PES 2010 represents that moment in an aging footballer’s life when he realises his career is in a steady decline. The series has struggled over recent seasons, persisting with a struggling engine while rival FIFA has reinvented its own, and playing an increasingly stiff and mannered game of football as a result. Each year we hope the game will throw off its problems and recapture the old glory. This isn’t the year.
Why? Because it’s too rigid and lacks the grace and subtle complexity of earlier games. PES 2010 is brittle and mechanical, relying on an engine full of scripted animations and ever more obvious string-pulling. Of course football games are orchestrating the entire match around you, but they should hide it better than this. You can see the cogs whirring away – players jerking in and out of a run animation as the game fixes their speed to ensure they intersect with a through ball, or defenders stepping out of line nonsensically to create a scoring chance. Once, while our Fabio Aurelio was charging down a shot on the edge of the Liverpool box, he was outrageously shunted a couple of metres to the left, leaving us so outraged that we filmed it on our phone and sent it to everyone we know.
There’s still joy to be wrung out of the football here, and play in and around the box is a highlight. Crossing the ball is more direct and dangerous than in FIFA, and the clipped, grid-like passing makes for some satisfyingly worked moves through defences. But controlling the ball – something prone to freakish eruptions in the game’s physics anyway – now feels even clumsier, with players taking more touches and the traditionally crucial faked-shot-and-cut-back made deliberately less reliable.
The presentation is a mix of the good and the shambolic. Player likenesses are unnervingly accurate – they’re detailed and coarse, and a bit like staring at the real people suspended in amber. And the Champions League licence, dwarfed as it may be by FIFA’s luxurious swag bag of kits and badges, is very well handled, with the atmosphere of the floodlit matches captured perfectly. But the commentary is an embarrassment. Mark Lawrenson sounds like a nervous kid on assembly day, while Jon Champion is blathering and inaccurate – several players in the game have “unrivalled stamina”, while shots fizzing past the post are often “veering wildly off course”.