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Many fans of this popular gaming series know how stale the PES (Winning Eleven in some countries) franchise has become. Many have persistently bemoaned the spiral downwards after changes came after Pro Evolution Soccer 6 - arguably the best PES by far. That is, until now.
The first things you'll notice when the disc is loaded in your Xbox is how slick and sophisticated the menus are. Neatly laid out at the bottom are icons which to the average football fan are self-explanatory. But it's okay if you don't know what they are, as selecting over them with the left or right on your control pad will also bring up the competition or the mode's name.
The menu looks very 21st Century - something that its rival FIFA never seems to be able to master. It also flows well from one to another without the need for load screens or stuttering, which FIFA is known to do as it communicated with the servers and so on.
Loading straight into a match is simple, selecting your team can be a struggle, given the licensing issues with many clubs (mainly Premier League clubs in England) while the biggest teams in the world remain, such as Barcelona, Manchester United and Juventus. Licenses, of course, cover the correct logos, names, kits, players and stadiums - something PES has always lagged behind with. The licences included in this year's version cover the entire Spanish Liga BBVA (La Liga) , Japan's J-League 1 and 2, the Dutch Eredivisie and Ligue 1 from France. Italy's Serie A clubs and the Brasilerao (Brazil) league clubs have licenses in there, but the league omitted their license from the games.
Competition-wise, this is the only officially licensed UEFA Champions League and Europa League game, with both incorperated into the leagues and with their own game modes.
While the kit name and numbering isn't official, it's passable, and will be correct with the above licensed teams. Player faces are where the game truly gets exciting though, having individually scanned every licensed player possible. The faces are magnificent parallels of their real-life counterparts, and look stunning when in full attire of the team colours.
The stadiums are also scanned seat-for-seat, license permitting again. Juventus' stadium in particular looks stunning.
The mechanics of the game still need a lot of work if FIFA enthusiasts are going to switch over though. While the controls are simple and effective out of the box, sometimes it's hard to understand why certain things happen, such as the inability to shoot if you're sprinting with the ball. But tactically, the game surpasses FIFA, having added a very intuitive ProActive AI. This is basically the computer controlling the runs of other players in a mature way. Say, there is no left-winger and the midfield in front of you is closing up. The ProActive AI will ensure that the left-back give you an extra option to give the ball to, making the player run into the open space like a real person would. This does appear in FIFA titles, but can be infuriating at times.
Such things as 'Knuckleball' shots have been included as well, which I'd not heard of until purchasing the game. It requires you to power up your shot bar, then tapping shoot again as he is about to strike the ball. This riffles the ball towards the goal like a rocket, but is a very hard thing to master. If you don't get it right, the power bar will just increase, and you'll sky your shot. Unleashing one of these, however, is very satisfying.
Goalkeepers have also received some significant upgrades from previous versions, allowing them to be more realistic in situations you would expect them to be. I personally have found average goalkeepers prone to mistakes, such as the inability to get up quick enough after parrying a shot. I guess this is to add realism - you wouldn't expect Stefano Sorrentino to be as reactive as Iker Casillias, for example.
Holding possession is a doddle in the game, however shooting is where the challenge can come. There is an ability to finesse your shots, but without direction, these will just go straight to the goalkeeper, so try and get them as far into the corner as you can without sending it wide.
Animations after fouls are much more realistic than FIFA also. The players will argue, shout, confront one another and be dragged away from each other - something taken out of FIFA to promote sportsmanship, even though it is still seen on football pitches the world over. The controversial diving technique is also still included in this installment, as it has been for a number of years from Konami, the developer of the game. Again, a realistic element of football (as prominent as ever in the footballing world today) included for the user to have that ultimate experience while playing the game. Just be careful, because the referee will book you if you clearly dive.
Certain things you might consider a foul may very well not be, so don't stop play when you think you've won a free kick. The referees seem a lot less strict on this game than on many other versions I've ever seen.
Of course, Online features are present, allowing you to create a team and take them online to compete against other PESers. It allows transfers of players also, which is a very unique tool to have.
Online access does require a key which comes packed with brand new copies of the game. Pre-Owned copies will more than likely have had this code used and render it useless. In which case, you must purchase a new one through the game's screens.
As well as the UEFA Champions League mode, Quick-Play Match mode and Online, there is Football Life, which is your chance to create, well, you, and become a legend through the ranks of the PES League and beyond. With the use of an Xbox Live Vision Camera (available for next-to-nothing these days, and sometimes bundled with You're In the Movies), you can take a photo of your face to plaster onto the Legend edit. I've had mixed experiences with this, as the camera is very sub-standard in quality. Matching the saturation and the red, green and blue with the skin tone can be difficult, but with this function having been in PES for a number of years, I can't understand why Konami haven't allowed users to just select a picture to stick on the Legend from a flash drive, for example. Vision Cameras are massively outdated, but if you can match it up, it will look quite impressive. Not as impressive as FIFA's alternative with Be A Pro building on the official website, but it's still fun, in my experience.
Become a Legend will take a while to reach the pinnacle of your expectations - you are, after all, starting at the very bottom as a 17 year old breaking into a no-name side and with an agent negotiating with any bigger club you may wish to join. You also earn a wage, XP points that can be spent on upgrades to your performance points, fitness, etc. and you will also unlock items such as boots along the way too.
Become a Legend is definitely more of a career mode for the long-term.
The training mode will allow you to practice and master the tricks and techniques in-game in training drills. - a handy tool if you're new to PES, and something that will prompt as soon as you load the game up.
The game is enjoyable. The mechanics still need work, as I feel they still act too robotic at times. The fluidity is good, however, and the graphics at their best are a good match for the rivalry with FIFA, and the game modes are plentiful. Become a Legend does take time.
The game is currently priced at £35 at certain supermarkets such as Tesco and online at Zavvi, however I would expect this to come down as Christmas draws nearer.