PES 2012 Review (PS3/360)

During the previous generation of consoles, there was a group of people who had a secret knowledge. It was passed down from one year to the next, ignored by most but irrefutable to those in the know: Pro Evolution Soccer was the best football game around. Nothing could match its deeper, tactical gameplay that was so much closer to real football than any rival could get. This generation of consoles saw that balance shift and PES has been playing catch up for a number of years, steadily gaining ground but never quite reaching the heights it enjoyed previously.

So we arrive at PES 2012, the direct sequel to the best PES of recent years. Will this year’s release finally reclaim the place of honour that the franchise previously enjoyed? Will PES 2012 be the football game that real, knowledgable football fans will point to as the best representation of the sport?

[drop2]In many ways, PES 2012 is a frustrating game. It has moments of sheer brilliance, unrivalled in the genre and then it has displays of laziness that make you think the developers just can’t be bothered anymore. It has instances when it is really quite visually stunning and then it has times when it looks like it’s the PSP version of the game. There are occasions when the impressive tactical play shines through and there are rare times when it makes tactical mistakes that wouldn’t be out of place at an under 5’s game at the local leisure centre.

If you’ll excuse me for shamelessly adopting an incredibly tired, old footballing cliché: PES 2012 is a game of two halves.

Let’s address some of the good things first. The formations, player movement and tactical play of the artificial intelligence is usually nothing short of astounding. PES seems to have a knowledge of the ebb and flow of football that most modern managers would sell their souls for. The Master League mode is still head and shoulders above any competitors. It won’t rival a proper management sim but the way it allows steady growth of players and clubs over time is subtly brilliant.

In terms of attacking play, PES has taken another step back towards its early arcade roots by allowing a more fluid forward game, with precision and speed putting the advantages firmly in the attacking side of the game. With the right players, it’s possible to jink and spin your way through an entire team of defenders with sudden direction changes and easily performed tricks.

[drop]It feels almost as if Konami has decided to refocus PES away from the methodical tactical play of previous years and towards a more spectacular demonstration of football that would be more at home on a YouTube highlights reel. But the tactics are still there, working underneath the showboating of the star forwards. If you’re not controlling one of the handful of top class players, or if you’re playing on the higher difficulty settings, then attacking becomes a lot more difficult.

The AI improvements aren’t just with the defensive side of things either, players will make much more intelligent runs off the ball and create space for themselves. The whole package adds up to a much more pleasant experience when playing with – and against – computer controlled players. Playing against human controlled opposition usually brings the game down to a simple case of who can perform the dribbling runs more accurately and not misplace a pass.

The close control of skilful attackers means that the pressure placed on them by defenders (using the face buttons to chase down and pressurise) is reasonably easy to avoid with tight turns. The sliding tackle is almost useless due to its lengthy animation giving it away and the propensity of the referee to blow his whistle for the most minor of infractions. So you end up relying on a scrappy pass or a bad decision to turn towards a crowded area of the pitch to win possession.

So, PES 2012 has tactical depth, it has attacking flair and it – usually – has tense interaction between the two. It’s not all glory though. The physics are regularly atrocious, with the ball often seeming to be a heavy object sliding along rough concrete rather than a bag full of air rolling along slick grass. At times, this effect seems totally reversed. The ball will ricochet off a defender’s block and fly to the other side of the pitch faster than I’ve ever seen a football move.

Amid the tactical brainpower and excellent player movement, there are goalkeepers who seem incapable of catching and regularly allow the weakest of goals to fly past them while they stand like a spectator. They also tend to stand seven yards off their line far too often, just in that totally useless no-man’s-land for goalkeepers.

Collision detection seems awry sometimes too, with headers and volleys making contact despite the ball being a yard away from the appendage it was supposed to have bounced off. It’s jarring in places and all the more noticeable when set against the natural player movements and runs.

[videoyoutube]While we’re on the subject of players, the limited licenses mean that most player and club names are wrong and plenty of transfers are still not fully realised. A day one patch should bring that into line and, for those with access to Google, patching your game with full, up to date and visually authentic squads and appearances is as easy as finding a spare USB memory stick. Missing names is one issue that, thanks to the unparalleled dedication of the PES community, is no longer a cause for concern.

Presentation is one area where PES has always struggled to stay modern and 2012 is no different. If anything, the presentation, outside of the fully licensed UEFA Champions League and Copa Libertadores modes, is worse than usual. The menus are slick enough and certainly responsive and intuitive but once you get into the game modes, there is a general feeling that things weren’t particularly well thought through.

Master League mode, for example, is a wonderfully structured, balanced section of the game. But the repetitive, stilted interactions with your head coach, his paltry selection of written dialogue lines and the obsequious nagging between every match is all incredibly repetitive and needlessly frustrating. The fact that several of the written lines don’t seem to have been translated, spell-checked or proofread properly is unforgivable in a product which just doesn’t feel as close to being finished as it should do.

