Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 Review
Game: Pro Evolution Soccer 2012
Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo
Available on: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, PSP, Nintendo Wii, 3DS and iOS (Xbox 360 version reviewed)
It’s that time of year once again. The old rivalry rears its ugly head with a great burst of passion from creators and fans alike, just like a derby day clash in Liverpool or Manchester, for example. For years the battle has been waged between the Pro Evolution Soccer series and the FIFA series, FIFA may have had the upper hand for several years now, wrestling control of the genre away from Konami, who seemed to have an iron grip on producing definitive football games in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. This generation may well go down as a victory for Electronic Arts, but the Pro Evo series certainly showed signs of a fightback last year, and more big claims have accompanied the upcoming release of PES 2012, the latest game in the franchise. So get ready for kick-off, as we take a look how the new title really performs on the pitch.
GRAPHICS: Visually the game looks great, and advances have certainly been achieved since last time out. The faces of real-life players are near dead-on, with great lighting effects and little details that make the likenesses just that little bit more accurate than ever before. Animations on the players too are smoother this time around, with less jerky transitions between on-field actions. You still do get odd moments, from time to time, where an animation stops mid-flow and jumps into another movement, but these occurrences seem to have been reduced since past iterations. One area that the PES games have always excelled in is the signature animations that are assigned to specific players. Cristiano Ronaldo’s distinct free-kick posture and run-up are down to a tee here, as are the movements of several other top stars. On top of that, a good number of everyday animations and movements have been added in, so there is a better variety of animations for feints, players hurdling tackles and on-the-ball turns, for example. This makes play flow together in a much smoother way so that now, when you carefully watch back replays, there will be far fewer jerky transitions between animation cycles.
SOUND: Whilst the basics such as crowd noises, stadium effects and on-the-field sounds are perfectly good in the game, the commentary still comes across as rather second rate and unimpressive. The team of Jon Champion and Jim Beglin return for the title once again, but the problems that usually bog down PES commentary remain. Many phrases seem to sit together in an unnatural way with different sections of speech having been cobbled together; this makes it so the audio doesn’t flow well, and when you add to that the fact that there are a selection of phrases spoken by the duo that consistently re-appear, the match coverage is far from convincing. Admittedly most sports game suffer from this problem, and it is immensely difficult to create the illusion of real speech on top of user controlled play, the fact that you hear “The crowd loves a dribbler” four or five times in one match, really does start to irritate.
The menu-based musical offerings are a far cry from the Europop trance and Japanese Techno that fans of early instalments in the series will recall – the PES games have actually made use of real bands for some time now. These are far less irritating and do help to improve the overall presentation of the package, but both graphically and in terms of audio, the high-quality finish still seems to be lacking from the menus.
GAMEPLAY: Before we get down to the big changes that have been made to the control style of the title and the feel of gameplay, lets first take a look at what is on offer in PES 2012. All of our regular modes make a re-appearance here. Of course basic exhibition matches remain, as do league and cup competitions, which have all been standards of the series for years, and once again appear with no fanfare or additions. Then we have the officially-licensed Champions League and Copa Libertadores modes, in which the player participates in full re-creations of those two famous club cup competitions. Unfortunately, these appear to remain more or less unchanged from last year, and there are no obvious features that have been altered here. As these competitions are both incredibly exciting and dynamic in real-life, perhaps a little something needs to be added to the presentation or interactivity that will make gamers really want to experience these modes, as it stands, they just function like a regular cup competition but with a few extra logos and sponsorships tacked on.
The world-famous ‘Master League’ returns, as always, and still offers one of the deepest and most involving modes in any sports title. This mode could be played for months and months, and you would still be finding features to exploit and getting enjoyment out of achieving your goals. There is more virtual media interaction than before in this mode, even a new ‘Club Boss’ variation that you can unlock from the extras screen on the main menu. In ‘Club Boss’, players take on the role of the club Chairman, and instead of tackling team selection and tactics, you control the budget of the club. You can hire staff, try to push your influence on managers, in terms of players you want them to push to success and tactics to adopt, as well as injecting extra cash into the club in order to buy players you want to see at the club, or improve the marketing, the choice is yours. This is an interesting new feature, which we haven’t seen the likes of before, but the mode is ultimately rather shallow when compared to the full management simulation of the traditional ‘Master League’. ‘Become a Legend’ – where you control a single player in a team – is more or less the same as we have seen before, bar some minor presentational changes. Your camera view can be changed at the touch of a button so that, for instance, you can get a better overview of play in an attempt to position your player better, in order to makes the best plays. As in ‘Master League’, some extra presentational extras are in, such as media interactions, but the overall experience has changed very little.
