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Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 Review

Written by on Wednesday, 12 October 201113 Comments

Soccer Gaming has teamed up with Pro Evolution Soccer site, PES Gaming to deliver the review of PES 2012. Whilst this may seem like a slightly biased move, be assured that reviewed, Dougie Donut has a reputation for not only speaking his mind, but also being slightly underwhelmed by previous Konami offerings. With that said, his lengthy and open review of PES 2012 will hopefully give the SG community something to think about when deciding whether to purchase that title.

Introduction

I’d like to begin my review by paying tribute to Konami staff, who have managed to work through one of the worst natural disasters they have ever faced in their history. It could have been quite conceivable for Konami to have either cancelled or delayed the game by 6 months to tackle their challenging situation, but somehow showed strength in character to actually produce the game – despite the almost surreal nature of their reality.

This review will be for the core game of football. I plan on doing a Master League (+online) review shortly after this one.

For me, PES 2011 was a landmark version. It created the core game which would finally sever it’s ties to the initial direction Konami took with the current generation of machines. Whilst there was still too much hand holding for my liking, it set the course for player freedom which is definitely the way forward.

The Breakdown

I thought I’d try to provide a comprehensive review of the key mechanics of the game. So I’ve tried to create categories of interest. What I’d like to achive with this review is to try to talk through the categories, and then to provide an overall impression and review of the game. So here goes.

Graphics

Whilst graphics are not high on my personal agenda by which to judge games, I did think PES 2011 was not blessed in the looks department.This was more apparent when compared to a certain rival game. But I’m pleased to say that the game looks very polished.The player characters look very smooth, and the pitches are pleasantly varied. Last year we had the same looking pitch in all stadiums.But this year, we have different shades of pitches which makes for better aesthetics. The addition of increased peripheral characters in matches may appeal to some.I have to say that I’ve never been fond of the elements to the game which look to provide superficial gloss. Features in the past such as shirts that crease, or the new neck muscle and eye bulging ferocity of players is lost on me. I’d rather extra effort was put into the core game! But that said, the game is better looking.

Passing

For this review I have used mostly zero pass assistance when playing. This for me gives a more authentic feel to the passing game. The demos did not reflect the passing mechanics which are in the final game. Even with full assistance, if you tap the pass button, you won’t automatically get a perfect full length pass to a player further away from you. A short pass will go towards a target player, but at a slower pace, leaving it susceptible to interception.

My use of zero assistance gives me much more control over play, and means that I end up with over hit and under hit passes during play. I don’t find this frustrating at all, and if anything it brings a smile to my face because I made those mistakes myself! I didn’t have automated passing routines interpreting my intentions – I messed up of my own accord. It’s been a long time in coming, but finally Konami have delivered us authentic, fully user controlled passing. Thank you very much Konami! I have to warn you though, that this will take some getting used to.

You could try starting at the default 2/4 bars of assistance and reduce the levels as you get more comfortable with the game. What becomes apparent during play is that under pressure you’re more likely to make mistakes when passing the ball. This delivers a more authentic experience, which is a real positive.

Shooting

Most of my games have been played with lesser well known teams. This comes with the limitation of not having players with brilliant stats for their abilities. What it does do is give you a larger element of the unknown with players that you are not so familiar with. Shooting with these types of players feels very natural and you don’t always get perfectly hit shots with serious power. What you do get is context sensitivity playing a large part in whether the ball is struck properly or not. This results in realistic shots being taken, where either power or accuracy not being of a sufficient quality to trouble goalkeepers. But the element of surprise is always there, since these players can score great goals too, but not at will, as with the very top players.

This is another tribute to the authenticity the game has to offer. Shooting with the usual suspects yields the usual results. You get well struck shots which pack enough oomph to give you satisfaction. You can use the finesse button ‘R2′ or ‘RT’ to superb effect too. It’s definitely a feature you should incorporate in your game.

One feature which did dissappoint with the game was the lack of ability to lob the ball. As much as I tried, I was unable to lob the keeper. You get more of a lofted ball, which is easily picked off.

