Review: PES 2012

October 20, 2011, Author: James Joell-Ireland

In the long battle between Konami and Electronic Arts, the former has taken a severe bruising in recent years. Whilst the series lost its way for several years, PES has been regaining its fitness and this year looks as though it is back to full strength. The recovery has taken some time; is the latest iteration of the series good enough to make the first team or will it be sitting on the subs bench until footy fans get bored with FIFA 12?

A change of formation
While PES 2011 was the best PES since PES 6 (arguably better in fact), it still lacked finesse of movement, and most importantly, the player animations. The big focus last year was increasing A.I. intelligence and making the online servers stable for the first time in four years. It achieved that, though the goalkeepers were dumb as shit. It was a year where PES made ground on FIFA, and its focus on bringing even more editing options made the game a modding paradise. While noticeably lacking in areas FIFA 11 had, it was a more enjoyable experience to play, and the introduction of Master League Online gave EA something to think about.

This is not a real stadium; it's game footage!

Time for an overhaul?
PES 2012 finally resolves the issue its predecessors struggled to deal with: player movement. This year it’s slick for the most part, with players responding to turning on the ball, expressing tricks and dribbling precisely all to a satisfying amount of response. Gone are the woody animations; these players feel like they’ve had a good rub with deep heat and deliver the goods. PES 2012 excels in showing this in player development too, by giving lower-rated players less finesse with shooting, stopping stinging passes and taking on defenders.

For the most part the animations are running on a well tuned engine, but the passing system still has some work to go. Often, the assisted passing is dicey, with its direction selection at the pivotal moment not often where you want it to go. The option to go totally manual is there, but it leaves you more prone to error, which for online is really an avenue best not explored.

PES 2012 also introduces several new off-ball features, allowing you to use a second player to press the opponent, while offensively you can now control a second player on a set piece. These features are welcome additions, but there are still a few flaws in the overall game engine that need addressing.

Firstly the goalkeepers are still dumb, often appearing off their line without your permission. Secondly is the invisible force field that stands between you and your opponent when a successful lofted or ground through-ball is played. It’s a frustrating variable to contend, with which can sometimes lead you to losing a goal that wasn’t really your fault. Lastly it is worth noting that during our play (reviewed after the launch day patch) that the quick free-kick option only worked when playing offline Master League matches…

One of this year’s big features is the overhaul of the Master League mode. This time a bigger focus surrounds managing your players and expenditure than ever before. New pre-match FMV’s have been added to give your team and opponent reports from your coach, and you will be asked to speak to your players if they are unhappy. Soon you will realise that managing egotistical players can become a nuisance. A player will even kick up a fuss over his squad number; do what I did and release the self-centered bastard!

Off ball control on set pieces, redefines the set piece!

You will occasionally be asked to do special requests for your chairman too. Go a match without picking up bookings or sign a player he likes, for instance. Following your chairman’s beck and call will earn you more trust, but can counter-weight your squad’s chemistry. It’s an interesting concept, but one which will require much more development to ever become appealing enough to warrant its inclusion next year. Hats off goes to the new calendar system though, which is a clever notification system that allows you to skip time and focus on off-field duties if need be.

Become a Legend stays largely unchanged this year; a game mode that really is hit or miss with most people. Standing as a lone player for ninety minutes becomes quite tedious, but the stats and potential international call-ups drives a little relish into what is otherwise a largely sterile game mode. Fans will also be delighted that training challenges are back for the first time since PES 6 (last-gen version). Well done Konami; it only took you five years to figure out we never wanted that mode removed in the first place!

Other competitive modes such as the Champions League and South American cup still remain officially licensed but are unchanged from last year; something more is needed to make these competitions magical. Dedicated commentators for these modes wouldn’t go amiss, for instance.

Off the crossbar!
Visually, this year PES 2012 has improved, but not drastically. The stadium lighting, player shadowing and certain player models help touch the game up, but if anything it’s the new broadcast camera that has you forgiven for thinking that you’re watching a real football match at times.

The biggest letdown visually is the shot replays. There have been a couple of times where you can’t replay an innocuous challenge, sometimes the camera can go through textures and the automated replays at times forget to focus on the ball completely. Player celebrations are still pre-defined and there is a horrible grainy and blurred nuance to them, trying to encapsulate motion blur with speed slowdown. It just doesn’t look as good as FIFA 12 when it comes to re-visiting those glorious moments, and that’s a shame.

Ze Germans are in the game too!

Also, for matches online the replays are skippable by both parties, so you will never get to enjoy those special moments until after the match. The decision behind this would be to prevent goading a player, but at least allow a goal to be seen from one camera angle!