The big addition to the gaming modes is the ‘Training Challenge’. This is intended to let players learn the basics, and to later master them. A selection of skills such as penalty kicks, free kicks and dribbling, are included, with three challenges and tiers for each. You will be able to complete bronze cups for most of the challenges as you learn the controls, but in order to gain silvers and golds, you will have to refine your technique and practice each activity. Getting high scores and gaining multipliers will earn you better trophies, but you really have to master each technique to get to those levels. Once you have though, you will find your in-game skills have improved, helping you in the normal game modes. These modes can be very hard, so it will take some time to best each one, despite the fact you aren’t penalised for taking more attempts or failing, you simply have to try, try and try again.
Now, let us get down to the nitty gritty of in-game controls and features. The biggest change is the improved team-mate AI system, whereby other players on your team will make more intelligent runs and passes, even without your input. These rely on sliders that you can adjust in order to gain the experience you most desire, but in general, AI players will offer better attacking support and makes less reckless tackles that leave them horribly out of position. Computer players have better judgement in working out where you are heading with a dribble, for example, and the zonal marking system that is implemented means that defenders shouldn’t get pulled away from where they should be as easily as in the past. The runs that your team-mates make will help to fool your opposition and cause enough of a distraction to allow you a variety of options, as opposed to the the more direct play that may have been commonplace in the past. It must also be added that goalkeeper AI is hugely improved in PES 2012, you will find it fiendishly difficult to beat some goalies, and it feels like a really rewarding achievement when you do make it past one of them. Of course, some irrational AI decisions still occur with the goalies, and glitches sometimes leave them really out of position, but more often than not, games will be tight affairs due to the heroics of a goalkeeper.
There is, however, a flip side to these improvements in the team-mate controls. Want more say over what your team-mates do? You can now direct them manually in team-mate assisted control, players can click the right stick to select a nearby player and send them on a supporting run, automatically, before directing the pass to them using a flick of the same stick. They will then continue making space and trying to become available for a pass from then on. This means that you can either supply them the ball, or use this feature to drag defenders away from you, to follow your team-mate, whilst you are then allowed more space yourself to work with. Team-mate manual controls actually involve you pressing your right analog stick in the direction of the player you want to control, before clicking it to select that player. You can then manually control the movement of that player with one stick, whilst still moving your active player with the other. As you can imagine, this juggling of two analog sticks and two players is very confusing at first, you have to have your eyes in two places at once, and the co-ordination takes some major getting used to. But once you do get the hang of these two control modes, you will be able to fashion much more intricate plays and cut open defences with ease.
Individual player skills also really stand out, meaning the gamer will have to take into account who they are controlling and what situation they will be best in. Defenders won’t make as many surging runs into the box as they did in the past and your wingers probably won’t be able to put in a decent tackle – but that is how the game really is. Only a player like Robben or Ronaldo could feasibly run through a defence without losing control of the ball, and only a top-class defender like Terry could make inch-perfect tackles.
The passing system from last year remains, and you will, again, have to consider the aiming a pass, as well as the weight of your passes. Under or over-hit passes will go awry, and if you don’t accurately place them they will end up in the middle of nowhere. This makes quick passing moves more difficult, but the speed of play allows for good players to still be able to link up passes in a swift manner. If you are good at controlling your passes, you will be able to ping the ball from player-to-player, just like Barcelona.
Defending feels harder this time around, despite better AI assistance. You now have two buttons to jockey and hold-up play, which can even involve successful shirt-pulling and obstruction if used wisely. Put your foot in to tackle at the wrong time though, and you will commit yourself too early leaving strikers to run past you before you know it. These new controls give players a selection of options for tackling, but when faced against an expanded range of attacking special moves and feints, it’s possibly harder than ever to judge an attackers next move. There is an extra defence button that will call in support from your team-mates, for times when you feel you may have let the opposing player get away from you, and you need a second defender to help you cope, but this can create gaps in your defence. The wise use of these different tactics can make defending easier, but rash use of them will only make things harder. This deep defending system is a welcome addition, to what was a rather run-of-the-mill one in previous instalments.
MULTIPLAYER: The online functionality of the title has certainly improved greatly over that seen earlier in this console generation. We still don’t reach the heady heights of eleven-on-eleven online matches, but the game does now support up to four-versus-four matchups, across most of its online modes. You can partake in ranked one-on-one games, player matches for up to eight competitors, or even choose to watch other players duke it out. These are all basic options that have been available for a while now, but the lag problems that have plagued PES games for the last few years do seem to have been alleviated somewhat. Part of this may be down to the fact that Konami have now put match-making systems in place that match you up with opponents in the same region of the world as you, allowing for a better connection quality and, as a result, a smoother gameplay experience.
Above and beyond the usual, players can enter the ‘Online Master League’. This is very similar to the single-player variety, however gamers will face off against other, similarly-ranked human-controlled teams in every match. Money is earned for completing matches, and bonuses for winning, that can be used to improve your squad in the virtual transfer market. For the ‘Online Master League’, the transfer market will be updated regularly, with the idea being that it will attempt to reflect the real-life game to some extent. You can see how many player-controlled teams own a certain player, so you get a better idea who are the ones to go for, and who to avoid. This could also give you the satisfaction of knowing when you find a diamond in the rough, who few other teams have discovered, adding an extra level of excitement to proceedings.
