Bruce Willis vs Chinese Gigolo – PES and FIFA are doing nothing for me

I’m quite ill. I’ve been ill for a while as it happens, most likely due to my stubborn masculine refusal to take any flowery ointments or dissolvable vitamins or other such girly stuff. Much better to tough it out like a man. Which of course means sitting in bed watching television and whining incessantly about having a slight cold. And as we all know, there is little worse in this world than a slight cold. It is impossible to do any work with a slight cold. Absolutely impossible. Or indeed anything productive. However it is just about possible – just about – to play video games. Providing you can face getting up to put them in of course.

This was the position I cruelly found myself in last week. Reluctantly fidgeting with control pads whilst whining incessantly to my flatmate about how horrible it is having a slight cold whilst he prepared for his 5am start and 13 hour day job as a studio dogsbody. The lucky bastard. The one scant consolation I had amongst all this evident misery was that I had at least fallen ill at a particularly good time for video game releases. Or more accurately, football video game releases; The yearly tussle between FIFA football and Pro Evolution Soccer.

Usually around this time of year you can’t move for comment or opinion on these two games. Providing of course you spend all of your time moving in circles entirely comprised of football fans with gaming consoles. Even on this very site you’ll find the battle being extolled enthusiastically by our very own Robin Ooi.  Since the Next Gens kicked in I’ve been mainly a FIFA man but always sort of hoping in the back of my mind that Konami would pull their finger out somewhere along the line and get good again. Pro Evolution Soccer 5 and 6 were the best football games there’s ever been as far as I’m concerned. But there’s no point in being loyal to a video game. Whichever one’s the best is the one I’ll play. But first I’d have to play them both to decide. And this, valiantly, is what I did.

My first impressions of FIFA 11 weren’t encouraging. “This is FIFA 10” I thought. Or more accurately, “This is FIFA World Cup 2010 with the layout of FIFA10”. What they’ve done, I initially thought, was cunningly convinced people to shell out for the same game three times in the space of twelve months. If ever a game aptly encompassed a true experience of modern football this was surely it. It doesn’t really change, it just keeps costing you more.

After a while though I did start to notice some improvements. The shooting is better for one. Not all of your shots feel like you’re striking a cartoon balloon now and some of them even move at speed rather than looping comically or floating through the air like they’re caught in Mary Poppins’ slip stream. Headers have also been improved, but while you can now certainly look like you’re getting some power behind it, you also regularly continue to do that uniquely FIFA of things – the ‘plop’ header. Never in the history of football has a header been scored that even passably resembles the FIFA plop header, and yet it’s been bizarrely present in all 5 recent incarnations of the game thus far. Plopping a header – for those who don’t know – involves the tame headed execution of a cross that generally bounces on the goal line – or just beyond it – usually nearer the center of the goal than either of the sides, with no power whatsoever, and looks more like it’s just fallen off the head of the striker than it’s been directed with any kind of intent, and yet still goes in, somehow, beyond a rubbish flailing England worthy keeper. Several other minor changes have been implemented but they’re all so minor as to be virtually invisible for the majority of your average match. It’s a good game. But it’s the same game you bought last year. Twice.

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The worst crimes are saved for the Game Modes where the old Manager and Career modes have been combined into a new hybrid mutant Maneer mode that – at a sweep – has made both of them worse. If you choose to play non managerially as your Virtual Pro (who still bafflingly continues to resemble a Chinese gigolo no matter how I assign the markers on my Game Face) you will not start in the reserves as in FIFA10, but instead be flung straight into the first team. You’ll then immediately be dropped for the next few games, and intermittently throughout the season, for no reason other than to seem plausibly realistic. Unlike in FIFA10 though, you won’t get the chance to play your way back into the team through the reserves, you’ll just be dropped, forcing you to “skip game” again and again until the computer decides it’s going to eventually let you play the game you’ve  just forked out £40 for. Brilliant. Playing as the keeper is cute but hardly a deal breaker and the creation zone upload feature would’ve been amazing on the PS1, but its lack of Game Face availability means the only interest in it comes from seeing how rubbish peoples attempts to make real life players are.

Having tired of FIFA and my non playing cartoon Chinese gigolo, I manfully struggled down to the shops to pick up Pro Evo, undaunted by the fact that all previous efforts to recapture their glory on the Next Gen consoles had been woeful.

My first impressions of this weren’t good either. It’s slow. Frustratingly slow in fact, and hampered by the oddest definition of 360 degree movement I’d ever seen. Changing the game speed to +1 helps, but it’s more the sluggishness of the running than the pace of the game. Dribbling in PES feels like skiing in jam and despite some sporadically great animations (mainly for volleying and tricks, though I did manage to kick the ball into my own face at one point) the general impression is like watching 22 clones of the same very tired man running robotically on tread mills. To make up for this lack of pace everyone in the game strikes the ball with the force of an industrial slingshot and at the speed of a ground to air missile. Attempting to cushion a short throw in back to the taker isn’t avised.

However PES doesn’t languish behind FIFA in the style stakes as once was the case. In fact the in game graphics, weather and grass dynamics and heavier ball physics mean that – player animations aside – PES is the better looking of the two. The new manual passing is something PES and it’s cheerleaders have made a lot of this year, but it’s something FIFA has had as an option for 3 years now and Konami’s efforts aren’t as thorough as their rival’s, which can be a seriously difficult game when set to full manual. But the really frustrating thing about PES this year is that there are glimpses of it’s once great self. You’ll swing a low cross in from the right before hitting the post with a half volley and think “yeah, that was like real football” only to heave your way upfield from the next goal kick, ball thudding along noisily like someone hitting their head repeatedly against a block of wood  before doing a uncalled for overhead kick on the half way line and all illusions of greatness will be lost.

It’s not all bad though. The crossing is much better than FIFA’s cartoon swerve balls and the volleying remains it’s coup do grace. It’s extensive editing tools are another winner. You can edit everything on PES (which is handy for a game where Bolton are mystically called MiddleBrook) and even stadiums feature in this years edition. It’s photofit software also means making your virtual player look like you (or whomever) is a doddle. No Galactico team could genuinely be deserving of the title without Sly, Bruce and Arnie added to their roster, and now the possibility has never been better realised. In fact Arnie even runs like the Terminator. But then, they all do.

All in all however, it failed to leave it’s mark, leaving me to conclude that Konami have once again failed to top anything they managed on the PS2 and it’s sibling consoles. And so, in fact, had FIFA. Because for all it’s massive improvements and strides forward, there’s still a sneaking suspicion that there’s more of a ‘right way to do it’ than there is an organic, uninhibited freedom to your actions.

So the winner? Well FIFA is still the better game. But it’s also still exactly the same game with a haircut, and for that reason PES is the more interesting, and probably the one I’ll play more. But neither have it quite right yet and after only two weeks, I’m a little bored of both.

I might actually go outside and play real football. But I’m ill unfortunately. I’ve got a slight cold. It’s impossible to do anything with a slight cold.

You can follow Oscar on Twitter here; http://twitter.com/oscarpyejeary Where you can..like… you know…whatever.