This year’s Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 does an admirable job in creating a space for itself on and off the pitch. Visually it’s a stunning game, the environments and stadiums are downright jaw-dropping. Konami’s annual soccer sim is a treat to look at, but are flashy visuals enough to sustain a run at this years spot for best soccer game?
When it comes to soccer games, it’s hard not to measure them against the reigning champ (at least in terms of commercial success), EA Sport’s FIFA series. The FIFA franchise has dominated the market thanks to its gameplay, and of course the wealth of exclusive licensing deals the FIFA franchise possesses. And this year’s FIFA 12 may be the best yet. PES, also known as Winning Eleven is a worthy rival to EA Sports’ juggernaut. And even though the idea of both games are the same, the PES series has some things that make it stand out.
Where sometimes FIFA 12 might be a bit too bright and glossy, PES 2012 has a slightly darker and realistic look. Thanks to a more than competent graphical engine, PES 2012 matches look lifelike, full of tension, passion and everything else you would expect on matchday. Add in a spectacular use of lighting and shadow and the arenas in PES 2012 really take on a life of their own.
Player likeness is impressive, although like most major sports games, PES 2012 still understandably pays the most attention to the cream of the crop. The top rated stars like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo (both of whom have deals with PES and have appeared on the cover at one time or another) look exceptional, while many of the less well-known stars look a bit more generic, but never bad.
The lack of licensed teams is still an issue. When you play sports games that are trying for a sense of realism, lacking real players and entire teams is a killer. There are enough teams to maybe make you overlook it, but its hard to not feel like something is missing right from the start. that isn’t really Konami’s fault, since FIFA and EA Sports have a vice grip on the rights and it is essentially a legal thing, but its hard to ignore. That being said, if the team licenses aren’t a huge issue, or if your team somehow managed to make the cut, then there is plenty to like in PES 2012.
The presentation really is key, and PES 2012 takes full advantage of what it does have, namely an exclusive Champions League partnership. The introductions are authentic, right down to the somewhat pretentious song that plays during the intro. If you happen to ever figure out the lyrics, please teach me. The Master League also makes a return with a few new tweaks, and as with previous editions, it is a highlight.
While there aren’t any jaw-dropping changes from PES 2011, the impressive visual advances made this year, alongside the returning quality, presentation and game modes of past PES titles injects some much needed energy into PES 2012.
The Robots are Coming
While PES 2012 proudly boasts visuals that are stunning, the character animations are not. At this point though, it is almost tradition for the PES games to feature weird and robotic movements, and the series wouldn’t feel right without them. They feel disjointed and your virtual Van Persies have a real stiff way about them. Think, Daft Punk’s “Around the World” video and you get the idea. It does a great deal to break up the realism that PES is clearly shooting for, and it’s something that can clearly be felt in other aspects of the game. Movements from running to tackling just look a bit off. It isn’t a major issue, but it is noticeably, especially compared to FIFA 12.
It is also tough to squeeze thorough tiny spaces and make abrupt turns. The best way to describe it would be that it feels at times imprecise, especially when trying to make quick moves through a flurry of defenders.
Tackles and collisions also feel a bit superficial, but that may just be a reaction to FIFA 12. Having finally gotten used to the new FIFA physics system, the PES engine instantly feels outdated. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and while I doubt the proud folks over at Konami would ever openly admit to copying a mechanic found in EA’s FIFA, it would greatly serve the PES franchise to move with the times and offer a more dynamic defensive game, rather than stick with one that will become more and more irrelevant as each year passes.
The refs are also a bit overzealous at times, but again, that may be a reaction to FIFA 12, where the refs need to see blood and hear the wails of the victims’ families before considering blowing their whistle. The PES 2012 refs are quick to make calls, but they are also consistent, which is a good thing.
AI That Would Make Apple Jealous
But putting aside the occasional clunkiness inherent with the animations, PES 2012 exhibits a clear example of player and team AI done right. Your teammates in PES run circles around their FIFA counterparts, often making intelligent and darting runs through the defense, greatly adding to the realism and enjoyment of the game.
