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PES 2011 gameplay preview

Hands On: Pro Evo gets a little more simful...

For the first half hour, Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 is probably the most frustrating football game we've ever played.

There's a lot to get your head around here: Konami says that all computer assistance has been removed - implying that lazy button presses won't cut the mustard anymore.

The fact that Konami's latest offering is so difficult to begin with, however, is actually testament to its new direction.

The scary new passing threat is true to an extent, but the reality isn't quite so harsh. You don't have to point the analogue stick down the line exactly to get the ball to the winger in front of you. If your thumb pulls ever-so-slightly to one side you won't find yourself wildly putting imprecise passes out into touch.

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New PES isn't pedantic but it's no pushover, either. If you start to show signs of slacking it'll embarrass you (probably in front of all your friends).

The real key to success seems to be finding the perfect weight to each pass, cross, shot and through ball (mapped on the A, B, X and Y buttons as usual). Indeed, picking the right power for a ball is actually far more crucial than hitting the precise direction you want - as there's very little compensation given.

The power gauge - which previously only really came into play when shooting - is applied to pretty much everything and demands attention. Passing in particular feels much more analogue; if you're playing a game of quick short passes you can still just tap A, and the ball will flit from player to player as long as you have the general direction right. Hit the ball any further than a couple of feet, however, and you get the feeling it really could settle on any one of the many inches of turf between you and your selected team-mate.

You'll find yourself hitting passes just too short, too long or slightly off course while you get a feel of the game. It's doesn't always mean you'll lose possession - but it does mean you'll constantly find yourself having to work harder to rectify mistakes.

The power bar also allows for some more-or-less manual through-balls, an area of the game that becomes all the more satisfying as a result. Slicing the opposition in two with a killer pass is all down to your own timing and judgement now. Heck, we'll say it: Hardcore football fans rejoice; the improved PES mechanic kind of exposes FIFA as a bit of a hand-holder when it comes to the through ball.

MORE POWER TO YOU
The panache of the power gauge doesn't quite translate to taking a shot, however. Hold X for any longer than a micro-second and you're very likely to hit row X.

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Settling back into PES took our early games to almost farcical levels - with panicked six yard howlers far too common.

More generally, PES has had a visual boost both in terms of rendering and animation. A few new camera angles are a nice touch - if only superficial - and some incredible player likeness adds a greater sense of authenticity.

In cut-scenes, the graphics are uncanny and player reactions to red cards or near misses look far less staged than in PES 2010.

The real-time animations seem more sophisticated as well. For the first time we can remember in the series, players aren't so robotic - turns and subtle movements are more detailed, making the whole thing feel much more fluid.

This is perhaps more important than you'd first realise; the lifelike movement of team-mates and opponents giving PES's claim to be a true 'sim' a massive boost. A major criticism levelled at previous PES titles in comparison to 'the competition', it's an immediately apparent improvement on what's come before - and one the series has been crying out for.

Obviously PES 2011 still maintains a fair number of the series' classic hallmarks (read: quirky flaws). Commentary is still pleasingly atrocious.

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