Month: January 2011

Bad Cop, Good Cop

I’m still playing my PES2011 Master League career on a part-time basis. I play a session every other day or so, rather than every day as I used to. It is better this way.

But my distaste for PES2011’s general gameplay is actually growing. It’s being held in check, for now, by my desire to ‘complete’ this ML career with a Treble. After that point, I am very sad to say, it is unlikely that any more will be heard from PES2011 on this blog until my end-of-year review in September.

Below is the current league table—10 wins out of 10 is unprecedented for me in PES2011, or indeed in any PES for a good while now:

And here is my Champions League group table—I’ve let things slip with a defeat, but I think at least 4 points from the last two fixtures (vs. Chelsea and then Nakhoachev) should see me qualify:

My goal-scoring, particularly in Europe, needs a lot of improvement. The Champions League is the gateway to financial security. My run to the Final last season brought in enough cash to upgrade all my staff to level 5 and bring in new players. It really set me up for my current league title challenge. A repeat performance this season could set me up for a Treble next time.

I should stress that I am still playing on Top Player, my second attempt at doing so. I think it was a bit early for me before, when I switched up in my first season after promotion and was promptly relegated. I’m now used to PES2011’s little ways, for better or worse.

Worse! Ye gods but this game is hard to like. Unfortunately, I am now possessed with an urge to ‘complete’ PES2011 and have done with it. I want to get my Treble out of the way, and never play PES2011 again. This is probably not a good sign.

Have I been too harsh on PES2011 recently for rhetorical effect—to add a bit of pizzazz to a rather pedestrian blog? No, no I’m not. My current negative view of PES2011 is totally genuine and unforced.

Just how is playing PES2011 a horrible experience? So many reasons…

There’s the step-aside.

There’s the stumble (God, the stumble!).

Then there’s the extra touch, or touches, that the players always seem to want.

There’s the way players will automatically run-on with the ball, leading to much confusion and hilarity. (Yesterday I had Schwarz run-on with the ball in midfield for about 10 yards.)

There’s what I call the ‘proximity effect’, where the presence nearby of an opposition player will unaccountably destroy your player’s ability to make crisp contact with a football.

There’s the transparent interference with aerial through-balls. Often I will spot one of my players hanging off the shoulder of a side-back, as he should. Right, I think, time for a classic PES aerial through-ball. But the resulting through-ball, even if powered to its maximum, is a weak ‘scoop’ that finds the first defender’s head. It’s as if the game knows what I’m trying to do, and is programmed to prevent it from happening.

All of these factors and more make PES2011 a hesitant, jerky experience that simply fails to flow. Occasionally it flares into triumphant life. But not often enough.

There are still great moments, but do they outweigh the less-than-great, or terrible moments? Here’s a short video showing the two sides of PES2011—in which all may not be as it first seems….

Link: PES2011 Two Moments

In the ‘bad moment’, it at first seems that my defender has stood dumbly and failed to react to the cross. The ball has bounced off him directly to a CPU striker. Of course I was thrashing the header button to make a clearance, and nothing happened. Or did it?

In fact, looking closely, we can see that my other player in the vicinity makes a useless jump from behind—he was the player I had control of as the cross came in. So it was a player selection issue rather than a player behaviour issue. The logical player for me to have control of was not the player the game gave me control of.

The second, good moment really speaks for itself. It’s a proper chip, L1+shoot, scored with Schwarz from a raking through-ball. It’s the first actual chipped goal I scored intentionally. I’ve scored plenty of PES2011’s auto-lobbed goals, so this one felt like a little reward when it sailed over the keeper’s head, dropped just short of the goal-line, and bounced into the net. (And yes, that is Puyol chasing back for his current team—Birmingham City.)

Part-time lover

Since my grand announcement about scaling back my time with PES2011, I’ve been true to my word. Since Tuesday I have only played about 5 matches in total. That’s 2 in the League, 2 in the Champions League, and 1 in the domestic Cup.

I won both of the League matches. This keeps my astonishing—for me—record going. 7 wins out of 7. Top of the table. It’s still very early of course. But the first and most difficult part of the Treble could be mine to lose this year.

In the Champions League, I started out with a tough trip away to Chelsea. It was as tough and dour a game as they come in PES2011. In most respects it encapsulated the issues I have with this year’s edition of the game. From the first whistle to the last, I felt as if an invisible hand was squeezing the life out of my team.

My criticisms of PES2011 could be summed up thus: the many “checks and balances” that work against the human player oblige me to spend far too great a percentage of time feeling out of control.

But I won the match. I scored a late goal, and cackled with glee over it just as if the good old days had never gone. I took the 0-1 result and the three points. In my next Champions League game against Cluj I got a relatively disappointing 1-1 home draw, but it’s all points on the board.

