Dribbling is often precise and powerful but, on occasion, you'll get locked into reality-bending side-steps or have to hover over the ball as though your AI's fighting against itself. The patchy licensing is the same as ever. However, that's no excuse for the quasi-reality of the Master League, in which transfer fees disobey real-life sums and odd internal logic prevails.
Our big gripe is that the CPU AI is, currently, very timid - adept at blunting your play but with no show of ambition. Harsh? Maybe. But you expect better of those you love, as you do in life, and PES 2011 is agonisingly close to nailing its old magic. If the review code irons out the AI and physics niggles, the game could be the real deal and provide joy for lapsed PES players the world over. Either way, it demands a fresh look.
FIFA 11 KEY FEATURES
Personality Plus: Players are more distinct, with nine unique body types and 57 traits monitored by 1700 scouts. Players such as Iniesta will take subtle extra touches to retain control in tight spots, Kaka-like playmakers will pass with crisper precision and keepers will make wilder saves. You'll need to play to your players' strengths - Pro Passing will punish sloppy exchanges.
Creation Centre: Make players and teams from scratch, controlling appearance, club crest, formation and tactics. The twist? You don't use in-game tools but can tweak everything online (using your browser) and download it to your PS3. Alternatively, share it. Custom audio enables you to set music and chants for each team, but licensing issues mean this only works offline.
Goalkeeper Control: Details are currently unknown, but you'll be able to manually control the keeper, enabling full 11 vs 11 online matches. Player jostling - dubbed 360 Fight For Possession - adds physical realism, there are revamped custom celebrations with team interactions and there's a save-to-hard drive feature for goals, plus a new highlights-replay mode. As ever, there are 30 licensed leagues, including the Premiership.
Career Mode: The maligned Manager Mode has been replaced by Career Mode, in which you can be a manager, a player or both (it replaces FIFA 10's Be A Pro mode). We're yet to test it, but have been promised more authentic transfers and fees. Apparently, there'll be a two-tier system: you agree a price for a player before setting wages. It's even possible to be gazumped by a rival club after a fee's been agreed, just as it is in real life.
Key Plus: "Are players more individual? Yes, more than ever. There's even a category dedicated to Iniesta-like 'touch' players. Last night, I was playing with Berbatov, running side-by-side with a midfielder as he tried to put a toe in. Berba kept shifting the ball to his instep very subtly (and automatically) to retain possession, whereas other players would eave the ball open. They're also great point and-pivot players for the midfield - just hitting them with rapid one-touch passes speeds up play."
Potential Downer: "FIFA 10's Manager Mode was decent, but pales next to Master League and was crippled by odd transfers (Ronaldo to Sunderland?). EA's Career Mode promises bode well - we're yet to test it."
FIFA 10 or FIFA World Cup fans, 11 is as comfortable and rejuvenating as a well-worn, clean coat. All the niggles have been ironed out, resulting in a slower, more combative game with enhanced player individuality. Use of tricky dribblers is key, but most impressive is how the game differentiates and elevates technique players such as Iniesta, who rely on control more than power or pace.
The CPU AI is refreshingly aggressive, with players like Tevez using canny skills to wrong-foot you. In many ways, it's done what PES used to in its pomp: refine and innovate, not impose needless bold changes. The lure will be how you apply the new feel to the reworked single player modes, but these aren't in the code we're playing.
If you love FIFA, you'll love this, though some are less taken with the slower, more physical pace. Us? We adore it. But if you've never got on with FIFA and were forced to defect by PES' decline, you've got a tough choice ahead of you.
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