The all-important PES 2012 review! I’ve had PES 2012 for a few days now. Generally, PES gets better with time. The game’s got a steep ‘appreciating curve’. The more you play, the more you appreciate. For a game such as this, to post a review so soon may be injustice. But hey, I can still call it ‘first week impressions’.

In the last few days, I had only few opportunities to play the game. Each time, my idea was to play a couple of games and leave it for the weekend. You thought I could stop with just two games per session? Since I got the game, I’ve gone to bed only at 5am in the morning and have managed to get up at 10am so can I get a few games before I leave for work. By now, I’ve played dozens and dozens of matches. The ‘just one more game’ syndrome! Sign of good times!

HOW DO I PLAY

Before we get into the review, let me give you the details of my settings based on which this section is written. I play on PS3 on my 40″ HDTV but I prefer to play on 480p on 4:3 aspect ratio. Yes, this means sacrificing some sharp graphics but playing Pro Evo on 480p on 4:3 is such an amazing experience that I don’t care about the HD graphics. If you haven’t tried it, please do it. You’ll thank me forever. Also, make sure you make the other PS3 settings to go with this.

I play the US edition of PES 2012. Mine is version 1.1 (which is the release day patch). I play on ‘minus two’ gamespeed setting. I play on ‘four bar’ passing. I always play on blimp camera. When you play on blimp and at ‘minus two’ game speed, the ‘four bar’ passing feels just right.

The teams that I play keeps changing. I normally play as Chelsea, Everton, Wigan, Real Madrid, Valencia, Villareal, Milan, Roma, Napoli, Ajax, Bayern, Schalke, Porto etc. Most of my games are exhibition matches with different match-ups, mostly driven by the real games in the weekend. I don’t play master league (yeah I know). I hardly play online. I have started a BAL game but haven’t really gotten into it. So apologies that I won’t cover online play and football life in this review.

I don’t know if I have a particular playing style as such. I play through the middle and I run along the flanks. I try to score screamers and sometimes try to walk the ball into the net. Mostly, I guess I play to the strength and weakness of the team I choose to play and the opponent team. I’m not a wold beater in PES. I’m just a decent player who’s hard to break down and very competitive irrespective of my abilities.

RATING SCALE

I’d rate this game on a scale of 100. Of the 100, I’d give a weightage of 60 for the gameplay, 20 for the looks and 20 for the game modes and options.

THE GOODIES

Here I’d talk about the presentation, graphics, animation and commentary. These are very important to the game and how the game presents itself but these are not everything. But if these fall too much below the standards, they could be game breaking.

PRESENTATION

The menus look lovely. They have a lot of life and personality. I love the way they are. I think Konami introduced this menu style in PES 2011 and very rightly stuck to it. The in-game menus are bit underwhelming and I may even call it ‘cheap’. Particularly, when you’re playing Become a legend, you do get a feeling that the menus and navigation look so low-budget. Not that it matters a lot to me but they can take a leaf from the other sports games to make the overall look and feel more stylish and savvy.

GRAPHICS

This is PES’ forte. PES has always had brilliant graphics – be it the lightings, player models, likenesses or the pitch. The graphics are always top-notch and it’s only better in PES 2012. Playing in the day setting in any stadia is an absolute joy. I thought they had nailed the day-time lighting in PES 2011 but they have bettered themselves in this version. While Pro Evo has some amazingly accurate player faces, I’ve noticed quite a few ‘that’s not how he looks’.

Also, the rain is either not visible or not as beautiful as it used to be in 2011 and 2010. You’re able to see the rain only in cut scenes and much closer camer angles. You might say that this is how it is even when watch a game on TV but somehow the last wo PES games showed rain very well. Anyway, on the whole, a brilliant effort in the graphics department with some room for improvement.

ANIMATIONS

PES 2011 could never reach its potential because of the broken animations. Based on fan feedback, one of the big improvement areas for PES 2012 was animations. In PES 2012, I just love the animations. There are hundreds of little pieces of animations that brings the game to life. Some of them are when the ball is in play and some of them when the ball is not in play. I still keep noticing a new animation in every match. Also, the animations have beautifully captured PES’ philosophy around inertia and momentum. That’s what makes PES so immersive.

