EA Sports' FIFA Soccer series has been running rings around Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer series for far too long, and Konami knows it. That, presumably, is why large portions of Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 are currently being rebuilt from the ground up ahead of its release later this year. We had our first opportunity to play the new game for ourselves behind closed doors at Konami's E3 2010 booth this afternoon, and while it's too soon to say for sure whether or not it can beat FIFA, it's already playing a much better game of football (or soccer, if you prefer) than its current-generation predecessors.
Before our match kicked off, we were afforded a quick look at the new tactics screen, which looked significantly better than similar screens ever have in the Pro Evolution Soccer games. It was also much easier to use, because in addition to switching between preset formations, it was possible to tweak those formations or even create completely new ones simply by dragging the player icons around on the 2D pitch. Furthermore, although we didn't actually get to see this functionality, we're told that you'll have the option to set up multiple formations as well as criterion for your team to switch between them automatically. So, for example, you'll be able to tell your team to switch to a defensive formation if they go two goals up or to switch to an all-out attacking shape if they're a goal behind with only 15 minutes left. It sounds like a great feature, and if it's implemented well, we suspect other sports games might be quick to imitate it.
On the field, Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 is equally promising. We're told that 90 percent of the player animations are new this year, and it shows. Players are now significantly more responsive, and while it's possible to perform tricks and feints (and even to link feints together), you're unlikely to need them very often because you can beat opponents simply by turning quickly with the ball or by passing intelligently. Passing the ball around feels great in Pro Evo 2011 because while it's still quite easy to string short to-feet passes together, you're now afforded much more control to pass the ball in any direction and at any pace without the AI interfering and making assumptions about where your pass was supposed to go.
An (optional) power bar appears at the feet of your player anytime you pass the ball, and so the longer you hold the pass button down, the quicker and longer your pass is. That's not ground-breaking by any means, but it works well, and even in the short time that we spent playing, we found that it made passing the ball into space a more feasible strategy because we didn't have to rely on the through-ball button to guess where we wanted the ball to go. It also resulted in our putting the ball out for throw-ins a few times when we overhit passes, but with practice that's unlikely to be a problem.
We were only afforded a brief glimpse at Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 today, but the time we spent pitting Argentina against France at an instantly recognizable Old Trafford stadium on the Xbox 360 was more than enough to get us excited. We look forward to bringing you more information on the game as soon as it becomes available.