Tom and Jerry. Norman Wisdom and Jerry Desmond. Muhammed Ali and Joe Frazier. Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer and Electronic Art’s FIFA series. Yes the world is awash with competitors, and that’s what makes it interesting. So how does Konami's football game measure up in its first season on Symbian? Let's kick off and find out.
Now available in the Ovi Store, Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) puts a modern console football game into your Symbian smartphone and does it really well. Many might think of it as “the other football game” and pass it over, but that would be a mistake. In terms of graphics, of depth, of presentation and of having fun, PES 2011 belongs in the back of the net (that means it’s good!)
So let’s get my one big issue with PES out of the way first. Two of the three control systems provided by Konami in this game are basically useless. The pair of options that ask you to use a virtual joystick on the screen, to be precise. When so much of the game is about vision, seeing where your free players are and making successful passes, covering up the bottom half of one side of the pitch makes for a horribly frustrating game.
The fact that I can hear Jimmy Hill preaching “and in my day we went to the sides because we had wingers” in my head as I try to avoid passing into the great unknown under my thumb is not something a Scotsman reviewing a football game wants to hear.
What does make this easier is that while the first system is the traditional two buttons (one to pass and do stuff, the other to shoot), the alternative is a one touch “computer decides what the best thing to do is when you tap to do something” that is intelligent enough to allow you to play a pretty smart game. A short tap sets up passes, tackles and changes the defending player you control. A longer tap for lobs, crosses and passes means you can mix it up and not have your other thumb hovering over the screen.
And then there’s the accelerometer option. At first, I thought this would be a bit of a gimmick, but using this option is the one way to make PES playable on your phone (especially the smaller screened Symbian^3 devices). Tilting the phone acts like a joystick in that direction, and because of the size of your device, you can be incredibly accurate in setting up a direction to move in. Retain the intelligent single tap option to do the actions, and not only are you free to move around in a much more accurate fashion, but lo and behold, you can see the whole screen!
Playing PES shows up the almost strategic need to understand the formation of your team (e.g. the 4-4-2, 4-3-3 or 5-1-3-1 line up of men on the pitch) because you will be passing the ball around a lot and making the occasional run. Patience is the key to winning here – don’t even attempt to play 'route one' football (loft the ball into the air down the centre of the park and chase it down with all your players) because it’s not going to work. You need to think yourself into a winning position to attempt to score a goal.
You will need to work at that, because even on the regular skill level the computer AI is pretty strong (perhaps because it has no digital fingers blocking the pitch - ha!) so the game, while it gives you opportunities and you can see what you should have done, provides a stiff challenge to the casual game player and can be tweaked to give the hardcore fan a significant obstacle to winning.
The graphics are some of the clearest that I’ve seen for a football game on Symbian, right down to seeing individual limbs moving, and that’s important because balance is one of the factors that are considered when you move your players. You can’t just shoot off in a certain direction, you need to take a few moments so you don’t fall over. The same with the ball, it is not stuck to your feet, it moves around independently.
While this is an arcade like game, it’s highly simulated, providing a steeper learning curve, but a much longer lifespan if you can get into the game.
In terms of options available when actually playing, everything is based around a game of football (well, duh - Ed) – yes, you can select a quick game (everything selected at random so you can just get on and play); set up that single game yourself (the exhibition game); and take part in both national leagues, cup competitions, or the “International Cup”.
With no licence from FIFA (that belongs to EA, who do the FIFA games) names like “The World Cup” are out, and neither can actual team names be used - Everton or Manchester are nowhere to be seen in this game – but Man Red and Mersey Blue are at your disposal. I understand the legalities involved, but it can’t help make it look and feel a bit of a cheat on the player.
I’d give good odds that if you can stick with PES for a few days and get used to the playing style needed, you’ll be playing the game for months. Not because of one match, but because of the depth of play on offer, the different tactics needed in every match, and the longer challenge provided by knockout competition runs and (simulated) year long league campaigns.
I always get the feeling that PES is seen as the lower division game when compared to the FIFA series, and perhaps that’s not fair. Okay, presentation is let down with no “real” names on offer, but it provides a great challenge, has a long shelf life, is genuinely enjoyable to play and provides you with a great diversion that rewards practice and hard work. I’m not sure you could ask for more in a sports game.
-- Ewan Spence, March 2011.