ugly.” FIFA 10 shed all of those prior stigmas, and although PES 2010 still doesn’t have full licenses (a chronic annoyance at this point), it’s gotten a big visual makeover.

From the sleek use of the UEFA Champions League license (and even its junior varsity sibling, the Europa League) to player rendering, the new game is significantly better-looking than the past few HD efforts. Konami does appreciably more in PES with the UEFA league licenses than EA did by integrating them into Master League. Better that the team focused on Master League, since the Champions League standalone mode lacks any real depth. Once you blaze through Europe’s finest teams and cash in your achievements and trophies, you’ll never look back.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2010

Master of Its Domain

It’s Master League -- the granddaddy of soccer manager modes -- that really keeps the ship afloat in PES 2010. Konami’s decision to weave the UEFA licenses into the mode was a very shrewd decision. Based solely upon the Achievement and Trophy rewards on hand, Master League practically begs you to fight for the chance to win a treble..and fight you will. If you ever wanted to step into Sir Alex Ferguson or Pep Guardiola’s shoes and juggle the grey hair-inducing micromanagement of bringing a club title, a domestic cup, and European glory home, there’s no better place than this year’s Master League. The demands involved in maintaining all three fronts aren’t easy, and it’s a really fun tactical exercise that forces you to keep an eye on your players, their fitness and morale.

Be a Legend mode, on the other hand, still isn’t very fun. Introduced in PES 2009, the mode is a shameless rip-off of FIFA’s Be a Pro mode, but fails to distill the fun factor that EA Sports has crafted over three games. Both modes have their flaws -- FIFA has a tendency to play you out of position and irrationally penalize you -- but PES’s approach to bringing you into the game feels more like a grind-focused JRPG than a sports title.

In Be a Legend mode, you start out on a minor-league club and then get scouted by a relegation-scraping club in your league. From there, you start out on the youth team, prove yourself, and eventually, you’ll get to warm a bench. At times, the manager will substitute you into games. But when he doesn’t, you’ll have to fast-forward through CPU vs. CPU action in the hopes that you’ll get subbed in. It turns an experience that should evoke a sense of wonder into one that evokes a desire to check your real life e-mail while you wait to play. Skip it and stick to Master League.

Soccer or Football? Who Knows. Let’s Talk About Online Play.

Online also gets some sorely needed updates. The PES team heard gamers’ complaints and scrapped the Konami ID system. The game supports 1-on-1 matches (the majority of matches played online), as well as 2-on-2 co-op games. A launch update also allows for co-op Be a Legend play and fan-generated online clubs. It’s an improvement over past PES games’ barebones approach to online, even if the community seems to lean toward single one-off matches. Konami also promises ongoing support for the game, but it remains to be seen how steadfastly the team will commit. Performance-wise, the netcode is more sound than prior games. I played matches against players in Japan and Mexico over PSN and experienced none of the lag or teleporting that plagued PES 2009. Online presentation could still use a little more visual pizzazz, but overall, it’s more functional than Konami’s other efforts.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2010

GOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLL

Although Pro Evolution Soccer 2010 lacks all of FIFA 10’s fanfare, it’s a remarkable return to form for a series that has spent most of this console generation languishing. If you’re a truly hardcore soccer fan, there’s room on your shelf for two soccer games this year. There are still some missteps -- Be a Legend is the most egregious example -- but overall, from the gameplay tweaks to the fine-tuned tactics and excellent Champions League integration, PES 2010 shows that the Konami team has regained its footing for footy games again.