If there is one thing in my life that I have to be passionate about, itâ€™s football. My general mood often hangs on the trials and tribulations of my beloved Liverpool. Being a football fan is stressful and agonizing stuff, but can also bring out untold amounts of joy and unrivaled passion. In the uncertain world of football, gamers at least can usually rely on one thing that is consistent; the fact that Pro Evolution Soccer is always top of the league when it comes to football games. This year EA as usual fielded a side showcasing its usual trademark style and flair, but also finally actually added a splash of good gameplay to proceedings, as you can discover in our review. Have Konami once again made the right tactical changes to keep EA in second place for yet another season?
Tactical tweaks and changesâ€¦
As always, all round legend Shingo â€˜Seabassâ€™ Takatsuka and his motley crew have tweaked and refined the series in many ways, rather than taking the â€˜annual complete overhaulâ€™ route that EA usually take. Over the years this has been a hugely successful stance, fans get a consistent yet evolving experience that still remains familiar to the original vision, and as such represents a more realistic interpretation of the beautiful game with each passing release. This year Konami havenâ€™t had that luxury, as the game engine had to be re-written specifically for the 360. Has this had any major effect on the gameplay? Well for most part, PES6 does retain that familiarity, however it does have to sink in somewhat. This is because the gameplay has evolved from PES5 in many ways, some of which have even managed to surprise a seasoned Pro Evo veteran such as myself. In the first couple of games played, Pro Evolution Soccer 6 will come across almost agonizingly slow. This initial feeling is an early misconception, and is down to a couple of factors, mainly down to a slight change in the button layout and the actions they perform; in particular the way the dash button functions.
Previously, PES had two dash buttons; a full dash, and a half-dash, where as now both areas are controlled by a single button (RB by default). Simply holding the dash button down performs the slower of the two functions and doesnâ€™t really give you that pace to break clear of chasing defenders. It is however, great for short bursts and serves better for making sharp movements or changes in direction, while keeping the ball under close control. Pulse or tap the RB, and your player will find that speed to muscle off defenders and show them a clean set of heels, albeit at the expense of knocking the ball further in front. This takes a while to get used to, and as such drastically effects the initial speed and enjoyment of the game. Rest assured that once accustomed to this system, and the new player physics and first-touches, the game soon feels like PES again, and is actually a lot faster flowing that its predecessor.
The RT that would have been the full-dash now serves two purposes. The first is to stop your player in his tracks, holding the button while doing this can see you sidestep gracefully with the ball, while also pulling backwards with the left analogue stick makes the player perform a drag-back. This is obviously useful for pulling away from tackles and retaining possession. RT’s other purpose is in regards to the shooting system. Hold RT down while using X to fire a shot, and power is replaced by precision, allowing you place the ball far more accurately than with a standard shot. The shooting is something that has completely been revamped, and does take some getting used to. If your player isnâ€™t in the right position or the ball doesnâ€™t sit just right, it is far too easy to sky the ball over the bar. At times there seems to be some consistency issues here, as sometimes a near identical chance will result with the ball in the back of the net. For me this is one of the game’s few faults, as the shooting system was already almost perfect, it just seems like an unnecessary step to take. That said, youâ€™ll be scoring spectacular volleys and shots once you grow accustomed to the slight changes here and there.
Elsewhere everything else remains the same; A passes, B is a lofted ball, and Y is through-ball. Holding LB at the same time performs a variation of each. Defending is pretty much untouched, holding A will lead to your nearest player pressuring the attacker in possession, B slides, and X makes your player make a run in the general direction of the ball. My favorite improvement in PES6, and I know the same will be true for many people, is the fact that when a ball is played wide, your player will no longer sometimes inexplicably jump over the ball allowing it to go for an opposition throw. On this note, A.I. all round feels more advanced in both attack and defence, however you still get those odd moments when you are hindered and caught in possession while waiting on a player making a particular run.
The refereeing has also been tweaked, where as previously the refs would blow the whistle over every minor infringement, this time they are lot more lenient, and the game flows a whole let better as a result. While Iâ€™m on this subject, the refs now actually have an advantage system that works a lot more realistically, now even to the extent where the referees will go back to book players for earlier infringements. Just like in real life, this stops the play from constantly slowing down. This will come as a pleasing improvement, especially to those who found themselves groaning at yet another avoidable stoppage this time last year.
What Konami have over EA (and always have done) is in the player animation department. The players move how real players move, and the amount of work that goes into this area is also the largest part of what makes PES6 so damn playable. You always feel like you can pull off that early shot, that volley, or that defence-splitting pass at any time providing that you take into account the players positioning and balance. Itâ€™s all in the timing on how you strike the ball, exactly as it is in real life. As a result you are never found waiting for a particular animation to finish because the transitions between the animations are practically flawless. Itâ€™s hard to explain, but after the initial settling in period, PES6 just feels like football, and that what has always made the series so popular, and will continue to do so in the future.
