Review: Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 (PS3)

Title: Pro Evolution Soccer 2012
Format: Blu-ray Disc
Release Date: September 27, 2011 (US), October 14, 2011 (EU)
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Konami
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: E
Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 is also available on Xbox 360, Wii, PC, PlayStation 2, PSP, Nintendo 3DS, iOS and Android.
The PlayStation 3 version was used for this review.

PES 5 on the PlayStation 2 was pretty much the pinnacle of football games. Konami had somehow overcome all of EA’s big bucks that were ploughed into marketing and licences. They created a gulf between themselves and everything else so big that it seemed impossible that anyone could close that gap.

Yet just a couple of years later, it was the Japanese developer who was fighting a losing battle. Jumping to the next generation of consoles had not been kind to them, whether it was through an inability to innovate or simply complacency, FIFA had PES beat all ends up.

Pro Evo 2011 signaled a new direction, Konami realised they needed to change and fast. So, with FIFA not quite living up to the hype for me and PES just quietly sneaking under the radar, how would it stack up this year?

The biggest draw from PES right now is the AI – it’s smart, very smart. In fact, the ‘Active AI’ may be the key area it can capitalise on in the battle against big Canadian rival. Both your own players and the opposition are affected by this brilliant system; making for a challenging and excellent game of football for diehards of the genre.

When you have possession, your teammates are nearly always where you expect them to be. They’re making clever runs, they’re anticipating passes – it’s nice to have a game where the computer controlled players feel like they’re actually being controlled by the computer, not just standing around waiting for you to switch to them.

The AI is also as good when it comes to the opposition, with defenders taking intelligent positions and when they’re on the attack, they’ll play to your formation’s weaknesses rather than have a set approach. I cannot stress enough how superb the AI is.

The actual pace of the game is more slow and methodical than FIFA on the whole – whereas in EA’s title everything seems to be going at 100mph, PES reflects the ebb and flow of a football match more accurately. You’ll get periods of games where some pace is injected into proceedings and there’ll be occasions where everything is extremely deliberate and unhurried. All in all, this makes PES very realistic; you never have a match played at an identical tempo for 90 minutes.

For expert players, there are so many modifiers, options, tweaks and customisable facets to the game that you’ll be in dreamland. If you’re not familiar with football games though, it doesn’t have the immediacy of FIFA; the pick-up-and-play feel is greatly reduced.

Pre-game tactics is an area that PES 2011 improved from the football game norm and this obviously stays in the latest iteration, making FIFA’s system seem slightly archaic. Rather than have a set system which you then switch players in and out of (or jump through a load of hoops to change before each game, taking ages) you simply drag players to a position on the pitch.

Of course you still have a preferred starting line-up and formation, which appears as default, but it’s instantly customisable. If you’re playing a lesser team who will sit back and defend deep, within a few seconds you can just push your full-backs and wingers upfield a touch or drag your holding midfielder into a slightly more attacking position. Simply hold x and move the left stick.

The defending was a huge element of FIFA that I didn’t enjoy this year, while in Pro Evo it’s spot on. There isn’t the easy way out of ‘homing in’ on a player but also it’s not as convoluted as the Tactical Defending mechanic. It just feels right. The difficulty of making a challenge is what you’d expect, while each tackle seems to register correctly and when you pull of a clean tackle it’s very satisfying.

And while I’m on moments that feel satisfying, heading corners away. Defending set-pieces is brilliant, getting a huge header to clear the ball is fantastic. Taking set-pieces is another thing entirely. The penalty system could learn a thing or two from EA and corners are also a bit off.

Free-kicks though, I enjoy – mostly because they’re hard. I’d compare it to real-life football with FIFA being the present and PES being the past. Before, free-kicks used to be pot luck. Only the best players could master the art of perfectly striking the ball and even then they would only score once in a blue moon. That’s how it should be. Nowadays, any Tom, Dick and Harry can walk up to a ball with their eyes closed, smack it and it hits the top corner; which is FIFA all over.

The Master League mode in PES has always had the edge over FIFA’s woeful career mode, this year being no exception. With far greater substance, Konami have added a few nice touches which I’ll get on to in the visuals section.

It’s very much similar to last year on the whole, with some minor tweaks such as advancing the date by a day rather than a week, and only having the option to start with the default players. Starting from scratch like this makes the mode much more compelling than EA’s offering, with transfers and player development being a key part to success. If you wanted to start with your team’s actual squad though, you can unlock that option by buying it with the ‘game points’ you earn from winning matches.

The Become A Legend mode is also available and while Be A Pro has not really changed since FIFA 08, Pro Evo continues to improve their version. Granted, BAL was a lot worse to begin with, but with some nice touches it’s become a better mode. It starts you off at a poor team and you slowly work your way up – it’s a generic rags-to-riches deal as you eventually become the best player in the world, but at least there’s some meat to it.

I also like how your manager gives you targets for each game; this may be “You played well last time out, but this time I want you to get in the box more and have a few shots on goal” and they give you more specific instructions at half-time, such as “I want you to pass the ball to Johnny Footballer whenever possible, he’s got the presence up top to threaten these defenders”.

