I need to stress here before this goes any further that I probably shouldn’t have put Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 in immediately after playing FIFA 12. It is possible that this irrevocably colored my impressions, so keep that in mind while I talk about this game.
There was a time when the Pro Evolution series was the superior soccer game on the market. This was as recently as 2009, before EA Sports decided that they would make good soccer games again. As a result, Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 (or PES 12) came into this year as the underdog. EA had promised a new physics system which would increase the perfection of their simulation, to say nothing of their promise that the AI had gotten an overhaul as well. PES 12 had to step up its game if it was going to compete, which is why it is such a shame that PES 12 plays almost exactly like PES 08 did.
This is a game that does not play as well as its competitor. Not only are the animations more stilted, but the lighting on the field seems to have taken one too many cues from Zack Snyder at times (play in any stadium at sunset, and you will see what I’m talking about). It feels as if the game moves about as quickly as a Snyder battle too, which is another one of its problems. Soccer is a fast-paced game, in which it is all about being able to pass effectively enough to open up space to take a shot on goal. Unfortunately, the fluidity on display in FIFA 12 is noticeably absent in PES 12.
The rosters in PES 12 are accurate, but PES lacks much of the licensing that EA possesses. While that alone isn’t enough to stop one game from being better than the other, it definitely means that the mechanics in PES 12 needed to be excellent in order to overcome what is for many a real problem (after all, if you can’t play as your favorite club because they haven’t been licensed, what’s the point of playing?). Past iterations of the game had this same problem, but they didn’t matter as much because the gameplay was so much better than the alternative (I myself still have a copy of PES 08 laying around somewhere, and it was the only soccer game I owned until FIFA 12. The fact that I was still playing it as recently as this summer says something about how much I enjoyed it.). In this case, however, there’s inferior gameplay on top of the lack of licensed teams.
The sad part of this review is that I haven’t even gotten to the AI yet, which makes scoring in the game far too easy. Soccer games—the real ones that people play outdoors—are not generally goal-fests. You have a blowout here and there, but it’s hardly the norm. This is not the case with PES 12. The opponent AI does not seem to be able to complete a pass or indeed use any sort of soccer skill whatsoever. I actually turned the difficulty up because I thought that it must be that the medium difficulty was just easy. It wasn’t. Opposing players continued to try for passes that had no chance of being successful, and provided you can string two or three passes together, the opposition’s defense will forget to actually press the attackers while the goalie contemplates the finer things in life and before diving quickly out of the way of the ball lest it be inadvertently kept from the goal. This also assumes that you are successful in aiming your shot, which is—granted—an occasionally dodgy affair. The game feels so much slower that it becomes easier to play, and while I am pretty bad at games and generally play them on easy anyway, there still needs to be some challenge in play. Otherwise, I might as well just have the computer simulate the outcome (although as that would pit two iterations of PES 12‘s AI against one another, it would probably end with no score because nobody would ever figure out how to dribble the ball properly).
There are a few interesting things that PES 12 does. One of them is the Club Boss mode (which is for some bizarre reason locked to begin with). This is similar to the Franchise mode in MLB: The Show, in which you do not control the players at all, but instead, play the role of the club owner, trying to make an honest dollar in the world of soccer. This is a neat idea, and it’s cool to see the series trying it out, even if I personally don’t see the interest in determining who gets to sponsor my club. Another thing that PES 12 does (which honestly should make me like it more than I do) is that it has no online code verification, and for a game released in 2011, is the equivalent of finding a unicorn just hanging out in your backyard asking if you’d like some wishes. You know, if you weren’t doing anything else. Maybe you could hop on its back and go for a ride somewhere magical, but he’s not sure. Maybe it would be best if you just played it by ear.
PES 12‘s big coup is having the rights to the UEFA Champions League, which stands in for playing through Premier League fixtures in FIFA 12. Players who are especially interested in the UEFA Champions League would be better off, however, if they just created a tournament in FIFA 12 of similar scope. The downside to this mode is that you have to play PES 12‘s actual gameplay, which—as I’ve already suggested—isn’t that great. There is absolutely no reason to buy PES 12 in a world where FIFA 12 exists, and even if there weren’t a FIFA 12 to compare it to, there’s still nothing impressive about PES 12.