7 days living with... FIFA 11
First up a confession: I'm a total PES devotee. I've been playing Konami's football franchise ever since it burst onto the PS2 back in 2001. I've bought and played every version since, and consider myself something of a PES connoisseur.
Before that I'd been a FIFA fan, beginning with the Mega Drive version way back in 1993. But towards the end of the 90s I grew tired of its unrealistic gameplay and its dedication to minor details rather than authenticity.
When PES came along, with its measured passing system, its variable running techniques, and its far more accurate shooting engine, I jumped ship, thinking that FIFA was dead in the water.
But over the last two or three years I have to admit that PES has let me down. It seems to have lost its way in the seventh-gen console, HD graphic-based revolution. Sure PES 2011 was a major improvement on 2009 and 2010's efforts - but it still left me wanting.
And during this time I've been constantly barraged by my FIFA playing chums, feeding me stories of a much better gameplay engine and a vastly improved AI experience. And many of these FIFA players were ex-Pro Evoers as well.
So when the reviews for FIFA 11 consistently outscored the much-improved PES 2011, I decided that I had to give it a chance. I owed the 11-year old me who opened up FIFA International Soccer (with Platty on the cover) on Christmas Day 1993 that much at least.
So I spent 7 days with the game to see if it could win me over. And this is how I got on.....
So the game fires up and Kaka is walking down the tunnel. Why he is on his own, I don't know, but I do know one thing - it looks bloomin' brilliant. But that's what FIFA is all about though isn't it? All the looks but little else?
I needed to get my game on, but first a few admin tasks to take care of. I admitted to the game that I had no FIFA 10 experience, but I did set my football sim history to "Experienced". Arrogant? Maybe, but I thought it would be okay.
I jump straight into a match, an exhibition game with the difficulty level set on semi-pro. My main concern was the differing control options from PES, but luckily there's an "Alternate" button setup that may as well read "for Pro Evo players".
Barcelona (me) vs. Blackpool (CPU). It's hardly a fair fight I know - but on semi-pro, and considering it's my first proper FIFA game for over 10 years I thought it only right. I win 2-1 with a last minute David Villa tap in, but the scoreline is generous to Blackpool. I missed five or six glorious chances. I found myself trying to score chipped goals and the like as I would on PES - clearly running before I could walk.
My first impressions are that it seems okay. Nothing too brilliant, but quick and responsive. But all a bit different.
I play four more matches that night - against better opposition and win two and draw two. I'm not hooked yet, but I'm definitely eyeing the bait.
Rather than a long and boring explanation of how I got to this point, let's just say that after a mammoth five hour session, I am now fully into the FIFA swing. I'm on professional difficulty setting now, and I won the World Cup with England - so I must be good.
I even had a few matches on World Class difficulty setting, and experienced defeat for the first time. But glorious defeat it was (think Newcastle in those 3-4 encounters with Liverpool in the 90s) not humiliating defeat (think West Ham most weekends).
The game is brilliant, there's no denying that and I am feeling almost converted already.
Remember that arrogance I spoke about earlier - well, it has come back to haunt me. I decide that after my success yesterday that I'm good enough to go online and take on the best that Xbox LIVE can throw at me. When playing PES I usually hold my own online and rarely get beaten, so I figure this should be the same.
To say that I had my arse handed to me on a plate wouldn't really do the humiliation justice. I won my first couple of games but then met five or six opponents who had clearly put in the years when it comes to online FIFA gaming - they were like the EA fan versions of my Pro Evo online persona.
The final straw is a 5-1 smashing by a German chap, whose English was plenty good enough to let me know just how bad he thought I was.
I'm sulking after yesterday, so I decide to take out some online revenge on my nephew, who has only been playing FIFA himself since Christmas.
Over five matches I shave it 3-2 and I feel much better. There's nothing like beating a 12 year kid to lift your self esteem.
My good lady is out for the evening, so it's a Friday night of Dundee United career mode for me. Living the Dream or what?
I won't bore you with the details, but let's just say that after 15 games of the season, the Old Firm have some catching up to do, and super striker Paul Lamkin is looking more like Ronaldo (fat not flash) with every game.
I control the whole team of course, not just my player - I'm far too much of a control freak to let any of my teammates steal my Virtual Pro's glory. I did mention my arrogance didn't I?
I take a day off from FIFA and I play PES 2011 instead. Well, I say play - I turn it off after 20 minutes in anger.
It just doesn't feel very slick compared to FIFA. The players feel sluggish and some of the AI defending is woeful.
I think it took spending some time with a far superior game to make me realise just how far PES has fallen. Sure, the 2011 version is much better than the awful 2009 - 2010 titles, but it's still got some serious issues that need ironing out.
Sunday is the day for watching real football, not playing a virtual representation. At least that's what I thought anyway.
According to my good lady, Sunday is also the day for shopping - and lots of it. Who knew?
It doesn't matter though, I'd played enough FIFA 11 this week to make my mind up.
It's clear that FIFA 11 is indeed a better game than PES 2011. In fact, it's a much better game than PES ever has been - even in its 2006-2008 glory days when it was easily the number one football sim franchise.
It's just so slick, so natural and so god-damn good looking - which was once my biggest criticism of the franchise. I'd accused it of being a bimbo of a game: of looking good, but with nothing substantial to keep my attention long term.
But now it has. It has the gameplay to match the looks. And that's the crucial ingredient.
It's not possible to totally dismiss Konami, however, especially having given the Japanese games company over 10 years commitment and having spent hundreds, nay thousands, of hours engrossed within its football game.
So many hours that I can feel the PES influence in FIFA. Sure, it's a better game - but it's a better game because it has built on the success that Konami built with PES.
Gone are the audacious overhead kicks from 30 yards sailing into the top corner with a simple tap of the button, or the hacking down the goal-keepers with an unrealistic waist high-lunge when he has ball-in-hand.
In their place are scrappy goals where you've held off defenders to toe-poke in after the the keeper has fumbled a cross, and cross field "Hollywood" balls that are easily snuffed out by intelligent AI defenders.
It's much more like real football, and that's why it's a winner. It's an ideology that Konami started with PES way back in 2001 when EA were more interested in getting the correct number of hoops on the Celtic shirt.
Living with FIFA 11 for 7 days has been a doddle - and I'm definitely a convert now. In fact, I know that I'll be living with the game for a much longer time (I've got my Dundee United season to finish off for a start).
But I'll always have a space for PES in my heart. You never forget your first love, even if it did treat me badly over the last few years.