Years ago, when I was a child, there was Subbuteo, a table top game of football. It no doubt looks archaic to children brought up solely on increasingly realistic football videogames, but it was quite good fun at the time. A certain element of skill and dexterity was required to succeed as players had to flick the plastic figurines across the pitch/table with just the right measure of strength in order to win. An extra spectrum of fun was through the ability to buy and collect squads of players, each licensed correctly for the given team. Subbuteo wasn’t the only option back then though. There was also Total Action Football, another table top football game.
The difference here was that each player, although less impressive to look at, came with magnets that meant the ball attached to the player’s feet making wilder moves much easier to perform. The players could also move faster thanks to a little ball bearing under the feet meaning they slid across the table. Everything about Total Action Football was much faster, more frantic and less skilful. It was the kind of game that players could pick up quickly but ultimately never truly master or feel truly satisfied by, like with Subbuteo.
This is precisely the case when it comes to the yearly FIFA vs. PES battle. Both are enjoyable titles. If PES was the only football series out there then fans would still have a great gaming experience on their hands. The problem is that it isn’t the only series, FIFA is there offering a truer experience, one that takes practice to properly figure out but eventually leads to a game that’s worth playing for months rather than weeks which is the case with PES 2012.
Despite the negative tone, PES 2012 is still worth a look. It’s a different experience from FIFA 12. At times, this is a problem, certainly when it comes to the AI. While strikers are all too keen to run ahead, creating a beautiful opening for a shot on goal, defenders are not so bright. For instance, during one match my goalie went to kick a ball aside when he was fine to pick it up. When kicking it, he kicked it straight at one of his own players who was too close, thus causing a ricochet and nearly bouncing into the goal mouth. Work further down the pitch however and the AI is much stronger. PES 2012, as always with the series, has been heavily geared towards providing a more attacking style of football. Players are able to direct teammates through the right stick but it’s a feature I never really found myself using as when directing attacking play, the game knows what to do by itself.
Game modes are quite plentiful. Hidden under the Football Life banner is that of Master League, Become a Legend and Club Boss mode. Each mode isn’t the most attractive to look at with some iffy looking cutscenes letting the graphical side of the game down but the depth is there. Become a Legend comes with an agent who advises the player of what to do next, and the option of working your way up through the ranks feels more satisfying than FIFA 12′s method of planting you in a chosen team, straight from the start. It does however lack the subtle nuances of boosting stats so readily as is the case with FIFA 12′s Be a Pro mode in which seemingly everything improves the Virtual Pro’s statistics. It means the general experience isn’t quite as compelling, feeling much more formulaic. Master League is still great though. It’s the kind of player manager career mode that football fans have dreamt of with plenty to take in as before.
Club Boss mode is an intriguing proposition providing an entirely different experience from many other titles. Instead of playing as a manager or star in the team, players take the role of the club chairman. Money is everything and a careful balancing of the financial books is needed to succeed. It’s not a mode that hooks you in like the others, unless you plan on a career in accountancy, but it’s refreshing to see a new idea brought to the football gaming arena.
Offering all the Champions League licensing is a nice touch, right down to the music we all know and associate with the tournament. It adds a sense of grandeur to the game mode. Similar licensing is available for the UEFA Super Cup, Copa Santander Libertadores and UEFA Europa League. French, Dutch and Spanish leagues are also fully licensed although for English, Italian and Portuguese football fans, they’re stuck with only partial licensing as before. Other presentational aspects are a similar let down. The music and commentary is pretty abysmal. I found myself inching the volume down in order to avoid such monotony.
Online functionality is a bit temperamental. Upon starting my first match, the connection dropped for both me and the opposing player and I was unfairly punished for it. A warning popped up stating that if after 10 matches, my match completion rate drops to below 70%, I could be suspended from all Competition Matches and be more likely to be paired with other users of a similar standing. Considering it wasn’t my fault the game dropped, it felt a tad harsh. Other online matches however went without a hitch and not a sign of lag anywhere. Communication is also conducted quite well with the possibility of adding context-sensitive lines of conversation. The addition of a fair play thumbs up that can be given to players after a match is potentially a great way of weeding out problem participants.
Despite such niggles however, PES 2012 offers one crucial element that redeems it: it’s great fun. It’s clearly a more arcade style game of football compared to the sim nature of FIFA 12 but that’s to its benefit. Realism might not be prominent any more but that just makes for a game that’s easy to drop in to after a late night drinking session with your mates. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of firing off a through pass that lands at the feet of Rooney half way down the pitch, leading to an awesome volleying strike. Sometimes, that’s all you need. In an ideal world, we’d all be able to own both FIFA and PES, enjoying the different interpretations of football. While that can’t be the case, FIFA will continue to rule the roost but I’ve got strong hopes that in the near future, it might be more of a two horse race once more.
MLG Rating: 7/10
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, PC, PSP & PS2 Release Date: 14/10/2011
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a physical copy of PES 2012 for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of one week on an Xbox 360. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click click here.