Friday, 22 October 2010

Pro Evo 2011

Why do Brazilian teams have no decent strikers these days? What happened to the days when they'd have Pele, Garrincha, any number of top-notch strikers leading the line, sticking in goal after goal?

I ask as I've just started playing in the Copa Libertadores on the new Pro Evo. Playing as Internacional, I have a choice between Alecsandro, an exceptionally slow, cumbersome striker who can't head a ball to save his life, and Ilan, the West Ham reject. After Alecsandro firing blanks in the first play-off game against Cruziero, Ilan came in and also fired blanks, but he did set up D'Alessandro for the goal that put me into the group stages. After a 0-0 draw in which Ilan could have scored about 8 times but didn't have the skill, he finally got off the mark in the 4-0 drubbing of Colo-Colo.

Yes, he scored a hat-trick, but my point is that he isn't very good.

Which is a shame because the rest of the side is very decent. As is the game itself. Pro Evo seems to have finally done that thing it hasn't done since Pro Evo 6 on the PS2 and evolved to finally announce its arrival proper on the next-gen consoles. It's fallen behind FIFA this last couple of years, but if it continues to develop like this it'll soon be back on its perch, rather than be looking covetously at FIFA.

So Pro Evo 2010 was a frustrating experience. The gameplay was stale in places, lacked variation and felt like the designers had fallen into complacency. Graphically it was stuck on the PS2, with the animations anything but next-gen. And to compound it all, the overall experience was shallow, with the game also failing to provide any real challenge until the difficulty was set to World Class.

This year the game is a challenge again. New systems have been implemented and, while they're far from perfect, they push the game in the right direction. Gone is the on-rails short passing system, replaced by power bars requiring precision and concentration. The feeling of satisfaction when passing around a defence when 3-0 up with a series of perfectly-judged short passes is akin to the Pro Evo of old.

The pacing of the game is also much-changed. It demands tempo. You're put under pressure from the off, closed down, forced into quick decisions. The ball has to be kept moving - none of this pass it around the back four getting used to the game malarkey. If you can settle, then you can dictate the pace of the game.

When you don't have the ball - which will be most of the time until you suss out that the problem with your passing is that you're not judging it right and selling your midfield short all the time - pressing X to close down and relying on that to get you out of trouble won't cut the mustard any more. It's about careful positioning, then timing the tackle with X. Yes, you can still hold X and win the ball that way, but half of the time this'll just result in an out-of-position back four and gaps the opposition can exploit.

And the defence on the other side is, as mentioned, much changed as well. It's in your face from the off, getting in tight. There's more emphasis on the physical side of the game, men going shoulder to shoulder far more often. Sadly, this can still result in ridiculous free kicks going one way or the other.

So the general gameplay is better, and we haven't covered the linking tricks bit. Which will be problematic for me because I'm no longer about the single individual on the wing who can run faster and out-trick the full-back before whipping one onto the bonce of the onrushing striker. I'm a pass and mover, playing a more incisive version of Spain's tiki-taka, or whatever they call it. Though from reports it works.

The experience is enhanced by better presentation. The commentary suffers from the Curse of Jim Beglin (the capital 'c' entirely warranted here, grammar fans), but that aside it's a step above what it was. No more name plates at the bottom, the score in a BBC/Sky style box rather than floating with badges and gaudy numbers at the top, better crowd noise (but still not as good as FIFA), national anthems... It's not crucial for the gameplay, but it can make all the difference between a good game and a great one, although this Pro Evo still has a bit to go before it pushes back towards greatness.

There are weaknesses a plenty. Strikers don't get into the box, the shooting's a little wayward (but still better than FIFA's predict-o-strike system), penalties are still pot luck and goalkeeper AI still lacks something. But we are going back in the right direction.

The more observant readers of this will have noticed I haven't mentioned the individual modes. That's because I haven't played online Master League yet and want to do a separate blog on it if it's any good.

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