PES 2012 is trying to get into the licensing market slowly but surely, but the real gift is the power of customisation. You can license any kit you please with the deep edit mode, which allows for stadiums to be created and images for kits to be imported; a modder’s wet dream. The edit mode has remained unchanged from last year’s game. Don’t expect to be playing matches with funny balls this year, though. All the funny and zany match balls have been removed by Konami in favour of classic looking 1940’s match balls. Where has your sense of humour gone?

Nets are as realistic as ever, and the kits that are licensed are richly detailed. A seasonal data pack update, which is always free, will appease those moaning about international kits being out of date.

Oh no, not him again!
The sound of the post clanking in PES or hitting the advertising hoardings is the most realistic you will find in any football game, ever. That is where it stops, sadly, because everything else about PES lacks in comparison to FIFA. Jon Champion and Jim Beglin are back in another instalment of ‘same bloody commentary from last year and the odd new soundbite thrown in’a commentary mispairing which will have you heading for the game settings just to turn them off. To be fair, even Konami knew how fucking annoying these two were, actually reducing the amount they speak in reflection to last year’s game.

There has been an improvement in recording crowd chanting this year; you can distinctly notice different regions from around the world, but there is never enough personalisation for any of the smaller teams, just those residing in the Champions League etc. This year’s soundtrack is also lacking compared to last year’s banging riffs, funky electronica and bold nu-wave of emerging artists. This year they’ve tried to keep with a similar flavour, but the artist selection doesn’t hold anything noteworthy of engraving in your mind.

The thrill of stoppage time
While remaining untouched from last year, Konami’s Master League Online mode is still as addictive as ever. Refinements have been made towards the matchmaking system and the entry specifications for certain competitions. Building up your team with no monetary coffer (i.e. spending physical money on packs) means a much more balanced playing field online, with people playing matches to gain money to buy better players.

Contracts can be renewed, and for all new teams everyone starts with the same set players. It’s a formula that needs no re-invention, being only twelve months old. Konami’s real player valuation system is also carried over from last year too, so you can see the fluctuating prices of players. You cannot sell your players on a marketplace like on Ultimate Team, but you can sell them for the going rate market fee. In essence, Online Master League is as fun as it always was, and for the most part, the online experience has been totally lag-free.

Legends returns this year with inter-match play, but having only 2 vs 2 online multiplayer and the ability to take on A.I. opponents doesn’t fill you with much incentive to play, regardless of the points system. To further condemn Legends, the claim that it needs serious refinement from Konami is backed up the dead servers. Out of everyone on the European servers for PES 2012 for two consecutive evenings, there were only 50 people playing this game mode, and that’s on the second and third day of the game’s release. So, needless to say; the future doesn’t look good for that mode.

The invisible force field on through balls are a killer!

One of the better additions online this year is the communities section. There is a version for offline, which is essentially FIFA’s Lounge Mode without the power-ups. The Online Communities section is very much something Konami have needed for a while, and they have delivered. You can set up your own community and post when the days are active for league matches to be played. The community offers the ability to set up multiple leagues and even start forum conversations within the game itself. In some respects it beats FIFA’s Online League system; it cuts out the DNF% default rubbish and empowers the community leaders to create a community within the game itself. Nice!

There is plenty to praise in reference to the online element of this year’s game. The game’s new fair play system (which punishes rage quitters) rewards those whom play with good sportsmanship, while making it harder for rage-quitters to get matches against other people. It is a system in theory that should work well; however, if you are on the end of a rage-quit, currently the system punishes both parties, and until this is patched it is going to be a massive drawback.

With no PES equivalent to FIFA’s Clubs mode, there still is something distinctly lacking in PES’s arsenal, but on reflection both games have their strengths and weaknesses online and nothing seems to harness the thrill and excitement of winning online on PES. The chance element of loose balls and hitting the sweet spot from outside the box makes this game the most thrilling of the two football titles this year; certainly for online play anyway.

You don’t have to re-invent the wheel every year
There is always the age-old argument of how much a game should be changed to warrant the purchase price of a game. In this case, Konami have tried to reinvent the wheel from PES 2011 too much. What they have done is very bold and for a good portion have hit some delectable notes, but what you do not get with such massive change is refinement.

EA didn’t change too much in the game engine for FIFA 12; they refined the defending and collision detection. PES’s whole engine has changed, and because of that it’s very easy to notice areas that need work, to the point where the areas that need work are ones that will make you tear your hair out with rage. With such a change in the engine, Konami also had to sacrifice time on bringing the graphics up another notch too.

Plenty could be done by Konami from some patch updates; I can’t see why they wouldn’t be able to eradicate a few of these niggles. What’s needed next year is subtle tuning and tweaking to smooth the rough that exists around the edges, and it is with that I recommend you try this game before you buy it. Of course, if you are naturally a PES fan then buy the game, as you’ll love it!


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