Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 Review (Xbox 360)
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Day One: Initial/Gameplay Impressions
Day Two: Career Mode Impressions
The Pro Evolution Soccer series has always lived and died by its gameplay. You don't expect stunningly polished presentation when you pop in PES, but you do expect fun and authentic on-pitch action. The problem was that for the past few years, even the gameplay has faltered, leading to a string of subpar offerings from this once mighty franchise.
Last year was a step in the right direction, as PES 2011's gameplay started to offer football fans glimmers of hope. This year,PES 2012 has eradicated its predecessors’ flaws, and took gameplay to a whole new level. This is by far the best PES game for the current generation of consoles.
Pass and move: one of football’s most basic, but crucial principles. PES 2012’s revamped AI got this right. I cannot rave about this enough. AI teammates read and react to situations cleverly, moving into space to create opportunities or support your ball carrier by coming close. The AI teammates are smart enough that I rarely found myself having to use this year’s new feature of manually initiating runs. This makes scoring immensely satisfying because of the organic nature of the buildup. If you take the time to tweak some teams’ questionable default tactics, you will see a good variety of defending styles from the CPU — some of them play a high line, others defend deep with their entire team behind the ball. Consequently, you’re forced to utilize your AI teammates to full effect, as you must find different ways to craft your attack. And believe me, there are plenty.
Player individuality — one of PES’ trademarks — remains strong as ever. Each player feels different to control. This, combined with the intelligent AI makes attacking play in PES 2012 a pure joy. One of my favorite analogies about PES is that it’s like an onion: you peel off one layer of the game to reveal another. It’s a great comparison, because the game certainly gets better the more you play it. One thing I can't rave enough about, is that every game feels different. The spirit of spontaneity that PES is known for is alive and well.
Despite its greatness, there are still some shortcomings to PES 2012’s overall gameplay. The CPU seems unable to maintain possession realistically. Basically, CPU controlled players feel too conditioned to only think in one direction when attacking. While you can adjust the style of how the teams attack by changing tactics, it seems that no matter the amount of tweaking, they are are still too intent on going forward and risk relinquishing possession. I have noticed that even for teams with a defensive minded setup, players are eager to take on defenders and beating them when the safer, more logical option is to play the ball back and slow the game down.
Scripting issues crop up periodically. While some of this may be related to the game’s animation mechanics, it is nonetheless disheartening to see some tussles entering into predetermined, scripted sequences which, after playing for a while, you will instantly recognize. AI defenders suffer from this as well. From time to time it seems as if the ball is predestined to reach to a certain place on the pitch, and AI defenders will completely switch off and let the ball dribble through. This is a rare happenstance, but when it does happen it usually happens inside the box and can be costly to your team.
PES 2012’s goalkeepers remind me of Ben Foster, the West Brom keeper. Like Foster, while they are definitely capable of world class saves, they are also inconsistent enough to let in their fair share of howlers. They especially seem incapable of catching the ball and will elect to parry even the slowest of shots.
All in all, these are minor quibbles to what are some of the best attacking sequences I’ve ever experienced. Is it entirely realistic? Not exactly. But gameplay still feels too open and too end-to-end. But where PES 2012 succeeds is in capturing the free flowing spirit of football and then amplify it. It’s hard to capture its essence in words, but you will know it when you pick up the controller and play it for the first time, because it feels just right.
This horse, by now, is probably revived and beaten to death again, but I have to mention it anyway: the lack of official licenses. I know there are plenty of excellent option files on the internet with real kits and team names, but the house rule here at OS is that we only review what comes in the box. So at the end of the day, North London versus The Potteries is not the same as Arsenal against Stoke City, especially not with those hideous fake kits. What mitigates this to a certain extent is that the Serie A and La Liga are fully licensed, so amongst the “big three,” only the Premier League is missing, with all but Manchester United and Tottenham coming with fake names and kits. As well, PES 2012 also returns with UEFA and Copa Libertadores licenses. While the differences are mostly cosmetic, it still boosts the immersion level, especially when your team steps out for a Champions League match and the familiar anthem rings out around the stadium. Night games in PES 2012 look particularly fantastic.