Even though the team AI found in PES 2012 works brilliantly, one of the more dynamic features found in the game allows you to take control of your fellow footballers and direct a teammate’s run yourself with the right analog stick. This also applies to freekicks and throw-ins, so that you can actually place players where you want them. What this translates to is intelligent team-mates who will hunt for space, zip between defenders, and sprint past you on the overlap. Thanks to the improved AI, PES 2012 offers even more control and an even greater wealth of tactics–opening up even more goal opportunities during set pieces and live play.
And what about those scoring opportunities? Like past PES titles scoring is done by holding down the shoot button and using a power gauge to determine the power (surprise!) and height of the ball. It all works fairly well, although it did take some getting used to on set pieces as the meter can be a touch inconsistent.
Where the dazzling AI doesn’t translate well is the Goalkeeping; which drops the ball–quite literally–in comparison to your teammates. I constantly witnessed the goalkeepers in PES 2012 parrying ball after ball instead of just grabbing it, regardless of how it was delivered. While it would often create an exciting frenzy in front of goal, it took away from the immersion and realism that the graphics and otherwise smart AI do so well to propagate. It was aggravating and more than once led to problems that the goalkeeper created.
Master League of the Universe
The true gem of PES has always been the Master League mode in which you develop your players, strengthen your team with transfers and manage your club. Master League isn’t highly acclaimed for nothing, and it’s still unparalleled by anything else out there. This year Konami has managed to sprinkle in even more with some interspersed cutscenes that have you dealing with your on-field prima donnas as you juggle action on and off the pitch.
Appearing this year alongside Master League is the Become a Legend and Club Boss mode (which must be unlocked by using “Game Points”). Become a legend has you creating a player and taking him through a full career. The better you perform the greater your reputation will grow–which in turn means greater opportunities to earn that transfer to a big-time club, or a call up to the national team.
Once unlocked, Club Boss mode places you in the role of a club owner, tasked with guiding a club financially. In this mode you’re charged with finding the right manager while dealing with the overall pressure of guiding a club to victory.
All of the aforementioned modes come complete with cut-scenes, adding drama and context to an otherwise straightforward ordeal. It adds to the level of immersion when normally forgettable AI teammates begin to complain and whine about things, or come up to you and give you some advice. It’s definitely not game-defining, but it’s a fun distraction that further immerses you in the overall experience.
PES 2012 certainly doesn’t lack quality. It’s a fun and robust experience that any soccer fan would enjoy, but it’s not without its flaws. And while it’s easy to appreciate the presentation of PES 2012, it’s disappointing that the quality enjoyed in the graphics or AI doesn’t transcend into other areas of the game as wholeheartedly. Player animations are a disappointment, as are a lack of licenses (something fans have been crying out for year after year), and the commentary is dismal at best (memo to Konami: try snapping up Andy Gray next year).
There are just inconsistencies in things like the goalkeeping, and it is especially notable compared to FIFA. While Konami has made great improvements this year–there is more work to be done. But inevitably sides will be drawn, and allegiances made. Die-hard PES fans may not concede or accept FIFA 12 as the reigning king of football games, and there is a solid PES contingent, but even they can’t deny the need for Konami to take even greater strides with their long running franchise, lest they wish to see a great series lose even more ground in the race to be the best. There is a definite element of preference here though.
In the end, PES 2012 is a mixed bag, blessed with absolute brilliance in parts, but suffering from mediocrity in others. None of which make PES a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, in fact quite the contrary–there is even great evidence here that PES can mount a real offensive in the future. The AI is stellar, the graphics are top caliber, and the atmosphere created on the pitch is unrivaled. It may sound cheesy, but PES certainly looks the part, and if this year is anything to go off of, Konami is certainly heading in the right direction.
Score: 8.5 out of 10
(This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360 on a copy provided by Konami)