Having been largely in the shadow of EA’s FIFA series for many years, Konami is looking to hone the major changes in the last few PES games and ensure Pro Evolution Soccer 2012’s simulation of soccer is spot on.
The main new change to how PES plays on the pitch is a feature called Active AI. What this means is that when you’re in or out of possession of the ball, your players will make more intelligent runs to move into space to receive a pass. If one of your footballer’s movements still isn’t quite precise enough, you can manually control him to get into the best position while still having the ball with another player. This is achieved by flicking the right stick in the direction of the player you wish to manoeuvre and clicking down on the right stick to have them run into space. Not only is this handy for making runs in on the goal in open play, you can also make use of Active AI during corners and shift a fox in the box around so that the ball lands right on his noggin.
Precision seems very much the key to Pro Evolution Soccer this year, with FIFA being more of a pick up and play affair and PES 2012 providing a lot more tactical depth for those seeking out the thinking man’s football game. Passes need to be lined up with the left analogue stick to go in the appropriate direction, tackles need to be timed to perfection so as to not anger the referee and attacks need to be well thought out so they don’t end prematurely. Care needs to be taken when shooting at goal as well, with aspects like pressure on an attacker, the form the strike taker is in and what foot they’re shooting with seeming to matter much more than ever before.
Testing out the finer points of the gameplay before taking to the pitch is particularly crucial to improving your chances of winning, and because of this Konami has added a new Training Challenge mode. In Training Challenges you can, for instance, improve upon your set piece taking by playing and completing the pre-determined challenges, to either bronze, silver or gold standard. Challenges can range from dribbling around cones, and successfully tackling a player, to shooting at a specific target in the goal. Also, in order to win a shiny gold trophy, you’ll need to complete three increasingly difficult gauntlets back-to-back; otherwise you’ll need to start over from scratch. Although this can be pretty tough going at times, training challenges are very handy for learning how to complete some of the more intricate moves in your arsenal.
All the standard inputs, such as the Square/X button to shoot and R1/RB to sprint, are all mapped out as usual, along with the additional tricks and flicks adding another layer of depth for the creatively inclined. Other welcome returning features include the official UEFA Champion League license, the Copa Santander Libertadores, which is the South American equivalent of the Champions League, and the Community and Online suites. Also, thanks to PES only highlighting the most noteworthy modes from the main menu, unlike FIFA, the user interface for PES 2012 is very simple and easy to navigate, which carries through to the all important game plan/team selection screen.
Choosing which players you want taking to the pitch to make up your starting 11 is as easy as selecting a player from the bench, dragging them over to one of your starters, and dropping them onto the pitch. The little in-game mouse cursor can also shift a player's starting position around so easily, it makes FIFA look positively clunky by comparison. For the uber-lazy there’s also a handy option to have a starting 11 picked automatically on the basis of their present form or overall ability.
When taking to the pitch to duke it out with a rival team, you may well notice that player likenesses have once again been improved just that little bit more, with an added layer of realism being added to the way the players express emotion this year, with elation, frustration and tiredness all etched effectively on a footballer's face.
At grass roots and indeed foot level, PES plays a pretty realistic game by and large. Players and the ball all feel appropriately weighty and grounded in realism, with deflections a regular occurrence and tricky players like Nani and Robinho feeling very distinct from dogged defenders such as Lucio and Thiago Silva. Passing the football around also feels decidedly slick, with cross field balls and one-touch passes being an absolute joy to ping around the field. The realistic nature can be brought down at times though, mainly by goalkeepers with overly slippery hands and referees who are all too happy to blow their whistle for a foul.
This year’s ferocious clash between PES 2012 and FIFA 12 looks as if it’ll be the tightest contest for soccer supremacy in a long while. The steady improvements made to PES, through slick presentation and rewardingly deep gameplay, over the last couple of years has culminated in a title challenge that will push EA all the way if they want to retain their crown. Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 will lace up its boots for a September 27th North American launch and an October 14th European release.