Regardless of which name you prefer to call it by, soccer is the world’s most beloved sport. Referred to as the beautiful game, it’s played around the globe, with methodical action and counteraction mechanics. Over the years, its transitions to interactive video gaming have mainly taken two distinctly different forms; the more realistic and authentic simulation types and fast-paced, arcade trick battles. Konami‘s recent release of Pro Evolution Soccer 12 does a good job of establishing itself as a predominantly simulation effort, with some arcade elements included. Faster-paced gameplay mixes with realistic maneuvers, complemented by helpful speed boosts.
Stepping onto the digital pitch with Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 means you’re looking for something faster, where the emphasis is on quicker offensive play. It’s the type of game you can pick up and play with friends, without having to learn complex button combinations to succeed. A lot of that stuff is there to add extra content and depth, but it’s not necessary for enjoyment. PES 2012 is somewhat old-school with its speed, though it’s complex, modern and detailed enough to interest the hardcore crowd. Thus, the game ends up providing a pretty good mixture of styles. Though I enjoyed this take on the sport which I played for over a decade while growing up, I did notice some issues on and off of its digital field.
Where Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 stumbles a bit is in the refinement department. Since its footballers are faster, it reduces the player’s ability to make stop gap plays with great precision. This is something which needs to be accepted with this style of game. There were times where this affected my games, resulting in an own goal due to a hard time stopping on a dime or missing the odd player while trying to execute a tackle. Don’t think of these as overly prevalent issues because they’re not, but they do pop up on occasion.
On the field, the ball moves quickly and passing can be a great asset. I liked how the regular pass was very effective with speed behind it, meaning that it was easy to get the ball up and enter the attacking zone. Dribbling through defenders was also a highlight, as I pulled off some pretty slick offensive moves even though I admittedly suck at soccer games.
The shooting mechanics are still a tad over-sensitive however, which is something I’ve found in pretty much every soccer title I’ve ever played, dating back to the 1990s. Sometimes I’d think that a light press would result in a perfectly placed shot, but it’d hit the post with a bit too much unexpected oomph. When it’d occasionally hit at the right angle, the resulting bounce back off of the goal post would enter play with great speed, which made things fun.
The crafted ball physics are pretty good, meaning that it bounces around a lot and reacts well. How alive it was became a favourite aspect of the game for me, other than how rain didn’t seem to alter things (the ball or conditions) all that much. You can purchase different balls, classic players and teams in the extras menu, adding some hints of colour to the affair. The equipment isn’t licensed, but looks good regardless. It’s all available through the use of points accumulated through playtime, with a noticeable average of ten points awarded per game. A lot of things tend to cost one hundred each, which is affordable and fair. Classic players and teams can be brought into different modes, upon player choice, along with the other purchases.
The Pro Evolution Soccer series has always had stiff competition in the digital footie arena, consistently being put to the test against Electronic Arts‘ FIFA Soccer series. This year is very much the same, as that tradition continues, however it’s important to keep in mind that the PES series offers something different than its competition.
There are the aforementioned arcade gameplay elements, but that is just one of three main selling features. Its other main selling points are the inclusion of the two incredibly popular international leagues: Copa Santander Libertadores and UEFA Champions League. Some smaller leagues also make the cut, with players showing their worth for a chance to make it with the big boys. Fans of those leagues can interact amongst their favourite and least liked teams, players and stadiums.
Both UEFA and Copa Santander Libertadores have their own league modes (where the option to simulate the odd game is surprisingly missing), though each one also factors in as a joinable league in the game’s legends mode. This option is similar to what is found in other games under the name of be a pro, though it brings some interesting role-playing game flavour to the party. Not only are you responsible for working your way up on a team in a minor league, hoping to eventually sign a contract to enter a much more prominent stage, but you’re also having to worry about fan reaction and your agent.
Money earned each month can eventually be put towards the purchase of new agents with more expensive contracts, larger influence and better negotiation skills. It’s a nice touch which makes you a part of the business, being able to tell your manager which teams you’d like to contact. Until your player has played quite a few games and has proven himself a tour de force, the agent will always report back with bad news about being snubbed upon offering up your interest. It’s a digital realization of what a lot of athletes playing in farm systems or tinier leagues must deal with on a day to day basis. This means a lot of game time for those who love this type of thing.
Limited to playing as just one member of a large team was quite fun. In fact, I enjoyed it quite a bit. It was fun to try to impress the higher ups, through hard play, by breaking through defenders using great dribbling skills or scoring highlight-reel goals. There are a lot of games to play which is a good thing but, if you simulate one, it means your player (created or utilized real-life superstar) was not on the active roster. This unfortunately drops your depth chart ranking, meaning less and less playtime and eventually having to start all over again from the beginning if you skip for too long. There are also only games to play, meaning that your training schedule is automated. It can be set, but never played, eliminating an opportunity for interesting challenge-based mini-games to add some much-needed schedule variety.
