Pro Evolution Soccer 2012

These improvements are subtle in their execution, and you may fall into the mistake of thinking little has been done.

By fishdalf, Posted 22 Oct 2011

As a long-standing buyer of football games throughout a fair few generations now I’ve come to watch various series’ rise and fall. FIFA was once a dominant force that, over time, rested on its laurels and offered us up some pretty horrendous games in the early to mid naughties. With such a wealth of resources behind them though and at the rate the company grew it was only a matter of time before that was put right, and after building from the ground up they’ve never been in a stronger position; recreating the beautiful game in stunning fashion.

Pro Evolution Soccer has recently suffered its own dip in form with some lacklustre offerings that claimed to be revolutionary but with gameplay that didn’t match what was being talked about. It’s truly a sad time when an annual release still can’t live up to one of its predecessors six years past, in PES 5, which is still regarded as the best the series has to offer.

Konami knew themselves that they weren’t living up to the bill and radical changes needed to be made if they were to be truly great once again, and like many top clubs of the modern day era, they’ve tried to invest the right way, with their own youth system so to speak. Coming up with fresh ideas that change core gameplay elements and attempt to expand upon them for a more realistic and satisfying football experience.

PES 2011 was the most evident sign that thing’s were changing and a handful of ideas were thrown into the mixing pot, some hit and some miss, that could be potential game changers, and it really felt like a stepping stone to bigger and better thing’s. PES 2012 takes these ideas and refines upon them, streamlining what works and ditching what doesn’t – that horrendous penalty system for example. These improvements are subtle in their execution, and you may fall into the mistake of thinking little has been done, but you’d be far off the mark.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2012, Review, PES, FIFA

There’s no better way to illustrate the point than with the Active AI, which is where an abundance of time has clearly been invested. I can already envisage the groans that come from the mere mention of AI improvements, after the horror show that was TeamVision from a few years back, that didn’t really do much of anything. Leave those reservations in the past - where they belong - as this is a welcome addition. Players are injected with a new life, constantly moving about the pitch to create space for themselves and others off the ball. Not just your basic train track movement either, as players run off on tangents and constantly check their runs to ensure they don’t get caught offside.

You’ll now be spoilt for choice at the plethora of options that unfold before you with the ball at your feet. You’ll see full backs bombing on down the wing, expectantly waiting to curl a killer cross into the box. Central midfielders never stop running and feinting to make themselves available for a pass, and when it arrives to them, forwards will jostle for position and attack free space on the pitch, giving you the option of a more fluid build up of play from the back, or if you so wish, executing a defence-splitting long ball into the channel. The system isn’t perfect though, and like the games of old, you’ll occasionally get frustrated at the lack options in front of you; forced to play a linear style of play until the right options open up, but it’s definitely a base for improvement and is far from cosmetic in its implementation.

The computer-controlled teams certainly aren’t there to make up the numbers either, with veteran players in for quite a surprise upon jumping in on top player. They’ll pass and move with aplomb and find gaps down channels that you thought you had covered, before slotting home a cool finish passed your flailing keeper, and I’m referring to the regular difficulty setting. Even moving right down to beginner poses a challenge in itself and they’ll still bag the odd few goals against you if your attention isn’t fully focused on the job at hand. Each team playing with their own signature style, which may not one-hundred percent represent their true-to-life counterparts but comes pretty close.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2012, Review, PES, FIFA

The way for one to defend themselves against such threats is with a backline that works as a team and fills in the space left by teammates. Applying constant pressure to the opponent, cutting off passing angles, and if needs be, tracking the run of a striker and closing down the space quickly. This is now carried out easier than ever with a flick of your right analogue stick towards whomever you so wish, selecting any player off the ball in any situation it’s called for, and utilising them. This eradicates the frenetic changing of players to select the right one, only to see the striker run off into the distance and slide the ball into the back of the net. If an opposing player scores now you know that it’s your fault and not the fault of some Japanese developers who don’t know their Steven Gerrard from their Anthony Gerrard.

