Pro Evolution Soccer is back for 2012. With its solid list of national teams, good selection of competitions and game modes, including the Champion’s League, and simple arcade-style gameplay, PES 2012 offers a footballing experience that’s accessible and enjoyable.
I know, there’s that other football game that we’ve already reviewed and given 9/10. But this is Pro Evolution Soccer, and in some ways it is far better. Firstly, it doesn’t have an Australian on the cover. Secondly, as soon as you get the game you can go to the Asia/Oceania zone, choose to play as New Zealand, set the difficulty to easy, and give the Australian football-roos the 5 – 1 thrashing they deserve. And thirdly... um.
Okay, so it may be the second best football game around but all things considered, and trans-Tasman smugness aside, Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 is a good enough game.
At its simplest you can dive straight into the UEFA Champion’s League and take Man U, provided Rooney can stay on the pitch, to another trophy. Or you can create a player, and spend a few seasons working away in the Dutch leagues before getting a call-up for your country and a fat contract to play in England. Unfortunately, because that other game (I’ll stop now and just call it FIFA 12) has the rights to ninety percent of English Premiere League sides, you’ll probably be playing for Merseyside Red or West London.
PES 2012 does offer plenty of game modes, both on and off-line. You can play through a career or manage a team of high profile superstars. Online has plenty of friendlies and leagues to get stuck into, whether you want to play against friends or go co-op against the best in the world. However, finding an online match can sometimes take a while.
There’s FC Porto, Old Trafford, Juventus and Cristiano Renaldo, which is good. But, also there is a limited soundtrack and commentary that is both uninspired and often unconnected to what’s going on on the pitch, which is bad. And, in terms of licenced clubs and competitions, it comes in well behind FIFA 12.
When you are playing, Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 is a beautiful game. The stadiums are packed and vibrant, and the players look great jostling, sprinting and calling for the ball. It’s easy to get the hang of, and very enjoyable.
You can win the ball cleanly from the opposing mid-fielder by pressing ‘X’, or test the ref by diving in sprigs-up by pressing ‘O’. Once you have the ball, hitting R1 will give you a burst of speed to outflank your marker and with the triangle button you can push a through ball past the defensive line for your striker to run on to. Once in the clear, tapping the square button will slide the ball past the keeper, and into the corner of the net.
It’s a simple, old-school control system that makes winning games fairly easy. You get the ball, run down the flank, cut to the corner of the penalty area and shoot. However, ramping up the difficulty seems to just to increase the speed of opposing players. While this stops you simply running around the opposition, it feels unreal and slightly unfair that before you can take two steps, the entire defence is lined up in front of you. Switching from medium to hard difficulty makes your whole team limp around like Ivan Vicelich [ ♪ "Nothing rhymes with Ivan Vicelich!" ♫ - Ed.] with a groin strain while everyone on the other team suddenly runs like Marco Rojas.
What this does is emphasise the importance of passing. With this in mind, PES 2012 now lets you nominate and control players without the ball. While you have the ball you can press R3 to take control of a second player and move him into space ready to receive the pass. It’s a nice addition, and while it takes a bit of getting used to, it adds an extra dimension to the gameplay and especially to dead ball situations.
Unfortunately, PES 2012 also has some of the same problems that have troubled previous editions. The shooting still feels a little random. Pressing the square button, whether you are outside the penalty area or standing in front of an open goal, seems to bring up the same animation on the player trying to place the ball into the net. And, two or twenty-two meters out, the ball’s just as likely to go flying off over the cross-bar and into row sixty.
However, if it does go into the net there are over one hundred celebration animations to choose from, so you can moonwalk and robot your way through a long professional career. And that is always good.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 gets some scrappy wins. Like calling New Zealand a ‘powerhouse’ of football at the beginning of their game with Japan. But mostly, and not just because it insists on making Ivan Veek-a-lish the captain of New Zealand and starting Ryan Nelson on the bench, it comes up short. At some point it may come back and challenge the champion for the title of world football game of the year, but not now.