That said, all’s not well because there’s still some work to be done on transitions between animations. For instance, imagine a player jumping high to win a header and misses it. As soon as he falls on the pitch, he still wants to go and win the ball. The animation to win the header is beautiful. The animation to recover the ball from lying flat on the pitch is also beautiful. What’s missing is the piece of code that seamlessly transitions from the first animation to the latter. That’s what make this episode looks a bit ‘jerky’.

So when people talk about PES 2012 animations not being good, I think they mostly talk about the transitions and not the animations themselves. Look at the animation of a screamer from 35 yards. Look at the animation where the defender cheekily wins the ball. Look at the some of the dribbles some accomplished players. They are all amazing animations bringing this as close to real football as possible but transitions do require some work.

CAMERA

Camera angles are huge component of making a football game a success or a failure. No matter how good the game is, if the camera angles aren’t good, the game’s going waste. In PES 2012, some new camera angles have been introduced, most importantly – blimp. Now, this blimp angle alone wins the game for me. Finally, I have a camera angle that allows me to see the whole width of the pitch without having to take my off to check the radar. Some may think that the camera is too distant to feel involved in the game or to make skill moves. For me though, I’m perfectly at home with this camera angle and I can’t thank Konami enough for including this.

Still missing some polish though. When you have a camera angle so far out as blimp, you can’t have those kind of score/time card and the player names that look massive in size for this camera angle. I hope blimp becomes a regular feature in the PES offerings. And I’m puzzled why the blimp angle is not available for online games.

The missing piece in the camera section continues to be the lack of option customise the height, zoom and the tilt of the camera angles. Seriously, I’m struggling to understand why it’s not there in the game.

SOUND

No improvement here. PES is never known for its commentary looks like Konami have absolutely no intentions of improving this either. I never care for the commentary too much. After a couple of weeks, you’re gonna hear the same stuff over and over again anyway. In fact, what I always do is to switch the commentary to a language that I don’t know, such as Spanish or Portuguese or even Japanese so that I don’t need to pick on it but the intensity of the game is retained with some eccentric sounds of an unknown language.

Sadly though, even the Spanish and Portuguese commentary in PES 2012 are not good. Not that I understand what they say but lacks the tempo. My PES 2012 is now on French commentary which is better sounding than the rest. An exciting Spanish commentary pack would be most welcome.

Other than that, the usual style of music is there. I thought PES 2011 had fantastic music in comparison but probably I need to give more time to 2012. The ball sounds are there but slightly subdued. The crowd sounds are good but can be improved but when it’s clear that Konami doesn’t care about sound at all, no point even talking about it.

ATTACK

This is where this game shines. If you’re the slow build-up kind of player, you’re gonna love this game. With your and the opponent players constantly moving on the pitch to create spaces or close spaces or close down the ball possessor, the game is so dynamic with new opportunities being opened up with every game second.

Dribbling in the game is just perfect. Special dribblers are really special and you know that when you control them or face them. The others dribble as much and as good as professional footballers can do. I love the fact that dribbling is now lot more intuitive that it ever was. You kinda ‘know’ what to do in certain situations and the game/player responds superbly to that. The movement is so free that with the ball you are always presented with a number of options of how to build that attack. The one gripe here is the dribbling animation. When less accomplished dribblers run at high speeds, the feet movement almost looks like they cycling on a football pitch. That should look lot smoother than it does now. Plus, its 2012 – can’t we not have unique dribbling styles – at least say, 15-20 different dribbling styles instead of the current four?

The other aspect that makes attacking a real pleasure is the passing. I think, finally in next-gen, Konami have fixed the passing. No more of ‘I didn’t want to pass there’ or ‘I didn’t intend to give it to this guy’. Within the mechanics of the sliders and the limitations of the player attributes, the passes go where and how fast you want them to go. Now you can pass in tight spaces or make lovely cross field ground passes. This allows you to adopt different playing styles. If you want to suffocate like Barca does, the current passing system does allow you. The success of this passing system is complemented by the brilliant AI players – both on your team and on the opponents side. If the player movements were less dynamic, we wouldn’t have been able to see the beauty of this passing system.

