Review: PES 2012 – Pro Evolution Soccer
Another year, another entry in the Pro Evolution franchise. PES 2012 heralds several new features and significant changes but does it all add up to a vastly different footballing experience? Will this be the one to dethrone FIFA or do we have another game that is almost but not quite there?
- Worth The Time?Good for a quick romp but only worth it if you're willing to put in the effort and hours
- Things LovedUEFA Champions League, increased array of licensed teams/leagues, the ability to edit any player's appearance, remarkably realistic player likenesses, off-the-ball controls (when they work), in-game cutscenes are a nice touch for added depth, new calendar and update system presents you with all the information you need in Football Life modes, Facebook connectivity, custom playlists, genuinely intelligent AI, online Master League
- Things HatedTextures are maddeningly atrocious, player ratings and squad lists are inconsistent, commentary is dreary, senseless Master League
- RecommendationGreat for purists who are only interested in very solid and technical match gameplay or simply anyone who wants a break from FIFA.
- Name: PES 2012 - Pro Evolution Soccer
- Genre: Sports
- Players: 1-7
- Multiplayer: 2-8
- Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
- Developer: Konami
- Publisher: Konami
- Price: R269.00 (PC), R499.00 (PS3, Xbox 360)
- Reviewed On: PS3
In all honesty, PES 2012 should have delivered more based on what it promised and isn’t so much a leap forward as it is a moderate upgrade of PES 2011.
First, before we go any further: a bit of history. I’ve played PES games a little here and there over the years but was only forced to sit down and stare it in the eyes last year when I reviewed it. A year on, I still dislike Konami’s choice in soundtrack, still find the commentary duller than Sunday lunch with the grandparents and feel that every player looks as if his face has been cast in very coarse industrial concrete albeit with a very accurate mould.
That said, PES has always offered an experience that is very different to FIFA and, from a raw gameplay perspective, is often better. PES 2012 then was a welcome surprise because of just how much fun it was to play matches. The gameplay really has been overhauled with some minor changes and additions that add up to a big change.
Each match feels faster, more fluid and sharper than ever before with a greater level of control over each player. The passing is no longer as inconsistent as it used to be with balls actually being played where you want them and when. That said, calibrating your pass is an inconsistent science and can often lead to passes drifting embarrassingly into the line of an intercepting opponent or bouncing straight off the foot of a hapless teammate. It takes some getting used to but you do eventually get the hang of the sensitive passing although the sensitivity also extends to shooting and free-kicks/ corners.
The pace of the game has been upped as well which provides some really intense football filled with end-to-end stuff. Helped by this is improved player AI. While your opponents are not noticeably more adept, your teammates play a far better brand of football than before. On medium to higher difficulties, they will position themselves accordingly to intercept passes and stop runs and they’ll usually make the right runs when it comes to going forward. Teammates will also automatically get in position to receive a cross or start the run to receive an overhead ball.
It removes a great deal of the frustration from previous games when plays would never quite work out far too often. Another great innovation is the ability to control teammates while you’re on the ball. With a flick or click of the right analogue, AI teammates can be manipulated. It takes a fair bit of practise and is a tricky thing to integrate into one’s style of play but once you’ve got it, this auxiliary player control works really well. It allows you to get a teammate to cover a runner while you close down the man with ball or even get teammates to make runs/ move into space before the ball is played to them. It also comes in handy for set pieces where you can move them around like pawns on a chess board.
The ability to control AI teammates is initially something that you may not want to use and will often result in clumsy play but once you take to it, you can pull off some truly spectacular interplay with one-two’s, layoffs, clever through balls and the like.
With a finer degree of control when on the ball, skill moves are much easier to execute and it’s far simpler to pull off something effective that actually gets you past a defender even if the flashier tricks are a little unintuitive and over-complicated. In addition to this, players also have a wider range of movement with the ability to make diagonal runs and AI will even make dummy runs to lead defenders away.
When you’re in a match, PES 2012 offers a technically superb and genuinely fun experience that’s would be hard pressed to not put a smile on your face. It’s off the pitch that you may begin to wonder whether Konami is really putting all that much effort into the entire game.
There’s a host of small things such as the squads being inconsistently updated. Yes, PES may not have all the licenses but that doesn’t mean they can’t just Google the squad lists or something. In PES, Liverpool fans will be pissed enough at the fact that their team is unlicensed under the pseudonym of Merseyside Red while rivals Man Utd are fully licensed without having to see the likes of Christian Poulsen in the starting 11 (Poulsen has left the club) and Suarez sitting in reserves. In addition to this, player ratings are somewhat unfathomable. Charles N’Zogbia is certainly a decent player but in what part of the multiverse is he deserving of a rating of 87 while Nani gets only 85? There are many, many more examples of this ridiculousness.
Then there’s the fact that players such as Ronaldo and Messi are proportionately valued in relation to players such as Ganso or Honda yet the entire scale is shifted so that players like Ronaldo are worth €9 million while players such as Honda are worth around €1.5 million. These are by no means game-breaking issues but they are but a few examples of things which could easily have been fixed had Konami put a little more effort and polish into their work. It’s actually frustrating to come out of a very fun, very awesome match and have to see little issues such as these. You think to yourself and wonder just how little effort it would actually take to fix these small things and then you begin to wonder how Konami went about doing some of these things.
With the level that both FIFA and PES are reaching right now, the small issues make a big difference and ultimately killed FIFA 11 for me. At this level, the devil really is in the details and that’s something Konami needs to realised if they are to produce a more rounded game.