That’s not all your right stick can be used for now; in fact it actually holds the key to the majority of the games new features, namely off-the-ball player control that allows two players to be manoeuvred simultaneously. This can be done in two ways depending on preference, and one is a little easier than the other. The first is by pointing your stick at the desired player whilst in possession of the ball and pushing it down, thus triggering a forward run from the player. The other requires a change in settings, allowing for full control of the players’ directions, by keeping your stick pressed and changing directions as you do so. Controlling the player in possession at the same time requires an enormous amount of skill, patience and practise - like rubbing your belly and tapping your head - but when mastered can reap huge rewards, allowing for the placement of players exactly where you want them for inch perfect plays.

Those fretting that the system may be abused should think again as attempting the technique doesn’t feel natural at all and the majority of times it’s attempted will result in a loss of possession. Even now, after a few hundred games played, it’s still a huge risk for me to try and pull it off mid-play without negative consequences. It also never feels like a requirement and you can just as happily play without it if you don’t want to give it your time and attention. It won’t hamper you at all, and is simply there to provide a greater level of control for those who crave such things.

Finally, the right stick is now your ally when it comes to set plays. Directing it towards a player switches from the kicker or thrower to your teammate, and from there you can make space for yourself or pick the perfect spot from a corner or free-kick to get a well-timed header in on goal.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2012, Review, PES, FIFA

The ‘pass anywhere’ philosophy of PES 2011 is still a major factor here, but with the improvements made around it makes it feel more pronounced. The level of assistance required for pulling off ‘Hollywood’ balls and how much accuracy you yearn for in their precise destination can now be tweaked from zero to four bars depending on your level of preference. There are now also options for the removal of auto-sliding, auto-clearing and shot assistance, which will be music to many ears.

Scoring is a satisfying feat and you’ll never see the same goal twice. Floating shots are less of an occurrence than previously seen in the series and chipped shots are now achievable with the right timing and weight on the ball. Free-kicks tend to hit their mark more often than not, but whether this can be exploited will be determined by extensive play amongst the online community. Corners on the other hand seem a damn site tougher in comparison and tend to favour the new manual system of making a players run for them.

Dribbling is a far easier task, meaning superstars like Messi are now a joy to behold, twisting and turning their way towards goal. Even the lesser skilled players to an extent have the ability to keep the ball in a sticky situation and it better reflects the real-life game. The downside being the new AI infused defences will be tested to breaking point and learning to turn a player on to their weaker foot or closing a player down with an even mix of pressure and teammate assistance has never been more vital in keeping a clean sheet. Another key factor is the guys between the sticks who now pull off some truly remarkable saves when called into action, but still suffer from the odd zombie-like stumble. An area that seriously needs working on in the future.

One long-standing area that has been fixed is the referees, who now give less silly fouls away, removing many of the ‘WTF’ moments of games past. They’ll also let the play continue for more minuscule offences if an advantage can be gained, although some on-screen indication that this is taking place would be nice.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2012, Review, PES, FIFA

Football Life is where the main brunt of your single player experience lies, containing the ever-present Master League, now with added oomph. Cutscenes have been added between games, so now those conversations between players you used to imagine in your head are there for you to see and enjoy. It’s something you have to experience first-hand and brings back that magic feeling you’d get from earlier PES entries of years past and keeps you coming back in anticipation of what will happen next. It’s not all a bed of roses though, as the constant nagging of players either not happy about being left out or not happy about playing too many games in a row is grating.

The calendar layout has been improved, as have some other little tweaks here and there that go some way to improving the realism, but unfortunately silly little thing’s, such as only being able to buy or talk to a certain amount of players at any one time, tarnish the mood slightly. You’ll also be given missions by your chairman that either decrease or increase his trust in the job you’re doing, but unrealistic targets like not getting a single card in a given match take away from any form of reality that might have been forming in your mind. You’re also constantly being bombarded with information about stat increases and decreases, which should be a feature you’re able to toggle as it infuriates, as do the conversations between you and your assistant after a while; becoming word-for-word predictable by your third season.