Also, the off-the-ball options for set pieces is a great addition. It just makes a whole lot of things possible. In PES 2012, I don’t take any corners myself anymore. I want to be in the box, fighting with the defenders for space and heading that ball into the net.

On the attack side, some improvements needed though. The long passing is assisted, no matter how manual you get with all the sliders and stuff. It’s very hard to make a bad long pass (lob that is). You invariably find your man as long as you point the direction or thereabouts. I’d like to see a better percentage of errors there. In short passing, while it is much improved, it’s not perfection. Until it’s not perfection, there’s room for improvement!

Overall, the attack in this game is superb. The game is so bustling because of the dynamism of the attacking opportunities and manouvres possible in this game.

DEFENCE

I generally love defending, be it in real football or in football games. Defending is an art and I think it’s very hard to build a good defensive system in a football game. I think PES 2012 is the closest that anyone’s ever got. Now the whole defence is based on knowing when to contain, when to pressure and when to tackle.

So you’re first expected to make this decision and then follow it up with your button presses. Either you think through and you do intuitively, but you don’t push some buttons and hope. You should clearly know what you’re doing. With the AI being so clever and able, jumping into a tackle may not always work, particularly against all players. You need to know the player that you’re defending and make your choices accordingly. For instance, if it’s Arjen Robben coming against your defender, if you rush into a tackle, you’ll see him dance past you and set up a one-on-one. What you can do is to contain him, allow your fellow defenders and midfielders to get back to their positions and then time your tackle to win the ball.

Some people have found defence either too difficult or cumbersome. I find it just perfect. As soon as I lose possession, I straightaway go to R2 (for jockeying) and select the relevant defender and position myself to jockey and block the space for the attacker. This has become second nature. Everytime I lose possession, if there’s no opportunity for a quick recovery, I naturally go to R2. That’s all you need to know and remember. But when you don’t do this, you’re challenging Arjen Robben on pace and skill, which is not a great idea.

Defenders are never as quick as attackers but they don’t always get found out on pace because half of defending is positioning. With intelligent AI players in your team, you only need to pick the relevant defender and use R2 to contain and time your tackle. The key tip here is to release R2 as you tackle because these are two contradicting inputs. Either you jockey or your tackle. So if you decide to tackle, let go the R2. Do it simultaneously. It’s like driving a car – like how you switch between the clutch and accelerator.

What I don’t see enough in this defence system is that little shoulder budge, some body check and good old fashioned shirt pull. In classic PES, we had all this and that added so much personality to the game, because they are so real. In real life football, defending is not just jockey, containing and tackling. The push, the shove and the body checks are all key methods for effective defending.

If you’re a thinking defender, you’ll enjoy this challenge. If all that you want to do is to attack and score goals, well, you better learn to love defending. It’s rewarding and it makes your PES experience more complete.

GOALKEEPING

What can I say that’s not been said about goalkeeping in PES 2012? Well, I can say goalkeepers are good in this game. Even in the demos, I didn’t find them as bad as the community is making them out to be. They weren’t perfect but I could live with it. With the release day patch, version 1.1 have made them more solid. Yes, they still make mistakes but that’s how it should be, right? In real football and in PES, attackers and defenders make mistakes and that’s what keep the game flowing. The same should be true for the goalkeepers too. They should make errors in judgment, just like the other 21 men (incl the ref, I’ll come to that later) on the pitch.

As it stands, the goalkeepers are good. They have made some stunning saves and they have made some mistakes too. There were games where I thought the best performance on the pitch was from the goalkeeper – mine or the opponent’s. What I would say is that they still lack in the animations department. Imagine how the goalkeepers would operate if they had only 10 animations while they should have something like 30. That’s what looks a bit awkward at times. It’s an area to improve and it’s just not a game breaker at all.

REFEREE

I think Konami have nailed it this year on this aspect. Never once did I have to complain about the ref being too lenient or too strict. They are just right. That doesn’t mean they won’t make mistakes. They do, but they are very consistent with some odd mistakes here and there. Exactly, how I want the referees in real football too. I want them to be consistent but make those odd mistakes which make football and football banter interesting, especially when I’m not on the receiving side. In some instances, I did have some issues with referee kit colour clashing with the team kit colour. This is pretty basic stuff and should be patchable. And by the way, the auto kick-off is gone. Yay!

