If you've been lusting after Pro Evolution's iPhone debut, you've assuredly been hoping it's been worth the wait.
It's a pleasure to report, thankfully, that there's a palpable sense throughout PES 2010 that Konami, rather than stalling its release, has simply been working from a more ambitious blueprint than its rivals. Perhaps for the first time, PES 2010 feels less like a football game for iPhone and more like a bonafide football game.
Its greater ambition is best highlighted by the sheer proficiency of its three – yes, three – control methods.
The default setup has you take charge using a virtual analogue stick on the left, and two buttons on the right for passing, shooting, pressurising, and tackling. No doubt it'll be familiar if you've tackled football on iPhone before.
One touch, one goal
It's the one touch setup, however, that impresses the most.
The analogue stick remains, but all other actions are triggered by taps made elsewhere on the screen. Short touches instigate passes when you're in possession. Conversely, holding a finger to the screen results in a shot - a power bar pops up at the bottom letting you know just when you should let go.
The game handles your inputs similarly when out of possession, though full-on tackles are usually only triggered when your player is in a position to do so without chopping his opponent's limbs off as a result.
Even the accelerometer setup – which, admittedly, takes some getting used to – has its strengths, turning what is otherwise a passer's paradise into a battle of the long, winding runs.
The one touch passes are thankfully retained here, with all other movement handled by tilting the device in the direction of your choosing.
When in possession, this works especially well: dribbles into the box past two or three defenders are commonplace. However, defending can become difficult because it's hard to see what's going on when the screen is tilted to and fro.
Pass and move
Nevertheless, the fact that such care has been paid to controls that could easily have been strapped on as a gimmick shows the level of care invested into PES 2010 as a whole. This is a game with high standards, and the impression is only strengthened by the matches themselves.
On the pitch, PES 2010 is very much a thinking man's game. Matches feel slow compared to the likes of FIFA 10 or X2 Football 2010, but they're never short on action because the AI is the best yet seen on iPhone.
Your teammates make runs at just the right time, meaning creating chances comes from holding possession until you spot them in open space. This gives each game a real sense of flow, and the defences you have to pick apart are no pushover, either.
As such, PES 2010 does something fundamental that none of its rivals has managed: it teaches you something in defeat.
There's little luck here. If you lose, it's usually because the other team has opened you up fair and square, rather than because the opposition has put together a scrappy goal or your back line has handed them a chance on a plate.
As a result, it's perfectly possible to watch a match unfold on PES 2010 as it might in real life.
The fact that the player animations are a league above those offered by the game's rivals – making FIFA and co. look visually archaic, at times – does no harm, either.
It's a pity such confidence couldn't have been driven into any form of online mode, which is sadly lacking.
PES 2010 also suffers from a lack of licences – while it appears to have a full roster of Italian and Spanish teams, for instance, the English league is populated by fictitious alternatives.
Even the Champions League and Europa League have mixed line ups, with the likes of Liverpool popping up, but Manchester Utd predictably substituted with the Manchester Reds.
Regardless, while some of its opposition can boast all the big names, PES 2010 can console itself with having the best engine out there.
The matches are a genuine step up from anything that's come before, and while such solid foundations still manage to leave plenty of room for improvement, PES 2010 proves to be just as great as it is late.
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