These nuances extend to your opponents, too. A Champions League match against Rangers sees them play an aggressive pressing game to earn possession, before thumping dangerous long balls forward with half my players committed to attack. Other minor details impress: on one attack, a defender forces David Silva onto his right foot, the resultant shot slicing well wide of the goal. Two minutes later, the mercurial Spaniard wriggles free and makes space for a swing with his much stronger left peg, the ball fizzing into the top corner.
Other improvements are less significant. There's some pointless frippery surrounding the still-unparalleled Master League mode, as matches are interspersed with scenes where the coach casually informs you that your star midfielder is out for 26 weeks, or your new Japanese wunderkind moans about not wearing the number 10 shirt. There's something crushingly banal about it all, with music gently burbling away over otherwise silent dialogue sequences in grey, featureless rooms. At least the sloppily translated dialogue provides moments of unintentional hilarity, as your number two informs you that "all eyes will be on you and your tactical nous."
The same goes for Become A Legend, which rather lazily seems to reskin entire scenes from the Master League, merely replacing your ill-fitting suit with a football kit. The feedback during this mode is familiarly feeble – it's impossible to tell whether your efforts will be rewarded with a fair score, as even seemingly immaculate displays can result in a sniffy 6/10 rating and a spell on the sidelines.
Konami has, at least, made strides in the online arena – even if starting a game is a little sluggish. The matches I've played so far have featured no noticeable lag, though that could change as the servers fill up after launch. By the same token, it took several attempts to connect to other opponents at times, the game occasionally kicking me out after a few minutes if no match could be found. There are options for pre- and post-match text chat, and whenever the ball goes out of play, you can input a context-sensitive snippet of conversation, praising an opponent for good play, bemoaning a tame strike, or even rubbing it in by pointedly celebrating a goal.
Complete a match and you can give your opponent a thumbs-up for fair play, a nice bit of old-fashioned sportsmanship that was reciprocated in every online match I finished. Sadly, it appears there's a flaw with Konami's approach to cheaters. After scoring a late goal in an early online encounter, my opponent promptly quit, though my own match completion stat then stood at 0% after one game. I was then warned that, if after ten matches our completion rate was less than 70%, I'd be suspended from competition matches, removed from all ranks, and would more likely be paired with similarly cheaty types in future. Most upsettingly of all, my 'courtesy' icon would now display a deflated football. Charming.
There's also an attempt at Facebook integration with the MyPES app, which is still in beta, and thus impossible to test fully. Once connected with your PES game, it should allow you to check stats, create tournaments with friends who own the game, earn experience points and unlock special badges.
If the feature set pales in comparison with FIFA's comprehensive setup, on the pitch the two rivals are surprisingly well-matched, the two disparate styles making for the most intriguing battle between the two for years. As a long-term PES acolyte who has favoured FIFA for the last four seasons, I'm heartened to see Konami's series finally approaching something close to its best form – even if it's not the domineering force it was in its glory days of 2004/5. EA's game might be the more authentic representation of the sport, but this year Konami's cultured approach offers a genuinely worthwhile and distinct alternative – enough, perhaps, to cause some to switch allegiances.
VideoGamer.com Score8 Score out of 10
- Plays an attractive game of footy
- AI is noticeably improved
- Master League remains the solo mode to beat
- The usual presentational woes; poor commentary and crowd sounds