TACTICS

Probably, the only area where PES 2012 has gone back. The tactical options in PES 2011 was comprehensive but also built a solid base to improve on. Surprisingly, in PES 2012, Konami have dumbed down the tactical options instead of expanding further. In PES 2012, we have the same tactical sliders and four presets where each preset can have a formation, style and set of tactical sliders. You’re able to change the tactics on the fly while the action is taking place on the pitch. Our ability to edit the tactical options is now limited only to the four presets and it’s the AI teams’ choice to use one of those depending on the match situation.

What I dearly miss is the ability to instruct the team to play in a certain way depending on match situations. For instance, in PES 2011, I was able to tell my team to adopt a style in the first 15 minutes of the game or a different style when I’m a goal down. While you can argue that presets do that same thing and tells you to take the decision while the game is played on the pitch, I’m unable to know or influence how various teams would play. In PES 2011, each and evey team had this tactical options set up or you were able to set it up for the teams yourselves to resemble their real life playing style. And when you play against these teams you could see that when they are a goal down, you know each of these teams could react differently to these situations based on the tactical option settings.

In the absence of the tactical settings or various match situations for teams, I don’t know how a certain opponent would play in a certain situation. You can say that this is a good thing as there’s some unpredicatability. I’d agree if Konami are spot on with their choices of tactical option settings for all the teams. As we saw in PES 2011, they are not. Setting most teams to ‘long ball’ is not making use of these options well. And now, they might have hard coded these settings to ‘long ball’ and we wouldn’t even know it or be able to change it.

Otherwise, I do like the ability to change tactics on the fly and love that little manager graphic with whose gestures we’d know what tactic we have chosen. Clever little feature.

It’s a bit sad to know that the tactical set ups for most teams need a lot of work. The formations are wrong, so are the line-ups and squads and the game sliders are totally off for many teams. It requires a community project (such as PESCoach) to clean up the Konami mess. Sounds familiar? Probably, Konami should use the services of some of the community members to help them with such data gathering stuff instead of getting it wrong each time. It’s a shame that the tactical options are not optimised while the game plays so well and can use these options very well.

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

It is indeed. What’s very pleasing to see is that your players have become intelligent too. Traditionally, we’ve had this problem of say, Lucio when he plays as an opponent defender, gives you a nightmare and when he’s on your team, he goes totally awful. Not anymore. The improvement of the AI of the players of the user-controlled team has brought us on a level playing field with the monster of the opponent AI.

I can say with confidence that the AI in PES 2012 is the best ever seen in football games – all classic PES included. The AI is just amazing. The moves that it makes, the passes that it sees and especially the cunning intelligence that you normally associate only with human players. I’m very pleased with Konami’s effort with the AI. In an era of gaming where single player gaming is the relegated to obscurity and is replaced by massively multiplayer games, Konami’s effort to improve the single player experience through excellent AI is commendable. Honestly, even in multiplayer games in football, the AI matters a lot because at any point the user only controls one player out of his eleven. But you don’t find gaming companies spending too much AI if the focus is very high on multiplayer.

The improvement in AI shines across. Back in PES 2009 and 2010, BAL sometimes used to be a frustrating experience because your team mates were just dumb. Similarly, when you play ‘fix’ in a tournament, your performance was always better than your team mates at least by a point on a 10 point scale. Now, try playing ‘fix’ and see the difference for yourself.

A good AI doesn’t mean all teams should start playing like Barca. In fact, that’s a good example of a bad AI. In PES 2012, the difference between the various teams and the players is very visible and pronounced. As a player who plays with a number of teams from different leagues, I can tell you that each team is unique, even though their formations and preset playing style is the same. The difference is brought out by the individuality of the players that make up those teams. The AI is the most important reason why PES 2012 feels so ‘alive’.

DIFFICULTY

One of the things my mates and I always liked PES for was the difficulty. We liked the fact that it was difficult. We liked that challenge. Sometimes the AI cheated but we’d be like ‘we’ll fuck you back, you cheating bastard’. We knew that we couldn’t relax for one second. We had to stay alert all the time – until the final whistle. We had to be on our toes. You lose your focus for a moment, you’ll have your asses handed over to you. The next-gen PES had lost this. For instance, I could be on the phone with someone and still play and win in PES 2011 – something that was impossible with PES 5. Now, PES 2012 has taken us back to those glory days.

