While last year’s title received a significant top-to-bottom overhaul this year the focus is building on those foundations with tweaks rather than major upgrades. The passing game still makes use of power gauges allowing you to pinpoint passes to the player of your choice, and now you can turn on pass assistance (which comes in five levels) which is sure to help newcomers.
Teammate AI is improved this year, giving your attacking thrusts a much more realistic feel. Your teammates will try to draw opposition players away from the ball-carrier and will also make well-timed runs, frequently waving their hands to ask for the pass. Teammates also press all the way up to the goal-face, no longer leaving you to go it alone inside the penalty area.
If these improvements aren’t enough you can also take manual control of a second player by clicking R3 and direct them around the pitch with the right-analog stick. While controlling two players with the analog sticks takes some getting used to, it’s a pretty neat feature. If you’re finding it too difficult to control two players perfectly you can opt to send a second player on a straight-line run rather than control their every move. Doing this is just a matter of clicking R3 and then pushing the direction you wish that player to move. This is easy to get the hang of and significantly improves the timing of your attacking movements.
While the basic move-set is familiar (‘x’ passes, triangle performs a through ball, circle crosses, square shoots, R1 sprints and so on) there are also a wide range of feint moves which have a much deeper control scheme, more akin to something you’d find in a fighting game. Whether you’re standing still or are dribbling the ball you can dominate the one-on-one contests by busting out feints.
Feints are tricky moves to master, usually requiring you hold L2, push the right-analog in one direction and the left-analog in another. For example you can perform a stepover by holding the right-stick down and moving the left-stick diagonally up in the direction you’re facing. Other moves require you to hold L2, press R3 and move the left-analog diagonally up or down. Feints aren’t essential when battling against AI-opponents, but come into their own in the ultra-competitive online environment.
The game modes on offer remain unchanged from last year, though online functionality is improved (more on that in a moment), so veterans of the series know what to expect. The UEFA Champions League and Europa League (formerly the UEFA Cup) are here in all their glory, as well as an assortment of leagues and cups. PES doesn’t have licenses for many real-life leagues so for example you’ll participate in the English League rather than the Premier League, but there are leagues here for England, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and a Dutch league. There are a few different cups to participate in, most notably the Copa Santander Libertadores. You can also play exhibition matches, the master league as well as the Be a Legend mode.
Within the Become a Legend game you’ll have to prove yourself to your manager throughout your career. Often during the season you’ll be given a task to perform in a particular game, something like have three shots on target, or achieve a match rating of 7+. Success results in your manager thinking more highly of you (and thus moving you up the depth chart) or gaining more fans. Failure has adverse effects like the manager’s opinion of you dropping, or seeing you removed from the starting team altogether.
Progress in Become a Legend isn’t always believable. For example my player, who had scored more than double the goals of anyone else on the team, and had led Vitesse to the semi-finals of the Dutch cup and equal first-place in the league, was dropped to the bench after failing a manager task. The result was four games spent on the bench – three league losses and a semi-final defeat. This four-game spell killed off our title aspirations and ruined the hours I’d spent getting the team into that position. It was frustrating to say the least, but you could argue that it’s also realistic.
Master League can also be played online, and while the core game mechanics remain the same as last year there have been a few improvements. You can now choose your own play-style (from pre-sets such as balanced, speed or set-pieces), players have contract periods and will have to be let go if you can’t meet their new financial demands and fitness and injuries play a bigger role.
Communities now support up to one-hundred people and there is a message board for you to communicate on. You can also organize inter-community matches with ease. People who disconnect during games will be barred from competition and are likely to be given another frequent disconnector in their subsequent online matches (bravo I say). Facebook functionality has been added too, but I am one of the few who continue to resist that particular site, so I couldn’t tell you what this adds to the game.
Another issue is your teammates standing offside far too often, even when there’s no sign of an offside trap. It will happen multiple times per game and rarely for good reason. On harder difficulty settings your CPU opponents can often outrun you both with and without the ball. If you have the ball you’ll be chased down in seconds, but this is not the case for the CPU. Also, CPU opponents are almost never called for fouls other than offside, while you’ll get called on plenty of ‘light’ challenges.
Throughout the midfield the game handles like a dream, but at both ends of the ground you run into problems. Defensively it’s very difficult to match the opposition in the air, with headers from corners being one of the main ways they scored against me. Up forward it’s difficult to get the right kind of purchase on your shots. Sometimes this is a result of twitchy shot controls, while at other times the animations just seem wrong. For example there were a few times I broke through the line and was one-on-one with the keeper but when I attempted a shot my player slid into the ball rather than blasting it home. This lack of precision control at key areas of the ground has a significant impact on both game flow and enjoyment.
Player animations have always been a highlight of the PES games, and this year is no exception. Players move believably and have excellent response time to your inputs. The all-new emphasis on physical defending has necessitated even more animations and makes the whole game more realistic. Players will now stumble when they run into an opponent, sometimes going to ground, while at other times staying on their feet and retaining possession.
While the player animations are great, player likenesses aren’t as accurate. A few players look good (e.g. Rooney and Messi) but the majority are less impressive. There are thirty-one stadiums in the game and they all look fine. There’s impressive on-field details like the inclusion of security guards slouching in their chairs, but the crowd is once again poor. Rain doesn’t affect the pitch, nor do players accumulate mud or grass-stains as the game progresses which is a bit disappointing.
Overall PES 2012 is an enjoyable game despite a few control issues. The new teammate controls make for quality attacking football, while the physical defensive approach makes for a much more realistic looking game. Some control issues, like those where the CPU takes control of your players briefly, or when your shots refuse to go where you’re trying to direct them, detract from the overall experience though. These control issues aside PES 2012 offers a quality game of soccer with excellent presentation. If you’ve enjoyed previous games in the series then PES 2012 offers a (slight) step forward and is well worth a look, and if you’ve never played PES now is a good time to give it a go. Perhaps not the definitive soccer game, but it’s still very good.
Review By: Mike Allison