On the downside, I was somewhat annoyed by how much the agent and manager dialogue was repeated. The manager issues challenges each game, usually associated with a rating (ie. 6.5 and higher). On the other hand, your agent works as the middle man, always speaking to you personally. He informs the player of his placement on the roster (sub, stands or starting line-up), as well as your national team’s roster choices. That’s great, but he’s also constantly mentioning the same lines about knowing your stats as a pro, prompting your player progress page to pop up far too often. It’s a small thing which becomes more annoying due to the in your face aspect of it all, as well as its prevalencem considering things take a while to change. The manager’s reports are also limited and often lack detail, providing two basic lines about your performance.
On top of the aforementioned game modes, there’s the necessary tutorials and quick exhibition match mode, as well as community and managerial options. Communities can be created amongst yourself and your friends, allowing for friends to play together for the common good, against other like-minded groups online. That’s pretty straight-forward, as is the managerial mode where you must attempt to create a solid team through the use of signings, trades, transfers and the like. Set up your team, its rosters and watch the action unfold from the sidelines, only acting when necessary for substitutions and calls.
Extending the role of player manager into online space is online master league, which is a pretty smart idea that will interest quite a few fans. It complements online communities, quick matches and legends online, where you can play with other players’ created or assumed players. You once again assume the role of the team skipper, in an attempt to build the greatest team around after assuming control of your roster of choice. Games can be played against other players’ teams through online play, though the major change here is that players’ asking prices and transfer costs fluctuate depending on their play. Through this mechanic, the entirety of PES 2012‘s online master league system becomes a cohesive world, fluctuating based on the actions and progress of its armchair footballers. I found that idea pretty neat.
When you’re in an online match, there’s the option to communicate using quick, text-based sayings. Sure, you can take the time out to type something, but there isn’t a lot of it during downtime replays. That’s where lines like “Good goal,” “I’ll get that one back” and “What was that?” can be used to jeer at your opponent or congratulate him for a job well-done. Since winning and losing adjusts your online rank, it’s important to play your best, with mind games perhaps factoring in as an aid. Strangely enough, however, you cannot back out of a quick match once it’s found a competitor.
The demo scenes (replays) themselves are quite impressive, especially when big plays receive an automatic secondary replay where players can record and their best moments. It’s essentially an automatic instant replay option, without being forced to jump into menus to activate one. Varied camera angles can be used to view highlights which can then be added to online theatres for others to behold. The theatre mode is quite good, though I wish its set-up was a bit more cohesive.
With sports games being such a large draw for casual gamers and groups of hardcore players, what happens during play is always the most important thing. New and interesting modes can help win votes and Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 does a good job in providing a good selection of interesting play options, though there are a couple of levied issues. On the field, it’s a solid game, which has some drawbacks which should be addressed. Its tendency to factor in arcade physics sometimes leads to the odd precision issue. This is a quality soccer title, though not an amazing hat-trick or league championship just yet.
No sports game fan will disagree that the genre’s main draw is its ability to transport its players into a different world. That altered dimension, although digital, allows diehard fans to interact with their favourite sports and leagues, which is something they don’t get to do in real life. It ties in with the whole video games are a virtual escape into a new world idea. Due to this reason, developers have been sinking tons of hours and effort into recreating the likenesses of popular superstars, which is an incredibly impressive area in almost every current generation sports title. Konami has done the same with Pro Evolution Soccer 2012, creating players who look quite polished and relatively realistic, though some models could use a bit of extra texture lighting.
During gameplay, quite a few camera options are available, which was a great thing to find. If you don’t like one camera angle, there’s surely another option that will suit you fine. Replay cameras are excellent, allowing a zoomed in look at a game world which looks pretty good, albeit a bit dark at times with the odd rough edge. The crowd’s one repeated animation also became a bit of a distraction sometimes, albeit a mild one. Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 runs well and looks pretty good while doing it, with fast-paced gameplay. There are quite a few varied animations including well-done goal celebrations, though the dribbling ones sometimes tend to look a bit stiff, showing players rotating around the ball with brief stops as opposed to incredibly fluid, life-like motions.
Jon Champion and Jim Beglin do a good job of calling the action using immersive emotion, making the game feel like an unpredictable real-life broadcast. Their stitching is done with quality, without any noticeable issues or a prevalence of repeated lines. The on-field sound effects are quite good as well, though neither of these two aspects were the title’s standout audio elements in my humble opinion. What I enjoyed most was the interesting crowd noises (complete with rhythmic drums) and the game’s varied soundtrack. There’s a lot of quality music on the list, including a tune from The Chemical Brothers, some additional techno and even a bit of rougher ‘screamo’ stuff. All of it sounds superb, with quality fidelity.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 does a good job of catering to the sport’s fans who prefer faster-paced soccer games. It’s a well-rounded experience with a lot to offer, though there are some hiccups both on the field and off. Overall, it’s a game that I surely recommend checking out, especially if you’re a fan of either the UEFA Champions League or Copa Santander Libertadores. There are quite a few different modes with full online play amongst most of them, as well as some added bonuses to unlock. Overall, this is a competent, fun and involved soccer game and sports experience.
This review is based on a copy of the game which we received for review purposes.