The other branch of the hallowed Treble is the domestic Cup. In every Master League campaign since the dawn of time (well, since 2002 or so) I have played two-legged Cup matches. This year, I decided to give traditional English-style one-legged Cup matches a try.

I knew I’d have cause to regret it, and I do regret it. I played Machester City away, and it was a very similar match to the one against Chelsea. Except that this time I lost. I lost 1-0, to a late Man City goal, and that was that.

I cursed my decision to go with one-legged Cup matches. In a two-legged encounter, I felt I could have turned the tie around at my place.

But that’s the Treble for this season gone.

Now that I’m playing my seasons at a vastly reduced pace, it could be a while before I actually win a Treble. A very long while.

But that’s fine. PES2011 might not be a game I want to play every day, but it serves me well as an every-other-day kind of game. This’ll do me. Even if I don’t clinch the Treble until the leaves are turning yellow again and PES2012 is just around the corner, so be it.

And who knows. It just might be better this way.

Going part-time

Below is the draw for the Champions League group stage here in season 9 of my Master League career in the ill-fated PES2011:

The “ill-fated” PES2011? Alas, yes. I speak only for myself of course.

After many ups and downs with the game, I have come to a decision that no big TV is going to undo.

No, this time I’m not giving up PES2011 again. Master League will keep me coming back until the itch is fully scratched. It’s pointless to pretend that I could keep away from Master League.

But I am scaling things down. I usually play PES every day. It was one of the founding principles behind the blog. From now on, though, I will only play PES2011 occasionally—a few times a week, instead of every day.

The blog will continue with three posts per week, but it could take a month to get through a season. (Maybe the blog will actually be better this way?)

So what’s really my problem with PES2011? There are so many that I don’t know where to begin.

It’s my considered, rational, and totally genuine opinion that PES2011 is the worst PES since PES2008(PS3)—the game that introduced a serpent to our football gaming paradise. PES’s fall from grace has been as shocking and spectacular as any in gaming history. I believed that the many sins of next-gen PES were coming to an end with a very worthy PES2010. And then Konami all but promised that PES2011 was going to be a miraculous, total resurrection for the series. Instead, I find myself in limbo—or possibly in hell itself.

The game is billed as “Engineered For Freedom”, but the actual state of affairs is telegraphed from the start of every match. The kick-off is taken for you. The game plays itself, and continues trying to do so far, far too much.

I feel that I’m not really in control for a lot of the time in PES2011. It’s got nothing to do with how good or bad I am at the game. There are hard-coded elements of the game’s physics engine that no amount of R2 will alleviate.

The heavy touch and automatic run-on, where highly skilled players receiving a pass are obliged to run several yards with the ball before control is regained, is the most notorious example of this.

And the shooting is as floaty as FIFA’s was at its worst. The PESverse spent a lot of time LOLing at FIFA’s floaty shooting, back in the day. Ah but PES2011 is a PES game, so its floaty shooting is subtle and nuanced. Right.

There are glorious periods when the sun emerges from behind the clouds, but most of the time the ball is stuck under your players’ feet and your players’ feet are stuck in superglue. And the AI players chase you down and chase you down and chase you down and chase you down and chase you down until your possession degrades, somehow.

Or your players do the stupid, pointless, brain-dead ‘step-around’ of the ball (also known as the ‘approach shuffle’, or my own term the ‘half-moon shuffle’).

The step-around makes me seethe, every single time. The step-around, which real-life players do only very occasionally—usually as a defensive, ball-shepherding move—is perfomed by PES2011 players over and over, in all circumstances, in every part of the pitch. They even do it at lay-off free kicks.

I must have seen the step-around a thousand times by now, and I have come to loathe it more than I have any words to describe.

In a recent PES2011 session I was going to film every instance of the step-around for a special piss-taking video, but I’d have had to stop and film every minute, and I no longer feel that PES2011 is worth the effort.

Currently on the PES forums, an intriguing consensus is emerging. The game’s issues are obvious even to the hardest of hardcore fans. The solution seems to have two parts:

  1. Play PES2011 very sparingly—it’s the only way to enjoy the game.
  2. PES2012 is going to be The One; let’s just keep the faith for a few months, then we’ll see PES returning in all its glory to smite FIFA and raise its followers up to heaven.

At this stage I don’t want to think about point 2.

Point 1 is of much more immediate interest. The theory is that by not playing the game, you reduce your exposure to its issues, and appreciate its positive points more clearly.

What are the implications of this stance? After 15 years of ISS and PES, we have come to this: the current version of PES is best appreciated by not playing it.

That’s what the advice “Take some time off”, “only play every few days”, etc., all amounts to. Playing PES2011 less == liking PES2011 more. And it’s true, I’m already finding. But that it should come to this!