PES’ animations are starting to show their age. To be fair, there have been some subtle improvements and things do look smoother on the pitch, but it’s still decidedly below par compared to the current slew of sports titles. Player movements look stilted and robotic; and dribbling, while satisfying to perform, looks awkward as players’ leg movements sometimes get out of sync or are stuck in a certain animation. Player faces on the other hand, are a pleasant surprise. A fair share of them are done extremely well and look just like their real life counterparts.
The commentary, again by Jon Champion and Jim Beglin, has improved … slightly. This is PES we’re talking about, so the bar has never been set even remotely high. They are still not good enough to add anything meaningful to the atmosphere due to the amount of generic comments, but at least Beglin finally seems to be able to string a complete sentence together. This is especially refreshing since last year his contributions were largely limited to yelling out one word exclamations often at the wrong times. Overall, presentation remains well below average.
Career modes in PES 2012 are grouped under the Football Life umbrella. Master League and Become A Legend make their expected return, along with a newcomer, Club Boss.
Master League remains largely unchanged, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing given how addictive ML in previous PESgames were. The mode still revolves around the same tasks of transferring players, youth management, keeping your squad happy and winning trophies. There are a few small improvements. Visually, some information is now presented via cut scenes. They are nicer to look at than a text box, and will remain interesting until the same ones pop up over and over again. You can also respond to player requests through a simplistic, pick an answer system, which will either make him happy or unhappy. These small adjustments, while appreciated, don’t change things a whole lot. Disappointingly, aspiring managers are still forced to be “one club men”, as the ability to change clubs is still lacking. If you get sacked by your chairman, the game mode just ends. That’s it.
Become A Legend, with the exception of cut scenes, is almost identical to last year’s version as well. The only significant difference is that this year, you cannot pick the club you start with, and are instead signed by one of the lower clubs in Europe. Like Master League, even without substantial changes, it is still highly addictive to try to make your way to the top continental teams and lead your country to glory.
As I stated in my career mode impressions, the main improvement to both modes comes simply from the improved gameplay, especially in Become A Legend. With this year’s intelligent AI teammates, it’s a blast to play as a playmaker because you will be given so many opportunities to create some breathtaking goals.
Club Boss is the new mode where it lets you become a chairman of a football team. There is no playing involved, and instead your objective is to make the most profit while running the club. You can influence things as much or as little as you like, from personnel decisions to transfer budgets. Stick to Master League or Become a Legend, however, as this is one mode (or really, half a mode) that gets tiring really quickly.
PES’ showpiece last year, Master League online, returns. And like its offline counterpart, it’s a very deep mode. The concept remains the same: start out with no name players, play other online teams for prize money, and try to build your squad by purchasing real life footballers with much better abilities. The major change this year is the addition of contracts: not only do you have to pay to buy a player, you also have to pay to play him. This adds to the complexity of the mode, especially when you’re building your squad, as playing with a team of superstars now cost much, much more. If you’re a predominantly online player, this mode will keep you entertained well into next year.
In terms of match quality, save for the odd game with some noticeable lag, play out smoothly. One thing to note is that online matches don’t appear to have the option to adjust game speeds, so the large population who prefer to play the game on -1 or -2 will have to settle for a pace they probably find quicker than ideal.
This is one of the harder reviews I had to do in terms of scoring. On one hand, I had some of the most satisfying on-pitch moments in a football game. On the other hand, it’s still a game that still has many rough edges, like the glaringly lack of polish in its presentation elements, or the sometimes inconsistent keepers. So in the end, the question became: Is gameplay enough to carry PES 2012 to being a great title, in spite of the other areas where it sorely needs work? I’ve gone back and forth on this many times, but the more I play the game, the more the answer became evident. Yes, yes it is. Simply put, PES 2012’s gameplay is so enjoyable that any fan of the sport — passionate or casual — should overlook its flaws and pick it up, just to experience how authentic it feels on the pitch.
Learning Curve: If you know your football, it won't be hard given that your AI teammates are smart enough this year to help you out. Top Player difficulty, though, seems much harder than last year.
Control Scheme: With the exception of some button changes and the ability to manually initiate runs, it's the same PES as it has always been.
Visuals: PES does a good job with its stadiums and faces, but the game's animations desperately need some work.
Audio: Slightly better than last year -- so, still pretty bad.
Value: With Master League, Become a Legend and Master League online, PES 2012 will have you playing for a long long while.
Score: 8.0 (Great)