The Pro Evolution Soccer series has been stuck in a rut for the past few years, with gameplay that has stagnated and a feature set that has failed to keep up with rival FIFA. Thankfully, Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 addresses these criticisms, with improved gameplay, new features such as the Online Master League, and a higher visual standard than ever before. It's certainly slower and more difficult than last year's game, and therefore takes longer to learn, but as it retains the same fluid gameplay, fans of the series should embrace the changes. It's not in the same league as FIFA when it comes to online integration and presentation, but it's a welcome return to form for a series that has spent the last few years in relegation territory.
Fans of the series should appreciate how different the gameplay is within seconds of picking up a controller. The control system has been tweaked so that you now have to guide the ball much more precisely using the new power bar that appears above players' heads. Whereas passes previously found their way to the recipients' feet automatically, you now have to combine power and direction to place the ball exactly where you want it to go. This can result in a frustrating number of misguided passes at first, but as you get used to the system, you can mix up passing styles and really control the movement of the ball, rather than being dependent on where the AI player happens to be. The game is slower and more considered as a result, and it rewards players who master these techniques by allowing them to dictate the flow of the game.
The improved control system complements the new player animations, which are more graceful and realistic than before. There's a much better feeling of physicality between players as they jostle for the ball; if it's in the air, for example, players will compete for the header in a convincing manner. The downside to this physicality is that the game is now too strict on fouls; if you attempt to put pressure on an attacker, you can expect him to fall over and earn himself a free kick as a result. However, the impact of the changes is mostly positive--players no longer perform the same animations en masse (such as before kickoff), and you can even see their eyes following the ball during replays, which adds to the realism.
Last year's Pro Evo boasted accurate player likenesses, but thanks to an overall graphical improvement this year, the game is finally looking like a true current-generation title. Aside from better-looking players, the onscreen information is presented more efficiently, with power bars above players' heads, rather than at the bottom of the screen. The default camera position has changed to a lower TV-style wide angle, performing more dynamic movements as it's tracking the action, even if it is occasionally slow to keep up. There has also been a change to the commentary team; while Jon Champion remains, Jim Beglin replaces Mark Lawrenson as the analyst. He adds a little more insight and enthusiasm to the discussion, but overall the commentary is still one of Pro Evo's weak points.