It might be argued that racking up a couple of hundred hours in any game will lead to the kind of over-familiarity that breeds contempt. I don’t accept that argument at all. Because if it was true, it would have been the case with ISS, ISS98, ISS Pro Evolution, ISS Pro Evolution 2, PES2, PES3, PES4, PES5, PES6, PES6(360), PES2008(PS2/PSP), PES2009, and PES2010.

Each one of those games received a similar amount of play-time from me. I played most of them every day, usually tailing off around July or August of every year. In a few cases (PES2, PES3, PES5) I played until literally the night before the next game was in the shops. In no case did intensive play result in the kind of contempt I feel for PES2011. On the contrary: the end result was something akin to religious awe.

So that’s it. Friday’s post might well cover just two or three matches. The character of this blog is going to change—hopefully for the better. Playing less matches should mean more scope to deal with areas of the game that I have traditionally glossed over or ignored (i.e., stats and things). The wide lens is going narrow focus.

An heretical thought has tickled at my mind over the past few years, and tickles again now: could Pro Evolution Soccer’s time actually be over?

Oh, Pro Evolution Soccer… With every year that passes, its chance of redemption gets evermore slender. When will this most prodigal of gaming sons come home?

Back on Top

Season 9 of my Master League career in PES2011 is underway. But could it be my last season on PES2011, ever? It’s entirely possible.

I’ve had a few good sessions on the game. I’ve moved up to Top Player, and it hasn’t really been a problem at all. Last time I tried to graduate, I was unprepared for the staggering amount of pressure from the CPU players.

You can rarely put your figurative foot on the ball. Of course, that means the challenge is to find space, or create it from scratch if need be. And I can do that, sometimes. Most of the time, however, I’m constantly harried and pressured into making the next pass. It feels, from moment to moment, almost exactly like playing online—which is not a good thing in my view.

I’ll talk some more about my feelings on PES2011’s Top Player gameplay on Wednesday. (Advance summary: football gaming is heading in the wrong direction, and it’s already too late to do anything about it.)

For season 9’s home kit I decided to go for something a little different. It was time for a change from the dominant sky blue. I went for a pretty random monochrome checkerboard pattern with sky blue trimmings.

It took a few matches to get used to, but I am used to it now—and it seems to have brought me some good fortune on the pitch.

The new strip is being modelled at the top of this post by my new 17-year-old Youth promotee, DE LA PENA. He’s rated 71 OVR with a little star next to his name. He’s got some impressive back-office stats. Already he’s good enough to start, but won’t displace my first-choice right-sided midfielder, James Wallace, just yet.

I’ve been very busy in the transfer market overall, where I picked up some quality signings.

Defence and midfield were the priorities. I bought CHIGRAT (CB) and JIG (SW/CB), which kind of overstocks me with centre-backs. I also promoted another Youth, an RB named AZARA.

I also found a pearl of a left-sided midfielder, T. OAR (91 OVR), whose name gives me great scope for punning post titles in the future. (Assuming there is a future, of course.)

I started the transfer/financial window with a whopping £68,000,000 in the bank. My run to the Final of last season’s Champions League was very lucrative indeed.

As well as buying players, I upgraded all my staff to level 5. All of them. When the financial window closed, I had around £400,000 left. Perhaps I should have kept a few million back. Will my largesse cost me further down the line? Possibly, but I prefer to risk it.

And so on to playing the actual games—on Top Player for the first time since my relegation season a month ago. As already stated, in my next post I’ll be exploring in some detail my feelings about Top Player, which should be the ultimate refinement of PES2011’s gameplay. For now, just look at this table—played 5, won 5, and top of the league:

Is that good or what? After all my tribulations with this game, I do like the look of that table. It makes me think that the Treble could be there for the taking.

I’ll need more goals, of course. As things stand I’m winning games 3-0 or 4-0, and then barely scraping a 1-0 in the next.

I scored one memorable goal, playing in my new second strip (sky blue shirts, white shorts).

PES2011’s scissors kicks are unfortunately rather common, and just one of a number of frankly bewildering aspects to this year’s PES. You see the scissors kick animation fire at least once per match, for either side.

But occasionally they do look good and more importantly feel good to score. I’ve bagged a few, but the one I present below is the best that I’ve scored. Mainly because it’s a slightly different scissors kick from the usual. It comes from a wide cross, rather than from a penalty box clearance.

The goal-scorer is McManaman, a former Youth player who is now almost ready to take over from Zoua as a first-choice CF:

Link: Flying scissors kick in PES2011

Now I really want to score a scissors kick with my DMF, Runna. Then I can make a post entitled “Runna With Scissors”. I can dream.