The sights and sounds of the match…
Any seasoned PES veteran will tell you that presentation side of proceedings has always been somewhat of an Achilles-heel for Konami when it comes to its football games, and this is an area where nothing much has changed. Aside from the menu screens feeling a lot more â€˜Westernizedâ€™ this year, everything is much as it was before. Graphically PES6 still does come up slightly short when compared to its flashy EA counterpart, however there are some improvements, most notably on the pitches and on the player models. The general look of PES6 is of a glossier version of its last-gen predecessor, it’s just neither ground-breaking nor ugly. While the character models do look a lot nicer, if a little plastic, you just have that slight nagging feeling that this is a game that could have looked a lot better. The general look of the stadiums themselves is mildly disapointing, although the crowds contained within look the best I’ve seen in any football title. A large part of the initial under-whelming visual aspect simply comes down to the fact that football games require a distanced camera angle for the game to be playable, as a result any major improvements in character models are simply lost in that distance and only really picked up in replays and its close-up cut-scenes. This isnâ€™t really a criticism of PES6 in particular, but something most football games suffer from (FIFA 07 included), it’s just pure functionality over graphical showmanship.
Elsewhere, we finally have on-pitch linesmen, this may not seem like a big deal at first, it does help with the feel of authenticity, and more importantly allows you to instantly see which way a decision has gone. Licensed teams are for the most part unchanged, although surprisingly after the first screens emerged, a licensed Chelsea is absent, and has been replaced by a licensed Manchester United (Konami you bastards!). One area I feel the game has improved no end since PES hit the scene is in its goal celebrations, unlike FIFA’s over the top cut-scenes, PES6 has a real â€˜televisedâ€™ feel to it, the players wheel away to celebrate, clever camera editing switching between the players and the crowd really make the celebrations look a lot more realistic.
After the many complaints that FIFA 07 was largely cut down, it pains me to say that PES6 has followed a similar route; there are only a measly 8 Stadiums on offer, the editing mode has been cut down to an astonishing degree, and even the old function of being able to save replays has been taken out of the equation. I put the latter two omissions down to time constraints and the fact that we have a newly written engine, I would seriously hope to see these reinstated for PES7. There are a few moments of slowdown in PES6, mainly when there is a set-piece which involves you sweeping the camera side-to-side from pitch level. You may also find you get the odd slowdown during corners but nothing that should cause you any major frustration.
The audio is pretty much the same as before. Iâ€™d be extremely hard-pressed to find a difference in the commentary from transition from PES5 to PES6, and the menu music is still as annoying as it was before. The crowd does seem a bit more responsive to the action on the pitch this time around, reacting far more to the different situations. If the game is looking like a stalemate, or is a becoming a scrappy midfield battle, the crowd will begin to groan and boo, just as youâ€™d expect. One team keeping the ball too long? The crowd will start whistling. This sort of thing really adds to the overall atmosphere, and makes up for the other things that are slightly lacking. While itâ€™s overall presentation does lack in certain areas, PES has never been about looks, and is probably one of the few games fairly judged on what it brings to the gameplay. Luckily PES6’s gameplay more than outweigh’s any minor niggles.
The online arenaâ€¦
Since the series first went online with PES4 on the original Xbox, the series has had a bit of bad press when it comes to lag. The vast majority of games in PES4 were riddled with it connection issues or not, PES5 made big strides in rectifying it by providing a connection indicator, but personally PES6 is the one that has finally got this area just right. Get a game against someone with a complete green connection status, and I can promise that you will have no lag, providing no foul play is at hand. Anything below that, you can expect a range of lag, from slight button delay to slowdown. This is something you canâ€™t avoid if you are an avid user of the â€˜quick matchâ€™ function, so my advice is to user the â€˜custom-matchâ€™ feature and choose your opponents carefully. Unfortunately, the thing that PES6 is still rife with is an unimaginable amount of bad losers. If you are insistent on playing randoms, expect to see the game disconnect during an evisaged victory quite a fair bit. The way around this is to either play people that you know are reliable from your friends-list, or join an online community or league, that way you will also avoid playing against Inter every gameâ€¦ Other than the usual choices between ranked and player matches, the online side is pretty bare, there are still no online tournaments, and the ranking system still doesnâ€™t take account of which team you are when dishing out those points. That aside, itâ€™s the gameplay that makes PES6 one of the finest and evenly balanced online titles available.
“If you are first you are first. If you are second you are nothing.”
So does PES retain the its title again this year? Having sampled both games, Iâ€™d have to say just about. While EAâ€™s effort is admirable and the improvement is notable, PES6 just has an undeniable superiority in its depth in gameplay, which will always beat graphical dominance. â€˜Seabassâ€™ has delivered a perfectly competent first instalment on the 360, and with another year of working with the 360 under his belt, Iâ€™d really love to see a big step-up in areas as well as gameplay with PES7. That said; PES6 has made yet another marked improvement in realism in transition from PES5. Given a short period to come to terms with the slight changes to the control system and certain mechanics, thereâ€™s just no other football game that can touch it.
Final Score: 8 out of 10 - Good (How do we rank games?)