October 17, 2011
It’s the time of year when two heavyweight contenders once again slug it out to see who will once again reign supreme over Christmas, and that’s just the X-Factor! However, in the serious world of video games there is an even more prestigious title afoot. That of the world's best football game (that actually involves kicking balls with your feet and not running around with them in your hand). Sure, it’s a long winded title but that doesn’t stop FIFA and PES from gunning for it anyway. With FIFA 12 already hitting a screamer into the top corner this year, how will PES 2012 react? It is fair to say that this is a series in transition with its once unbeatable brand of footballing realism proving elusive to reacquire.
Thankfully things on the pitch have certainly taken a step in the right direction this year, with players now allowed the ability to maneuver their team off the ball, take control of players at set pieces and also provide a more fluid passing experience. Whereas FIFA has placed the emphasis on a more defensive outlook to play, PES is firmly about swift counter attacks with pacy players able to burst past the last man with ease and deliver a killer pass. In fact it is not unusual for you to spend an entire game going end to end with an opponent.
Passing feels a lot faster and crisper this time around, though it falls short of being able to play the same fast-paced one touch football that FIFA does at its best. Instead you feel that players can use speed again as a valid weapon in their arsenal, quickly bursting into the box and leaving slower players in their wake. Too often in the past, PES has made attackers feel sluggish and too easily caught but now the balance feels much better. However, when you get through on goal the game becomes a touch frustrating.
Even with the best attackers in the game, the chance of scoring a goal seems to be fifty-fifty at best. All too often your player will hoof the ball wide or straight at the keeper for no apparent reason. If you send over a cross to a totally unmarked player then you have more chance of seeing them spoon a header miles over the bar than you have of seeing it nestle in the back of the net. No doubt this unpredictability is meant to better represent real life, but we have to say that if a top striker is clean through on goal then they will probably score more often than not and PES really doesn’t make it feel like that's the case.
The ability to move players off the ball also allows for some interesting attacking options, though it can become a touch fiddly when the game is being played at a frantic pace. More useful is the ability to control individual players at corners and move them into position to receive an incoming cross, though it has to be said that the AI is pretty adept at blocking your runs no matter what you choose to do. It's also safe to say that while the attacking element of the game is pretty much spot on - aside from chance based goalscoring - the defending seems to suffer in comparison.
Players feel distinctly lightweight when they are on the ball, and even minor contact can see them brushed off the ball. Tackles are suitably meaty but often feel too sluggish to match the pace of the game, and players will all too easily evade the attentions of the back four assuming you pay attention. The same holds true for the AI though and at times it feels like whenever they actually want to score they just will, such is the ease with which they seem to waltz through your defence. As such the emphasis is firmly on the offensive side of the beautiful game, which is a good thing for free flowing and high scoring matches but for those looking at a string of clean sheets then you may be disappointed.
With the core gameplay getting back to its best, PES 2012 is certainly heading in the right direction but a lack of interesting modes lets the side down. The Football Life mode houses the player, manager and club mode options, all of which help you progress through your career with a bevy of cutscenes and choices to make. Sadly though, they all feel decidedly lightweight thanks to a lack of leagues to choose from and a distinct paucity of real life players. Being a Club Boss is hardly the stuff of legend either and feels just like playing a poor man's Football Manager only with the tactical depth to make it work. You can also take part in Master League again as well as the Champions League and Copa Libertadores to boot, which are nice options but feel a bit alienated from the rest of the options to be anything but a brief diversion.
You can head online to form or join communities which is a nice option this time around, as well as taking part in online Master League action. Matches do seem to suffer from a bit of slowdown, which has plagued the series for a while now, and it’s disappointing to see this issue still being left unresolved. If you do get a good connection then the game is as good as ever, and playing against a rival human offers a much more thrilling experience than playing the AI will ever do.
Unfortunately the achievement list is a fairly bland one, and pretty much just gives out points for playing each of the main modes to completion. Most of the tasks revolve around the Become a Legend mode which is a shame, as Master League has always been the main focus for us personally, but that may just be because we’ve always created a super player modeled in our own image with which to decimate our rivals. Sorry kids, but we have to fulfill our unrealised football fantasies somehow. Thankfully you won't need to invest hundreds of hours in online matches or league modes as has been the case in the past so this is one thousand points that should be fairly manageable for even football newcomers, if such a person even exists.
To be honest Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 still lags behind FIFA 12, but at least now the main reason is down to presentation rather than playability. It is still a slower, more considered approach to football and that might not appeal to everyone but at least it feels like PES again rather than being a drab wannabe. Matches are unpredictable and entertaining, though often frustrating in one on one situations, and that is more often than not a benefit. PES 2012 is the best Pro Evolution Soccer offering in a long time and gives fans hope that the series is back on track after a few years in the wilderness.
Drab menu music and dubious commentary hardly add up to a resounding feast for your ears. Still, at least you can hit the mute button.
Fluid animations, though some of the player models look a bit off, and animations can stutter during intense periods.
A step back to greatness, though passing can sometimes feel heavy and shooting feels more like a random roll of the dice each and every time. Still the unpredictability and pace of games always ensures a frenetic burst of action.
The same few modes, and dubiously named teams, though the addition of Club Boss mode is a welcome, if rather shallow alternative to the other modes on offer. It still feels as though presentation and options come a distant second to everything else.
A fairly bland list that sees you given points for playing through pretty much every mode, though a large chunk have been dumped into the Become a Legend mode, which is a shame.
PES 2012 looks and feels a lot better than it has in a long time, and has certainly closed the gap on FIFA. The only problem now is the often frustrating randomness of the game, which is both a blessing and a curse really, and the fact that the whole experience still seems rather light on alternative options to counter FIFA’s glittering presentation. Back of the net – but via a three yard toe poke rather than a twenty yard rocket.