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Soccer is an important part of my everyday life. So, it would make sense that when I’m not on the pitch I’m taking on virtual defenders in the latest soccer video games.

Winning Eleven Soccer, or Pro Evolution Soccer as it is now called, was my favorite soccer game series during its reign in the PlayStation 2 days. Not only was it the best soccer game ever created, but it was the best sports game as well.

What first hooked me years ago when Konami’s version of footy hit Sony’s black box was the fluidity of the gameplay. Heading the ball felt real. No two goals were ever the same. Heck, I was even excited that players could get mud stains on their kits as the match wore on.

The game was perfect minus a few issues like a lack of licensing to acquire the correct team kits, player and team names and team badges.

Now, you’re probably wondering why I’m writing about a series’ past rather than the newest title — wondering when I’ll get to the point.

And that’s just it. Ever since PES made the switch to the current gen consoles, every fan of the series has been wondering when it would get back to its pedestal, to a time when EA’s FIFA Soccer could only sit in the shadow of the glorious title.

 

The wondering is over. PES 2011 is on fire like an in-form Fernando Torres. 

The best part of PES is creating a killer team of your favorite players in Mater League Mode. After a season working my way up in England’s second division I would start to accrue a force of players that not even Manchester City’s billionaire owner could ever hope to lure to his club.

Leading a team from rags to riches, lower division to UEFA Champions League stardom has never been done better in any other soccer title. Being able to hire different specialty trainers and set different details like fan club size only adds to an already perfect experience.

There’s a plethora of ways to set strategies and tactics for those who like to take their time and prepare for different situations their team might find themselves in. This specific tailoring and planning would be for naught if the actual gameplay weren’t any good, but it is.

This is the first time in four years that I’ve invested over 30 hours of my time in a soccer game. In that time, I’ve found the gameplay to provide the precision and realism PES has been lauded for in the past.

 

Each player feels unique — something the series has always done a good job of. When I gain control of the ball with Messi, I can expect the ball to stick to his boots even when running at a good pace. As Iniesta, it becomes obvious that passing is his strength. All of the little stats for players aren’t meaningless in PES, and it really gives each player a real feel and individuality. Even keeping track of a player’s dominant foot is important. For example, Messi will stick to his favored left even if it means a less advantageous outside of the boot shot.

One of the things keeping the title from perfection is switching to your desired player. In years past, PES made it possible to perfectly tailor how you switched from player to player and just how much the computer would switch them for you.

Now there is little in the way of customizing that important aspect of the game, and often times I would find the computer switching me to a striker I didn’t want or not switching me to a defender in a crucial moment. It’s only one issue, but in a sports game where precision is everything it makes all the difference.

The other major complaint is one that’s been present since the series’ inception: the lack of licenses for team names, player names, kit designs, team badges and stadiums.

In the past this actually wasn’t a problem for me. When I was young I had all the time in the world to play video games, soccer and read. Taking the time to rename teams and players was another fun thing to do for the day. That just isn’t the case anymore. When I booted up PES 2011, the first thing I knew I had to do was spend time in the edit mode and I was dreading the thought of wasting so much time.

I spent three hours renaming players from the U.S. National Team and club team names. If this were college or high school, I would have printed out color images of the team badges or grabbed my collection of jerseys to take photos with the Xbox Live Vision camera to perfect my kits and even redesigned them.

However, my time is precious and those three hours were it for my gaming time that night. And while some people may not care about every little detail, I really do when it comes to having correct names. Having to spend time when I could be actually playing a game on silly things like renaming Dotan to Donovan is a bit ridiculous and is still a big selling point for FIFA Soccer. Konami, get more licenses.

 

Despite those issues, this is the best PES game since the PlayStation 2 era, and a good game of footy. There’s just so much to do in Master League, Champions League, the new Copa Santander Libertadores Mode and online modes that are lag free for the first time.

My friends and I have always talked about how great it would be for Konami and EA to team up to make just one ultimate soccer game together. Aside from adding FIFA’s licensed teams, I can’t think of anything EA’s title could bring to this year’s PES. It’s that good.  

The good: Fluid gameplay, Master League Mode is better than ever. 

The bad: Still not enough licensed teams.

The beautiful game: The PES team finally delivers a top-notch game for this console generation.