Overall it’s a nice touch, with your custom designed manager taking centre stage in the action, cutting to him motivating the players before a big game or when something noteworthy happens out on field, and with a little more work and added variety it could truly become great.

Become a Legend is as solid as last year, putting you in the shoes of a single player and showing you things from that perspective, and with the added nuances that Football Life offers in its cutscene approach, it heightens your enjoyment from amateur to fully-fledged international superstar. Club Boss is a quirky new addition that is unlockable from the extra content menu, putting you in the role of chairman. It allows you to run the day-to-day activities of a football club, with the aim being to make as much money as possible, as you’d expect. Not the most enthralling of modes, as you take a step back from any sort of team management or tactics, but it does provide you with ulterior options if other modes start to wear thin.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2012, Review, PES, FIFA

Graphically the game hasn’t taken too many strides forward. Fans now don the team kit in the stands, cameramen litter the edge of the pitch, ground staff tend to the grass at match intervals and your animated manager paces the touchline, but it’s nothing to shout home about. Konami really need to address the visual aspects in future installments if they’re to compete with FIFA, which still boasts superior lighting and animation effects. The default camera angle also needs work as it loses a lot of detail in its current form, detracting from the superb character models the game is known for.

The commentary is almost a carbon copy of last year, with a few new phrases here and there from Jon Champion and the ever dull Jim Beglin, who could give Mark Lawrenson a run for his money as the most monotone, unenthusiastic football pundit alive. Another area they fall short of their main rival, who have not one, but two better commentary teams now.

Online still appears to be laggy in some spots, depending on you and your opponents connection status, but it’s quite rare to match two perfect connections and get a truly smooth gameplay experience for the full ninety. This has been a major problem for some years now and hurts any chances Master League Online has of becoming a runaway success.

Licenses have always been an issue as money talks and we may never see the day Konami have enough in the back pocket to compete. The Portuguese league has been added, but many of the teams have unofficial badges and kits, which is a little farcical, but I guess it means more slots for option file creators to weave their magic. League 2 can also now be edited, meaning a proper Championship or Ligue 2, etc, can be set-up in Master League for a more realistic promotion and relegation scenario. There is also one other league left blank that I’m sure fans are filling with Bundesliga and missing Europa League teams as we speak.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2012, Review, PES, FIFA

In conclusion, it’s a hard sell. I don’t think anyone is denying that, but that’s what is to be expected when your big new feature is AI improvement. However, if you look passed that and spend a decent amount of time playing the game you’ll feel the years rolling back and fall in love with the series all over again. Forget PES 5, anyone still playing that for nostalgic purposes – or any other purpose for that matter - is an idiot, because this not only has the bells and whistles of the current generation, but now the right mix of gameplay mechanics to surpass any PES title that has gone before it.

Konami have pushed the boat out on this one and took a big risk in building sturdier foundations for future titles, but if it takes the loss of a few fans to bring it up to a world-beating level then I don’t think you’ll hear too many complaints in the long run. Whether that’s enough to warrant your attention for the next twelve months, well, that’s up to you, but I’m a believer.

Craig Bryan, NoobFeed

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  • This review beat any other review in this world. Awesomely written. Took me a while to finish it but worth a read. The rating seems perfect for me. Though I'd give a little more for their improvements in the become a legend mode. Last year the quality went down but this year this feature is really improved. A whole new gameplay experience.

    Posted Oct 27, 2011

  • Thank you, I aim to please. =)

    Posted Nov 02, 2011

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General Information

Platform(s): PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Publisher(s): Konami
Developer(s): Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo
Genres: Sports
Themes: Soccer
Release Date: 2011-10-14

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