A big change from PES 2011 for shooting is that when you’re attacking, having an opponent in close proximity doesn’t necessarily affect your shots. You can use your strength and positioning to great effect. This adds more emphasis to the defensive aspects of the game, which I’ll talk about shortly.

Dribbling

Dribbling, which most of you will be familiar with from the demos, is very satisfying indeed. The dribbling is reminiscent of dribbling from the likes of PES5/6. Without using tricks, you can jink, shuffle, burst past, or just plain old stop and lay the ball off with fully reactive players. There’s no feeling of button lag, or response lag to your instructions. The players are totally responsive to you, and this really does make you feel at home with the game.

The use of tricks adds another dimension to the game which more advanced players will no doubt master. But it’s not necessary to do so. You can just use the basics to control and manipulate players to carry out your will.

Something of concern though is the dribbling ability of key star players. There’s a noticeable difference in controlling and dribbling with star players who outshine lesser players. This could lead to beating several men fairly easily, but by mastering the defensive techniques available, this should be counter-balanced.

I should also add that when I have tried playing as Barcelona against poor teams, I was not able to dominate with Messi. I would find him getting double-teamed by players to try to halt his progress. This is not to say that he was rendered totally ineffective, but it wasn’t easy going for Messi. Of course this is just against CPU, and so playing against real opponents will be more of a challenge in terms of your dribbling skills versus your opponents defending skills.

Attacking

Since playing primarily on Top Player mode, as well as occasionally on SuperStar level, attacking is not easy. You will need to adapt to the play as it unfolds in front of you. You will have a good feel for this from the demo already. I would recommend spending a couple of games getting to know how your team functions.

Understanding which players make supporting runs or create space to understand when a goal threat opportunity presents itself will be key to your success. You can attempt to bulldoze your way through the middle with key passes or dribblers with mixed results, or you can play a more patient game waiting for an opening to be made, and then to go for it.

Alternatively wing play can be used very effectively. I’d go so far as to say too effectively. I’ve been scoring a fair few of my goals from comfortable crosses which tend to get converted more often than not. It’s going to be a challenge to stop those crosses from coming in this year.

A bit like the cut back passes of old which were pretty much unstoppable with the right players. But it’s not a game killer in my opinion, but will require some level of skill to stop your opponents from picking up easy goals. And yet again, I nearly forgot to mention using the right stick to trigger runs! I have to say I’ve only used the assisted mode yet. So I’ve only been selecting a player to trigger his run, and not controlled the player myself. With so much movement on the pitch, and with your general passing abilities, it’s easy to forget that you can trigger runs to create more space for yourself. It’s a feature that is a Godsend in my opinion. We’ve all sworn at a defender or midfielder in the past who just stood there and watched you struggle with the ball when attacking. Those days are gone.

Defending

Defending is very diverse now. We have effectively four different ways to defend:

1. We can use brute force by applying pressure on to a striker, but expect to give away many soft free kicks as a result (via the ‘X’ or ‘A’ buttons).

2. We can slide tackle – it’s a last ditch approach and very maverick to use as the main defence tactic, so expect plenty of cards if you do this a lot.

3. We can use the new jockeying system – this will take some time to master, and even then it’s not guaranteed to be very effective. Factors such as timing, defensive ability as well as sheer luck will all combine to hopefully stop attacks (using Right trigger or R2 button with ‘X’ or ‘A’).

4. We can call in reinforcements to try to steal the ball, but again you may be susceptible to giving away free kicks.

It’s great to now have different methods to help you repel attacks from your opponents. It’s not easy, and will require quick judgement calls, as well as working on your defensive skills. I’d say that this game is probably a little more biased towards attacking play, but defenders should have enough in their arsenal to match them.

But make no mistake, defending is a skill which you will have to learn to master all over again. You’ll give away many unnecessary free kicks, pick up bookings and generally be very annoyed when off the ball until you get a better grasp of the game. It’s back to basics with defending.

Something I haven’t quite got a handle on is seeing a central defender making challenges in the middle of the park on occasion. It’s weird to see him abandon his station at the heart of the defence and become a maverick on the field. This may happen a fair bit, and I’m not sure if it’s because of my team formation and set up. Thinking about it, one strategy is for a centre back to join attacking play. But I don’t recall initiating the strategy. It’s something I’ll try to keep an eye on, and I’m sure you guys will let me know if it’s an issue!