Of course, PES is always a little rough around the edges and usually it’s easy to forgive those quirks because the game plays so brilliantly. This time around, the poor physics and unfinished presentation actually hinder gameplay in the two areas where PES is usually streets ahead of the competition: tactically on the pitch and in the Master League mode. It adds a level of frustration that does more harm than the good done by any of the yearly upgrades.

Pros:

  • Master League is still the best “career mode” in a football game.
  • More tactical depth and formation freedom than elsewhere.
  • Under the hood, it really seems to know the subtleties of football.
  • Player movement and AI is really exceptionally good at times.

Cons:

  • Often looks dreadful.
  • Regular, serious problems with the ball physics and collision detection.
  • Unfinished in areas that are key to the best game modes.

Reviewing the yearly football games, or any of the iterative sports games, is something of a pointless endeavour. Fans of PES will most likely have their hearts set on this year’s release, so much so that anything I say won’t make much of a difference to their plans. That’s understandable, and there is a lot in this year’s PES to be happy about. Unfortunately, the problems with the physics and the shoddy presentation take the shine off what would otherwise be another strong contender in the genre.

Whether you can forgive the rushed dialogue text, the constant nagging and the unfinished presentation is a matter of personal patience but those who make apologies for the dodgy physics are giving Konami free reign to present another unfinished game next year. I think PES fans deserve better than this.

Score: 7/10

23 Comments

  1. Good game then, but fifa wins this year?

    • But I guess only the sales will tell…

      • That’s Fifa too then, can’t imagine PES selling better than FIFA this year..

      • I don’t think Pro Evo ever outsold FIFA, even when it was the better game of the two.

      • Judging by the amount of comments Fifa wins hands down.

    • Does being the more popular, necessarily make something better? In the above statement i’m not choosing sides, just saying the two don’t always go hand in hand.

      Take bops. Best selling cod, imo the worst cod ever made. The second of the only two cods i’ve traded.(The first was the cod t-arch made prior to w@w.)

      • (I know alot of you & millions others like bops & it’s good we all get catered for. Same for the fifa/pes scenario.)

  2. Interesting read, thanks Peter. I was planning on getting this but after a few games on FIFA I was hooked! I will be waiting until later in the year when this has dropped in price. Shame really, if they’d been released together I’d have gone for PES this year.

  3. Been playing this for over a week now and it’s everything I wanted it to be and more. I haven’t yet suffered any of the issues of which you speak and personally, I’ve always thought it’s been an excellent looking game in motion, the front end is admittedly a bit dodgy but even that’s pretty easy to use which is what’s important. Room for improvement as ever but I’m more than satisfied with this years iteration.

  4. mm football.

  5. I miss the good old days when PES was better than FIFA.

    • Me too. Mr. Seabass needs to take a long look at himself and his team.

    • They never went away:)

    • Me too. FIFA is definitely the better game now but I don’t think its as enjoyable to play as the old PS2 Pro Evos.

  6. Nice review CB.

    I love this years PES, going to really enjoy it!

    The thing I’m not happy about is that, the devs are already talking about PES2013, about how different it’s going to be.

    Not very professional IMO!!

  7. Good review, I’ve personally never really enjoyed PES and always bought FIFA. I’ve played a few different versions of PES but can’t deal with the Japanese take on Football – formation setting strategy or whatever stupid phrases they give to things. I also feel it’s vital for a Football game to have the real licenses, teams, players, stadiums etc. For these reasons, I’m out :-)

    • Bar stadiums, all prem stips & team names(including all world player names,) can be dloaded form the web week1. All other stips are there, it’s only the prem liscence ea have.
      I agree, an official stadium makes a difference, but it’s something I can live without. Each to their own:)

  8. Nice review.
    I started playing pes when it was iss pro soccer & have bought all but one since. Every year I try the fifa & pes demo, but pes just always clicks with me. This is the second time I wont be purchasing, nothing to do with performance, just too many great games coming out & the financial aspect(skyrim will take majority of my time up:) I’ll be buying next year as the skyrims, ark cities & the like arn’t out every year.
    Whether it’s pes or fifa you buy, hope you all enjoy your footy fix.

  9. I’m currently really enjoying PES 2012. I honestly can’t say I’ve seen any dodgy ball physics yet (but I am only 15 games into my first season). Does FIFA have the ability to create a team yet? I would definitely pick it up if it did.

  10. For me, this year is very significant for PES……with the new defending in FIFA, PES is easier to pick up and get a couple of games in with reasonable success. I know that a lot of people have been a bit put of with FIFA 12’s defending and PES is the antidote. Unfortunately, they completely missed the chance by releasing after FIFA…..oh well. I agree with FIFA being the better of the two.

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