What disappointed me most was the various issues that some of the game modes had. As per usual, the UEFA Champions League is phenomenal to play through and the Copa Santander Libertadores (South American version of Champions League) is pretty cool too. New to PES is the League/Cup mode which allows players to select a league or cup competition to play through with the option to not only edit which teams are in the league/ respective groups of the cup but also how many teams you’d like to play with. For example, you may choose to play the European Cup and happen to like Germany, Spain and Portugal. All you do is select all three teams and you will then play all three teams’ matches.
It’s a simple mode where all you do is play matches but if that’s a little too basic for you, then PES has just the thing for you. Well, a few things actually. First there’s Traning Challenges which puts you through a series of challenges ranging from free-kicks to dribbling to defending. Each type of challenge has 3 stages of increasing difficulty and is great for those looking to hone their skills in various facets of the beautiful game.
Then there’s Football Life which encompasses Master league, Be A Legend and Club Boss. Basically, Club Boss is the driest of the three, dominated by board-room action (not the kind you might be hoping for) and basically gives you a dusty taste of what it must be like to head up a football club.
Master League is your typical manager mode except in that it makes absolutely no sense. You pick your team and then start off one tier below the premier league in whichever country you’ve chosen to play in. You’ll immediately notice an increase in the number of licensed teams with the whole of French Ligue 1, Dutch Eredivisie, Spanish Liga BBVA and a few others receiving the licensing treatment. It’s one of those small things that just makes the game nicer to play and lessens that admittedly ‘Mickey Mouse’ feel you get when forced to play with a team that you know to be called X but have to refer to as AB429.
You can be as involved or removed as you wish in Master League with the option to leave matters such as club finances and transfers to staff. The transfer system is far more intelligible if you do choose to use it and now allows you search for specific players or players that meet a specific criteria rather than being handed a list of transfer targets. You can even hire various technical staff such as doctors and coaches to improve your team. There’s also a new youth system which has been slickly integrated into the game and allows you to simply pluck youngsters out of the academy when you feel they’re ready.
A nice touch that I found is that you can manage the team and then play through the match like normal or alternatively play as the manager on the sidelines and watch the team play while directing them with a number of preset tactics.
What can initially be a bit of a mindf*** is that you may start with Man Utd and, despite starting off in 2nd division football, would expect to have the full squad with Messrs Rooney, Nani & co. but will instead find that you have a motley group of random individuals who don’t actually exist. The idea is that you start at the bottom and work your way up into top flight football and subsequently build the club’s reputation in addition to strengthening the squad with each move up the ladder. As your performs better, the club will earn more and you’ll be able to afford more expensive, higher rated players but it’s such a non-sensical system. Firstly, all the players from the team you chose will be chucked into ‘other’ or free agents and will basically be waiting for you to earn enough money to buy them back. This brings me to my second point: If the idea is to start low and take my team to the top, don’t give me the option to start with the likes of Barcelona, rather limit the choice to low-down teams.
Be A Legend is no better. You create your player and then start in a team where your very average player will be able to get regular game time. The problem is that you’ll likely end up with a team that can hardly hold a defensive line and looks confused when going forward. This results in a very frustrating experience as your player will be able to do very little to influence the game. If you find yourself on the bench, you’ll have to watch on as the team plays out the match without you. It’s a cruel yet inspired touch. What’s annoying is that you can often be brought on off the bench after half-time, have a good shot at goal, help create a goal and still get subbed off after playing only about 30min.
You’ll constantly be treated to little cutscenes wherein the team manager will outline the game plan or talk to you about your performance. There are also cutscenes between each match where your agent/coach will keep you informed with updates. The same goes for Master league where signing players warrants a cutscene of a press conference to introduce the new signing and the assistant manager will constantly feed you with updates.
One feature that I really like is the Facebook connectivity which allows you to share your online and offline progress in PES with friends. Speaking of online, last year saw major improvement with the addition of an online Master league but PES 2012 does little to improve on that although in all fairness, PES 2011 had a well-rounded online component.
While players still look a touch mechanical in their movement, Konami has done wonders with the visuals. PES 2012 looks great and just about every player in the game, even the lesser known ones such as Macheda from Man Utd and De Laet from Norwich look remarkably similar to their carbon-based likenesses. They all move very similarly but they at least move fluidly. What I can never get over though, is the poor texturing that always seems to come through in Konami games. Players look like the Battle of Normandy took place on their face. There’s also something very disturbing about the way that players’ faces look fine when static but the minute they become expressive, you’re staring at a snarling alien that’s about to bite Robinho’s head off.
PES 2012 is by no means perfect, far from it in fact. At its core is a very sincere game that doesn’t hide behind any pretences and simply wants to deliver a virtual experience that is as close to the imitating the beautiful game as possible. It gets pretty damn close with an insane amount of technical precision and skill required to maximise what the game has to offer but even noobs will be able to enjoy the experience.
That really sums PES up. You can take it light-heartedly and have fun with it, play League/Cup mode on beginner with a Man Utd team where you’ve given everyone emo fringes and put ‘Shrek’ on the back of Rooney’s shirt. Alternatively, you can master the controls, use the Training Challenges to perfect your technique and invest some serious hours into developing a team or player.
Despite the gaping flaws in some its more serious modes, PES 2012 is actually a good game. Unfortunately, the Football Life modes which are designed for long-term play are the most flawed and in an annual sports game such as PES, longevity is key and this is something that keeps it from being great.
With a bit more polish, a greater attention to detail and the realisation that there’s more to creating a great sports game than match gameplay, PES could be a bigger, stronger beast. As it stands, Konami has a lot of ground to cover in that battle against FIFA but PES 2012 is certainly a close runner-up if for nothing other than its technically spectacular and emotionally enjoyable gameplay.