There are still not too many leagues and cups, but you have the major European and South American leagues. If you’re a big fan of an MLS side then FIFA will probably be the way to go. The licenses for the teams that are included are the same as last year, but once again you can easily download the real kits and badges online. While Konami doesn’t officially endorse it, they definitely don’t deter it as at the end of the day, it helps their game. There are plenty of tutorials online and all you really need is a USB stick to transfer the data over.

The license PES does have though, is probably the most important license of all: the Champions League. Oh yeah, because it’s a UEFA license you also get the Europa League, but we can just gloss over that.

It sounds superficial because it’s just some logos, some music and the tournament structure we’re all familiar with, but having the Champions League is awesome. The matches feel significantly different from all the others and not just because of presentation. Especially due to the away goals rule, the tension is ramped up in the latter stages of the competition. You get to that point at the end of the 2nd leg of the semi-final where you’re winning 2-0 at home and you’re so close to being through. But they won 1-0 in the first game, so 1 more for them and they’re through on away goals.

There’s also the Copa Libertadores, which I’m sure South Americans and Mexicans will find just as amazing as Europeans find the Champions League. Indeed, with this competition included and the lack of MLS, I’m sure most of the US purchases of PES will be by Latin Americans.

In terms of the few kinks in gameplay, I’d say goalkeepers are a biggie. For some reason, they never catch the ball – even when the ball is traveling at snail’s pace, they’ll dramatically dive across goal and punch or parry. The running seems a bit disjointed at times, while passes are also a bit hit and miss. All in all though, gameplay is excellent and I’d thoroughly recommend it as a single-player experience for football fans.

The graphics are pretty decent overall, they have a much darker look than FIFA but both styles are effective in their own way. Like its competition, the best players look unbelievably lifelike, but I’d say PES does a better job with the lesser players too. The player models almost look lower-res but you can immediately tell which player it is. The crowd look quite bad – Pro Evo is still using the cardboard cut-outs rather than 3D models.

In the ML and BAL modes, there are some cut-scenes that are utilised; for instance, the chairman and your agent meeting to discuss your appointment. The videos are a little cheesy but break things up and add another layer to the modes. It works well and is better than sifting through menus. Another thing I like in these modes are that in the background on the menu, you see your team on the training field. It isn’t a looped set of animations, the video is constantly rolling on.

The camera angle options are what you’d expect but there’s one I’d like to mention. I feel the BAL camera is much better than the equivalent in FIFA. It makes the gameplay much easier because when you have the ball, it’s a suitable distance away from your player and doesn’t do that annoying zoomed-in motion blur thing. A day one patch for the game added 3D, but as I don’t have a 3DTV I couldn’t test the effectiveness of that feature.

I’ll keep it brief: the audio is terrible. Apart from the Champions League anthem of course. The audio side of PES has always been pretty shambolic and the fact it never improves either suggests they’re lazy or they simply can’t compete with FIFA because of the budget. I’d like to think it’s the latter.

The commentary, frankly, is awful – nowhere near the standard of FIFA, but obviously they can’t afford the likes of Martin Tyler. Even the lines of dialogue and the way they speak; it’s unnatural and disjointed. Menu music and sound effects are noticeably Japanese – they sound as if they’ve been lifted straight from something like Gran Turismo. Crowd noise is passable but nowhere near as atmospheric as FIFA and of course without the custom chants.

There are the basic game modes you’d expect, but PES pales in comparison to EA’s online behemoth. In terms of number of players, the maximum Pro Evo can handle is 2-on-2, which is disappointing. Maybe next year they’ll make a step toward the standard of FIFA, because at the moment the offerings aren’t even close. The single-player is fantastic but online is a key component of sports games nowadays and needs to be focused on.

Having said that, at least it’s playable. From around 2008-2010, Pro Evo was literally broken. The ball used to fly around the screen randomly, while the players would jolt around in fits and starts. Now though, the game at least plays as it should. It may be basic, but it works. The Japanese just aren’t too bothered about online though, you’ll see this in many games developed in the East. Whether PES improves online depends on whether Konami panders to Western gamers or not.

PES has made great strides and is almost back to its best. Don’t get me wrong though, the Japanese studio are still a long way from perfection – most notably in the presentation and online stakes. I firmly believe next year will be the most exciting yet in this war of football games. EA has a lot to refine, while Konami will surely continue to get even better – I can easily see both games being at their best state ever in 12 months time.

In terms of scoring, if you’d told me a few weeks back I’d give FIFA and Pro Evo an equal grade, I would probably laugh at you. Yet through some disappointments from the former and surprises from the latter, they sit equally with me.

Quite simply, if you only want one, judge it by whether online (FIFA) or single-player (PES) is most important to you. If you are new to football games or aren’t big into the sport, I’d have to recommend FIFA.

Looking at Pro Evo on its own, take it down to a 8 if you’re not a fan or push it up to a 9 if you’re crazy for the series. I hope you found these reviews helpful and now it’s time to sink into some serious Master League. Roll on next year and two football games leaning on perfection…


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Written by Raj Mahil

Game collector. Journalism graduate. Batman addict. Movie goer. WWE nut. Sports obsessive. Arsenal fan. Sub-Editor.

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