My story is probably the same as many of you reading this. Up until 1998 I was exclusively a Fifa player, it was the game my entire group of friends played. For so long there seemed to be no worthy contender to Fifa’s dominance other than the odd retro-play of Sensible Soccer.
Then came a little game that caught my friends and I off guard, it was called International Superstar Soccer 98 (ISS 98) and it changed everything. Suddenly, Fifa was out and our new found friend from Konami was in; the gameplay, the game modes, the Ravanelli/Paul Ince cover, it trumped Fifa in almost every way.
For ten years ISS (which evolved into what is now Pro Evolution Soccer or ‘PES’) ruled the roost – Fifa become a game that was mocked for its arcade approach, repetitive gameplay and lacklustre visuals. Seabass and the guys at Konami could do no wrong in our eyes.
Nothing lasts for everything, though…
In 2007 EA came back hard with Fifa ’07, packing a new gameplay model, expanded in-game options and an excellent online multiplayer framework. Konami were caught seemingly unawares, having rested on their laurels for too long they weren’t prepared for EA’s overhaul and suddenly it was Fifa that, after ten long years in the dark, that sat upon the football game throne once more.
And there it has stayed, dominating the sales charts more convincing with each passing year thanks to constant improvement and by reacting to the comments and suggestions of its hardcore fan base.
So, the big question every year is: has Konami done enough to mount a decent assault on the throne it once held? Well, given the considerable step forward Fifa has taken this year, the answer is no. However, despite that, PES 2012 is a massive improvement over last year’s game and is easily the best edition of the game on the current generation of hardware.
PES 2012 feels more realistic than recent entries in the series but it’s still a ways off Fifa when it comes to replicating the feel and flow of the modern game. This year’s AI is markedly improved when attacking; players make intelligent runs not only to put themselves in space to receive the ball, but also to draw defenders out of position to make a hole for a team-mate to exploit. It’s all very clever stuff and further increases PES’ reputation for fast, flowing, attacking football.
On the other side of the coin though, you all too often feel lost at sea when defending. Defensive AI has been slightly improved but not to anywhere near the same extent as the attacking equivalent, meaning goals and frustration flow in equal measure when playing against the CPU on a reasonable difficulty setting.
Defending is made doubly difficult in that dribbling is remarkably responsive and effective thanks to the ball sticking to player’s feet like glue, and skills being remarkably easy to execute once you’ve settled on your favourites. (I know Messi and Ronaldo are the subject of many a defender’s nightmares in reality but not even they can run past six men whenever they please.) While dribbling effectiveness is great when you’ve got the ball, when you’re trying to regain possession it quickly gets tiresome and means the ball changes hands predominantly via goal kicks, throw-ins or the odd misplaced pass.
PES (as well as ISS before it) has always been an attack focused game, but the defensive improvements made to Fifa demonstrate that it’s possible to provide such mechanics without disrupting (or removing) the attacking flow. It’s the fact that Fifa allows you to play defensively and still win that is largely responsible for its realistic feel, in PES such a tactic is a recipe for disaster. This is a game won by scoring five rather than keeping the opposition to one or none.
What’s not a disaster is the off-the-ball control you’re given over players, a feature that’s particularly effective during set-plays. While lining up for a free kick, throw-in or corner you can take control of a player other than the set-piece kicker and move them around the pitch using the right stick. Once you’ve gotten them into the desired position you can pass them the ball and either shoot, pass it back for a fancy one-two, employ a pre-designed play or simply improvise.
It works a treat in most cases and, while it provides a further advantage to the attacking team, is a genuinely neat addition that results much greater variety during dead ball situations.
In these moments PES has a happy-go-lucky charm about it that the colder, harsher world of Fifa doesn’t. For that reason it’s easy to recommend PES as the superior title for anyone more concerned with wanting to feel like a bad-ass player, a player that can run down the line before cutting in past three defenders and launching a rocket of a shot from 35 yards.
It’s the ability to create magic so often that makes the game so fun to play in a group of four, with two on each team huddled in front of the TV. The attacking prowess of the players makes each game unpredictable and unique which is great for inter-team bragging, insults and general mockery.
Unfortunately, as a single player experience PES doesn’t live up to the same billing. Its game modes are incredibly limited compared to those in Fifa (particularly ‘Master League’ which is a poor competitor to Fifa’s ‘Career Mode’), making it a game that will probably not stay in the rotation of a player that likes to play by themselves for long. Playing sport games against the CPU is never as fun as playing against real people (especially friends) but varied game modes and extra-curricular incentives can help.
The presentation is also a step behind the rest; not just behind Fifa but behind sports games in general. Menus concerned with team formations and substitutions are simply bad and the main pages linked to selecting match types and in-game options lack any aesthetic appeal whatsoever. Plus, there’s still the lack of official licenses and the small number of total teams to choose from. For example, Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen are the only two teams from Germany in the entire game.
On a more positive note, the in-game visuals are solid (minus a few questionable player likenesses) and the frame rate stays consistently healthy despite the frequency of fancy blurring techniques during replays.
PES 2012 is most certainly not a bad game. Indeed, as I’ve said, it’s the finest outing for the series so far on this generation and a massive improvement over last year. The problem is that Fifa continues to improve at a rate that PES doesn’t seem to be able to match.
That being said, PES should still be top of your shopping list if you’re after a game that takes the most exciting elements of the beautiful game and concentrates them into one package. If you’re after the whole package (including the ‘boring’ bits like defending) then it’s Fifa you should plump for.