Make no mistake, PES 2012 is hard. I’m still playing only on professional and my win-loss ratio is almost equal and this is only in exhibition matches. Traditionally, the AI gets much more competitive in the tournaments than in the exhibition matches. So, it might take a lot of time for me to beat the professional AI in tournaments on a consistent basis. Even if I manage to do that, I’ll have more and better challenges in the game. The top player on classic PES was much revered, especially when you’re playing tournaments and such. That is back. Top player on PES 2012 is a monster. And you know what, there’s this superstar level above top player. You wanted a challenge, right?

EDITING

As a passionate game play editor of PES games, I was a bit disappointed with the editing side of PES 2012. It’s not that we’re missing something but it’s just that this section has not evolved at all. In the last few years, editing section has remained almost undisturbed. The community was crying out loud for an in-game global editor for the console version that would allow you to edit values by certain points or percentage for a certain ability across all the players in a team or selection of teams or a league or a selection of leagues. It’s well known that the best PES experience is possible only on PC. That’s also because the game play editors available for PC can make the game so much better and so much customised to personal preferences. The PS3 game play editing is very low-key because of the manual effort involved. Hope this changes in future.

The other lack of improvement is in explaining the player abilities and cards. While there is a probably poorly translated one-liner for each ability, in most cases, we find the real meaning of the ability by trial and error after numerous play tests by game play editors. With no more piggyback tutorials, there’s a bigger need from Konami’s side to explain these details and changes better knowing well that we have a PES-fanatic community that edits the game to optimise it.

After the exciting inclusion of Stadium Editor in 2011, I was expecting this to be a much more mature feature in 2012. It’s pretty much the same with some new additions. Nothing ground breaking or fundamental here.

LONGEVITY

Great AI, punishing difficulty levels, better passing system, optimised defence system, improved graphics and animations, new camera angles and enhanced football life – one hell of a game! Don’t even bother about longevity. This game will be played beyond 2012. Like how we have people (like me) who still play PES 5 on PS2, this game, PES 2012, will stand the test of time.

RATING

As mentioned earlier, I’d rate this game on a scale of 100 with a weightage of 60 for the gameplay, 20 for the looks and 20 for the game modes and options. My rating for this game would be 80/100 which comprises of 50/60 for gameplay, 15/20 for the looks, 15/20 for the game modes and options. Just to put this in perspective, I’d have given 80 or less for PES 5 which I consider is the best football game to date, a mantle that PES 2012 can rightfully take after some time. I very strongly recommend PES 2012. If you’re a football fan, you won’t be disappointed.

FINAL WORDS

Having grown up with the PES/WE series, I was rooting for Konami to make a comeback. It’s like you’re supporting your underdog football club in a cup final against a heavyweight superstar club. I’ve tried this ‘I’m a customer and I’ll buy the best football game available in the market’ line. That’s not true. It’s like the school and college you studied. There’s a subconscious bonding that’s created by the good and bad times with classic PES. I just can’t deny that. That’s one reason why I’ve been more forgiving with PES and really looking for Konami and Konami alone to give me my football game. And, they haven’t disappointed.

What Konami started with 2011, they have almost finished their job with 2012. I say almost, because the finishing touches are yet to be made. What is certain is that PES is back on track. Konami have showed that they still have the ambition to produce a top class game in this competitive industry and are unfazed by their recent failures. With PES 2012, they have reassured to the football fans that if there’s one company that understands the heart and soul of football and can code that and replicate in a football game, that’s only Konami. In a year when their country rose above from their national disaster, Konami rises above to show why they are the best in making football games. Hats off to Konami for an excellent PES 2012!

Published on ProEvo Nights

What I am? Uber football addict, optimistic Chelsea fan, casual gamer and long time blogger with views and opinions rather than stats and data. What I'm not? Expert, analyst, pundit or self-proclaimed guru of anything. I choose when to be biased and when not to be. Views and opinions are all mine and not what you always might want to see. Follow me on twitter @bluechampion for the headlines.