Set pieces

The right analog stick has now been enhanced to allow you to control alternative players to the set piece taker, as I’m sure you’re all aware of. What I learned whilst playing is that you don’t have to wait to place your player before delivering him the ball. So you can get him running into position and play the ball to allow him to get a running jump at the ball – at corners for example. Since it is obvious which player is making the run, it’s fairly easy for your opponent to pick out who to man mark.

To get around this you can trigger a dummy run to create space, then revert back to controlling the set piece taker to deliver the ball

anywhere else – such as the space the dummy runner created. So this opens up the strategic elements to set pieces a bit more.

Free Kicks

I really like the free kick system. It’s pretty much unchanged from last year, which I had no complaints about. However when playing against the CPU, there’s a major bug there in my opinion. If you give away a free kick around 18 to 21 yards roughly from goal, expect to pick the ball up from the back of the net. It’s really annoying to see virtually every attempt go in and be so helpless. Placing a defender on the line makes no difference.

In fact during free kicks it dawned on me that it would have been good to be able to control the keeper’s placement on the line manually. Sure it leaves you potentially more vulnerable to a well taken free kick, but against the AI, when you know exactly where the ball will be put, it would have saved a sure goal. If the success rate of these free kicks could be toned down to have around a 15 to 20% success rate for CPU teams, then it would easier to digest. Free kicks from further distances are much more realistic and so you can live with goals going in from them.

Active AI

I have to admit that when I read the blurb about Active AI, I was left underwhelmed. I was reassured that I would be impressed by it, and I have to say, I really am. I’ve been playing the game with the blimp camera mode a fair bit to just watch my team mates around me.

Possession football is a big part of my game, and means I will pass it back as much as I do forward. But wherever I choose to pass the balls, my players are alert to my positioning and move to offer themselves, or to create space. I’m still getting used to the types of running that they do. They finally feel alert and alive! Playing with different teams reflects the ‘game intelligence’ of players around you. Don’t expect lesser teams to have the movement abilities of better teams. But they do still offer good positioning.

Goalkeepers

Once again goalkeepers can be great and occassionally poor in their decision making. Some rather tame shots are parried into open play, where it would have been easier to just catch it. But other times there have been good saves and interceptions from keepers.

Overall they’re better than last year, but in the grand scheme of things, they’re still a remnant of goalkeeping from the last generation of PES games.

You can bet that they will be given a complete overhaul for next year’s edition. I have to say that I’m so overjoyed that you can now make your goalkeeper deliver the ball to any outfield player you wish to. It’s been something that has bugged me for years, and finally it’s wonderful to see this ability in the game!

Referees

So far I’ve found referees to be a bit of a mixed bag. I think there are different types of refereeing principles in use for different types of games. For single player games against the CPU, I found that if I committed off the ball challenges, I invariably got away with them.

This was very dissappointing, since it was a problem from last year that I was hoping would be fixed.

But then when playing two player games, off the ball challenges were always given as fouls, and carded where appropriate too. I’ve been the recipient of what I would call a very harsh red card once, for a sliding tackle which I didn’t think was too bad. I haven’t received a red card since in play. I’ve been given fair yellow cards throughout, and justifiably so.

We see the return to the series of free kicks for running into players, or applying pressure to them without any finesse or strategy. Some may be frustrated with this, but hopefully you can learn the bounds of the principles referees are applying fairly quickly to know what you can and can’t do. What is good is that the refereeing decisions are generally consistent. So there’s no excuse for throwing a wobbly at referees.

Referees also let play continue for as long as they can to give the fouled player’s team the advantage before calling back play if the move breaks down. It helps keep the action a bit more fluid, especially given how start stop games can be.

Presentation

The new slicker presentation from last year has been built on and refined for the new version. When you first boot up the game, you are invited to create a player profile. In it you create an avatar for yourself and set up your control system preferences. From creating your preferred link feints to setting passing assistance, all your settings are done up front and carried in to the game. You do not get the opportunity to change your link feints in game, as the formation screen menus have been changed.

