Gathering Up The Rebels
Pro Evolution Soccer has had a turbulent time these past couple of years. Once gaming's favourite son, the series could do nothing wrong whilst the decrepit and antiquated FIFA juggernaut rolled in the corporate money. Pro Evolution Soccer was the worker, whilst FIFA was the aristocracy - growing in unpopularity as people began to flock to the worker's cause. However, the tables have turned in recent years. FIFA made drastic 'reforms', and Pro Evolution Soccer banged the same drum, just a little quieter than before.
Things were different last year. After following up with another commendable effort this year, it seems the evolution of Pro Evolution Soccer continues for now. A whole host of changes are included in this latest iteration; tweaks to the AI, dribbling system and additional skills, whilst bringing the usual increased sheen and updated rosters you expect from a series of yearly installments. FIFA has made changes too, but they are divisive ones - the new tackling system has intimidated many who previously supported the game. In the march for realism, have EA pushed a considerable chunk of their audience into the hands of Konami? It depends on whether PES 2012 is any good.
Football Is Life
In a bid to streamline the Pro Evolution experience, Konami have re-arranged all of the usual single-player offerings and grouped them together under one banner - Football Life. Here you will find the 3 main culprits. Step forward Suspect A - Master League. A mainstay of the series, not much has changed in the basic mechanics of the mode - you take control of a team of nobodies wearing the strip of an actual team like a group of fans and lead them to glory, purchasing and selling players as you see fit. Where changes have occurred, however, are in the aesthetics of the mode. Gone is the boring old menu screen, replaced with your team training in the background. More significantly, you have meetings with your coach to describe the upcoming opposition and events that have occurred in the previous week. Naturally, such changes are not groundbreaking, and this is a disappointment, but the mode wasn't broken, so it didn't need fixing.
Suspect B, step forward. Ah, Become a Legend mode, good to see you. Whilst undoubtedly following in the footsteps of 'Be A Pro' from FIFA, the mode has had a facelift this time round. In keeping with the aesthetic improvements seen in Master League, Become A Legend has seen a few improvements. The cut-scenes are a nice touch, but the lack of voice acting whilst the models mouths randomly mouth words is rather surreal. All in all, the mode hasn't changed too much - Konami are sticking to their guns with the modes. Altogether, however, the slight improvements made do make the game have the best single-player offerings of recent iterations, with the full range of licensed league and cup tournaments (such as Europa League and Champions League, as well as Copa Libertadores) and unofficial ones as well.
Wait, what's this? A third mode? A new mode?! Yes, if you unlock enough GP, you can unlock the new mode called Club Boss Mode. Here, you take control of a club in a financial and administrative capacity. A unique mode for console games, but unfortunately I didn't find it all that interesting. Still, that leaves PES 2012 with a strong showing in the single player arena.
Looks Like The Teams Are Coming Out
PES 2012's presentation is top-notch as always, at least in the visual stakes. Player likenesses for some of the leading stars are as realistic as always. To some people, the likenesses even look better than those from the FIFA series. However, for all the likenesses, Pro Evolution Soccer only has the licenses for a handful of people, so it's only noticeable for the minority of players. The stadiums, however, look nice and the entire game emanates graphical finesse and refinement.
In the audio stakes, however, PES 2012 lets the side down a bit. The commentary (rarely a positive aspect in any football game since the beginning of time) feels stilted and uncharismatic, with issues of timing and relevance blighting the entire experience to the point where Jim Beglin's grating voice makes me want to throw things at the screen. The menu music, too, grates on you to the point of annoyance, with unknown bands and only a handful of tracks meaning that generally all you hear is the same old mediocre song.
A Two-Horse Race?
The multiplayer aspect of the game is something that has (again) been much improved since the last release. With a whole host of modes, ranging from the return of competitive matches to Online Master Leagues and online communities, PES 2012 has a very strong showing this year, provided it can lure enough people away from Fifa 12's stellar online modes. I fear it won't, but for the diehard fans of this series, the multiplayer improvements will be duely noted and greatly appreciated.
All in all, PES 2012 is the strongest iteration of the series in recent years, but it's a testament to EA's franchise that even that isn't enough anymore. You see, PES 2012 has reversed its role on the market from the more realistic tones of its early years to fill in the gap for an arcade-style game, which may just win over those disillusioned with the changes made in Fifa 12. With its 360-dribbling and enchanced AI, this iteration certainly isn't too far behind in the mechanics of Fifa 11. Unfortunately, Fifa 12 is two-steps ahead of Pro Evolution Soccer again. It's a shame, because if this game had been released last year, it would be an able competitor. Unfortunately, it's just a strong alternative, rather than a pressing decision to make, because the football genre has ceased to be a two-horse race - PES 2012 is once again playing catch-up to the thoroughbred horse that is FIFA 12.
The best version of Pro Evolution yet, with a handful of brilliant modes and improvements in everything making the experience a much more enjoyable one
Still a considerable lack of licenses. A much more arcade-style football game than FIFA 12. Is nowhere near as good as FIFA 12. Commentary is poor