PES 2012 Reviewed: The Best Football Game Ever Created

Football tribalism is not just for the terraces, and the imminent release of Pro Evo Soccer 2012 is due to rile both PES fanatics and the FIFAphiles alike...
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There’s no point denying it - I’m a bigot. I love Pro Evolution Soccer and I hate FIFA - always have done, always will do. And it’s time we stopped pussyfooting around this issue. Let’s get it all out in the open and deal with it like adults.

Because the essential truth is this: PES people are good and honest. They support lower league clubs, they read books and they like Spinal Tap. FIFA people are just…they’re dickheads.

It’s this deep-rooted bigotry which makes it hard for me to write a fair and balanced review – so I won’t.

Instead, I will hold aloft a copy of Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 and I shall parade it around triumphantly whilst humming ‘We Are The Champions’. And I will taunt all those weak-minded idiots who have abandoned us in recent years. The scabs. The turncoats. The weasels. The born-again FIFAphiles.

You know who you are.

And don’t think you can come sloping back. Because what you’re missing out on here is not just the best ever PES – it’s the best football game ever created (apart from Emlyn Hughes International Soccer on the Speccy; obviously).

So try not to sob too loudly as you thwap away on FIFA 12 with Garth and Tobias. Think about the positives – think about your game’s shiny new menu system and The Ting Tings on the soundtrack.

PES 2012 can’t offer either of those delights. Instead we must settle for a sublime game-playing experience. This is largely thanks to a major overhaul of the game’s AI. Rather than the usual tweaks and fiddles, they appear to have attacked the engine with a hammer and welding torch.

What’s most noticeable is that the teams you play feel genuinely different. They have personalities. Some teams hoof it. Some spray it around. Some kick lumps out of you. Some stand off. Some will do a combination of these things. Some will do none of them. Each team is different. And every game is different.

I have grown to love the weird PES netherworld it creates. A world where fictional players like Gambino and Kaiser can seem more grounded in reality than the likes of Berbatov and Balotelli.

For the single player modes this is like switching from black-and-white to colour – from John Motson to John Arlott. It gives matches an added depth and variety that breathes new life into areas of PES which were becoming stale and predictable.

The ‘Be A Pro’ mode benefits the most. This is where you take control of a single player’s career. In previous versions this was pretty much unplayable because of the loony behaviour of your teammates who would often act like malfunctioning Stepford Wives. It’s now a class act. A joy to play.

The ‘Master League’ - the main career mode, has also been given fresh legs, thanks to the added variety of your opponents. It forces you to start thinking more tactically and trying out different styles of play – something I’ve never felt it worth bothering with before.

All of this is in addition to the usual tightening up of gameplay that provides an Alan Partridge style brand of liquid football. It’s fast, fluid and instinctive. Unlike FIFA, it’s not trying to simulate the glum realities of the game. It’s an idealised version – the kind of football you dream about.

And that doesn’t mean it’s dumbed down or cartoony – it’s just that there’s a subtle emphasis on making it fun to play, rather than being slavishly accurate. It makes FIFA feel lethargic, clumsy and maddeningly unresponsive.

There are a few things that, even through the thick lens of my PES goggles, could be described as problems. The main one being the insane accuracy of crosses which seem pre-destined to hit an attacker’s head and howitzer into the back of the net. Hopefully this is something they can tone down in a future patch.

There has also been a ham-fisted attempt to spice up the ‘Master League’ by adding an endless succession of cut-scenes in which players whinge about stuff in bad English – an unwelcome insight into the world of Roberto Mancini.

Then there is the old chestnut, which bitter FIFA types seem obsessed with: the limited number of licensed players and teams. I have never had a problem with this and have grown to love the weird PES netherworld it creates. A world where fictional players like Gambino and Kaiser can seem more grounded in reality than the likes of Berbatov and Balotelli.

But the biggest problem with PES 2012 is that its general excellence and return to form threatens to shatter the cool outsider status that PES loyalists have enjoyed in recent years. Nobody liked us. We didn’t care.

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