There are four formations you can set to allow you to create your custom strategies to take into games. It should be noted that you can create different profiles for yourself to allow you work with different set ups. What I mean by this is, that you can create different sets of formations/strategies and load up the preferred profile for the set up you wish to use.

General

If I had to describe the game having played around 40 odd games on it, is that it is tough. I consider myself a pretty decent player, but I’m being battered in games. Even when playing with top teams against poor teams, I struggle. But I’m not blaming the AI for my failures – just me. When watching goal replays, it’s pretty clear that I was opened up easily, or failed to clear a ball, or misplaced a pass and was punished for it.

I could argue that the lesser teams are very good at finishing any opportunities that fall their way, but that’s part of the game. These are professional teams after all. With the vast degree of freedom of play now available, it’s easier to take the defeats. Frustration at the AI of your team mates has been drastically reduced.

Applying basic principles of real football will go a long way in this game. If you choose to pass your way out of defence, don’t be surprised if the ball is suddenly in the back of your net. You’ll have your decision making skills to blame.

I’d like to make it clear that I’m not complaining about how difficult the game is. Quite the opposite – I’m absolutely loving it! Most of us veterans come to terms with new editions of PES within a couple of hours tops. Not this time. Certainly not in my case anyway. Honing your passing, dribbling and shooting abilities is going to be key to attacking well. I strongly recommend trying the new training mode, as it makes a very welcome return to the series. You can learn a bit more about the basic controls, and try to improve your skills.

As it stands, my track record is: P40 W3 L37. I’ve scored around 35 goals, and conceded a lot more. I feel like a novice all over again.

Conclusion

PES 2012 has put a massive smile on my face. I’m playing a pedigree PES game, which has it’s origins in the PES5/6 versions which many of us still look back at as the pinnacle of the series. PES 2012 finally has taken PES to the next level for me. It’s combining the core of PES with many current gen abilities to deliver a game that packs a punch.

I’ve already tried the game with a friend who favours the competitor game, and he actually stood up and took notice of PES. His usual taunts like, “Yeah right, PES is back this year, as it was last year and the year before” are now a thing of the past. He lauded the control ability at his fingertips. Being able to set the direction and pace of passes to your intentions, combined with the core of PES has taken the series to the next level.

What sets this game apart from predecessors is just how responsive your players are when on the ball. Issuing commands to your player under control are acted out immediately. You now feel you can cut left or right and burst past a man at will.

Seeing players stumble and then immediately regain their composure and continue has finally made it into the game. It will also help bring down your blood pressure, from previously swearing away at stumbling players who took an eternity to come out of the shock of impact.

Even though I’ve spent most of my time losing games, and chasing shadows in those games, I feel like I have myself to blame. I know that if I work harder, that I can master the controls and become a better player. This may take me a few weeks and possibly a month or two to master. This will be the case for many players which I think is another welcome addition.

Playing the game against friends has been a real challenge again. Playing games which become technical possession battles, where you either try to work some magic, or wait for a mistake from your opponent, and you’re in. Games can be low scoring tense affairs, or free flowing – but the best bit is that they are unpredictable. You’ve got to work hard to play well, and only the really gifted players will feel at home with the game from day one.

Perhaps I haven’t played enough games to know whether there are any deep flaws, but so far so good. I did encounter on one occasion during an online game, where an opponent did the old ‘play it back to a midfielder from kick off, then play a long ball to a striker through on goal’ routine. So perhaps that unpleasant feature hasn’t been eradicted fully. But I’ll go into the online game in a seperate review.

It’s by no means perfect, since there are a few elements which could have been better, but this game is very sharp. My keeper has been well out of position on occasion. A long through ball played on the ground physically went through a defender’s leg, to allow my striker to score. But these occurences are few and far between.

I’ve played enough games to know that the annoying elements from PES 2011 are mostly gone, and that at it’s core, PES 2012 is a solid, well built game. As many of you will attest from the demos released, there’s a new edge to PES. You’re in control, so if you’re making mistakes then take a long look in the mirror for why you’re not playing well.

Finally, for me, PES is back.

Rating: 9/10.

Thanks for reading.

Dougiedonut