‘Legends’ mode is the online version of ‘Become a Legend’, whereby players only control a single player. You can either import your ‘Become a Legend’ character for use in this mode, or you can pick any one superstar from any of the preset teams in the game. In the games, which again allow for up to eight players, you are confined to controlling the chosen player and rewarded points for successful passes, shots, dribbles and assists, amongst other criteria. Link up well with other player-controlled ‘Legends’ and you will amass huge multipliers and attain great scores that can then be compared against the rest of the world.
The WEPES Championships are a series of online-only cups and tournaments. Scheduled to start at specific times, the first hour of play is assigned to qualifying matches, where your best three successive results are taken into account to see whether you progress into the knockout stages or not. Playing in organised tournaments against other users is a great thrill, and the idea that you can defeat other gamers and lift an, albeit virtual, trophy, is a welcome addition. You do have to make sure you are online at the start of a tournament in order to take part, but there are many scheduled each day, so you should be able to make it into one whenever the mood takes you.
The final online elements we find this year are the Communities and MyPES, which brings Facebook integration to the title for the very first time. Communities are a new way in which players can link together and form “teams” of sorts, choosing to use the feature to allow them to play exclusively within their community, or to go head-to-head with another one, for example. Unfortunately, PES 2012 still hasn’t reached the heights of allowing players to form complete eleven-a-side teams, as this mode is still limited to four-on-four on the pitch, but this is a step in the right direction towards creating a fanbase who want to play together and form alliances to take online. The new MyPES features are still in the Beta stage, but currently allow for match data and stats to be relayed to the Social Media platform, and shared with friends. Konami have promised that more features will follow once the mode comes out of its Beta phase, such as the creation of private leagues. For now, the feature is very limited and simply a way to brag about your in-game achievements so only time will tell as to whether this mode will capture the attention of gamers or simply fall by the wayside.
After many years of struggling with online play and offering a weak selection of modes, it seems like Konami have really made a push this year, in order to catch up with what is being offered up by the competition. There are still some niggles with lag and features that we would like to see added to the game, but the online arm of PES is stronger than ever. We can only hope that gamers who have been stung in the past by their multiplayer failings have the faith to return to the title and give it another chance, as there is much to enjoy here.
LONGEVITY: As if it needs to be stated again, there is a plethora of different options and game modes to play around with and try out, meaning that gamers could be playing this title for a very long time. Modes such as ‘Master League’ and ‘Become a Legend’ offer more long-term rewards, but are offered alongside the standard game modes that will keep gamers who are looking for a quick football fix happy. As mentioned previously, due to the new tactical changes, particularly the team-mate controls, which take quite some time to fully master, it is conceivable that players will want to keep coming back to PES 2012 in order to refine their skills and improve as a player. The training mode will also offer an extra distraction as, whilst the basic cups are easy to obtain, it will take some serious practice to get gold trophies in each event. Achievements are relatively easy to obtain in comparison and, if you play through each game mode to completion, you are likely to pick up all of the offline ones with little effort.
VERDICT: Despite all of the advances that have been made visually and with online modes, the bottom line with a football game will always be “how does it play?” Fortunately, PES 2012 has made further advances from the low points witnessed in 2008/9, where complacency seemed to have set in. This latest game takes larger leaps away from the traditional PES experience and, rather than Pro Evo being a straight simulation and FIFA the light-weight adversary, roles have now been reversed. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however, this year’s PES offering plays with such a high tempo and fluidity that FIFA seems sluggish in comparison at times. Defending, goalkeeping and attacking plays have all been tweaked in different ways, with the different techniques and options on offer providing a different gameplay experience than Konami have brought us before.
The game may not succeed in every department, but the improvements that it offers up are solid additions and there is some real innovation with the off-the-ball control – even if the controls are far from easy to pick up. You will still be able to pick up and play the game, but to get the most out of the experience you will have to invest a lot of time, in order to learn and to improve. The learning curve has certainly steepened and with the goalkeeping improvements added to that, new players won’t be pinging in goals from every angle and achieving the thoroughly unrealistic 6-5 victories that were commonplace in PES games a few years ago. The game still carries the same excitement that you found in those high-scoring games, but provides a more realistic end result and overall experience. Official licensing is still a sore-spot for some gamers, and whilst Konami have made deals with more clubs and international teams, there are still a lot of faux names involved again this year. This is more of a niggle than a shortcoming, however, as those who don’t like it can always download fan updates to rectify these problems, or edit them themselves, and Konami are likely to release a free squad update at some point in the season, as they have in the past.
This is somewhat of a new beginning for the series, and the control changes and gameplay overhauls make it feel very different also. This is just what the game needed and what the football videogame market in general wanted, for innovation and improvements to continue, competition is an absolute must. With PES 2012, Konami have finally pulled back into contention in the footballing competition, and all gamers should be happy about that.