As one football season ends, the original one begins. If you don't understand what that means, then please return to reading the back pages of The Herald Sun, where one thing and one thing only dominates the headlines. A different kind of football, but that's not why you're here, is it? You're reading this because you love 'soccer'. That word... ugh. We digress. Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 is here and it returns with a fairly tame effort. It's the virtual version of Arsenal Football Club, a team that will often show glimpses of hope that reveals a more successful future, a future that involves winning lots of trophies. But just like Arsenal, PES 2012 has failed to build upon what made last year's release so promising. Unlike Arsenal, it hasn't started off the season in a disgraceful fashion; but one thing is certain, we expected more from our friend Seabass.
Put aside your loyalty for a moment. It's no longer relevant and it's the reason why some many of us are unintentionally biased. So forget about your PES addiction and while you're in limbo, approach the football battle of 2011 with the following question - why should I buy PES instead of FIFA? And vice versa, of course. Frankly, there's nothing here to elevate the love child of Seabass beyond what we saw twelve months ago. The first mistake was releasing the game in America two weeks early, ignoring Europe and ourselves until now. Why was it a mistake? Because FIFA 12 blows it away in every department and makes PES feel severely underdeveloped and archaic in comparison.
While FIFA is slicker and smoother than ever, PES handles itself like an erratic robot. The difference in quality has been stretched so far that it's immediately obvious as soon as you start playing. However, PES 2012 does a pretty impressive job in presenting itself as a proper, professional simulation (it clearly isn't, but at least it looks the part). Genuinely, these are some of the best stadiums in the business. They mightn't be official but damn they're pretty. Most of the major players appear accurate too, but as is normally the case, the remainder of the crew is largely made up of generic drones. Not that it matters a whole lot. FIFA suffers the same problem, but it's more of a distraction in PES purely because it lacks so many of the official licenses. Hence why it's traipsing behind FIFA in terms of authenticity.
Just as we predict every year, PES returns with one of the most abominable soundtracks ever found in a sports game (bar maybe... two tracks). We expected nothing less than cheesy techno tunes that nobody cares about and certainly nobody ever wants to hear again. The commentary is equally hopeless, something of a Seabass tradition. When Jim Beglin and John Champion succeed in saying something that matches the action on the pitch, it's rarely, if ever, said with enough conviction to make you care. That's nothing new and to be honest, it's kind of... nice. Weird, isn't it? But that's a signature of PES, and it's a reminder of the glory days pre-2006. You've probably heard that in every review since, well, since PES took a dive from its previously unreachable height. Apologies, but it couldn't be more true this time around.
Thankfully, the game can still be a huge amount of fun when you ignore what we've just mentioned. It's by no means a simulation, but it's not basic enough to be considered arcade either. PES 2012 is somewhere in between, so it makes for a near perfect local multiplayer experience with a very solid passing system and user friendly controls. The artificial intelligence has been improved immensely on both ends of the pitch, although it's more evident when you're attacking. Your supporting strikers and wingers make clever, considered runs into the box and if they're caught offside then it's probably your fault for not playing the pass quickly enough. Defenders are also more aggressive but the feeble goalkeepers are still prone to catastrophic blunders, but again, this is a common fault with every single football game on the market so it's just a matter of getting over it.
However, for all of their hype about boosting the number of animations for each players, it really doesn't seem to have paid off. This could be as a result of the rigid gameplay that still feels bound by a traditional eight-way movement system (which it isn't, but it definitely doesn't appear to be three-hundred and sixty degrees). A couple of new additions have been made including a feature that allows you to simultaneously control a second player, something that FIFA tried many moons ago. It works slightly better this time but still feels unnecessary and there's a good chance that you'll never bother using it. A more important improvement has been made to the penalty kick system which is now more refined and easily more intuitive than before, allowing for more precise finishing, quite unlike the idiotic system found in PES 2011.
In terms of new content, once again, not a whole lot has been done here. There's a new training mode that you're encouraged to try out from the get go, and while it's undeniably beneficial for those wishing to play PES on the highest difficultly levels, it's almost completely redundant for everyone else. 'Club Boss' is arguably the biggest addition this year and tasks you with objectives to try and dominate the corporate world. It's an interesting idea, one with several merits, but one that will only appeal to a small number of fans because we love to play football more than we love to see diagrams and charts and executives in a meeting room. 'Football Life' is incorporated into all of this this and it means you can create a player, be successful and turn into a superstar, then a manager, before finally stepping into the shoes of the big boss man. It works reasonably well and it complements the UEFA Champions League and the iconic Master League which, just like every year, is the main selling point for PES 2012. Online multiplayer runs respectably but as we keep mentioning, it's miles from where it needs to be even with the 'Legends' mode, particularly on a co-operative level (an area that FIFA is close to mastering).
All of the faults in question return to an overarching problem with Seabass, it's that his vision is blurred. Let's take Pro Evolution Soccer 2 as an example (back when the year didn't matter), it was a phenomenal football game. Yet, as opposed to being lazy and contempt, Seabass topped it with Pro Evolution Soccer 3, and again with Pro Evolution Soccer 4. It was only when he replaced the numbers with years that the franchise faded into a phase of self destruction, and unfortunately, PES 2012 is heading down that route again. There simply aren't enough improvements here and with the competition tearing away into the sunset, there's absolutely no way that we can recommend this as a superior product. It's decent and frequently enters 'good' territory, but it's too far behind FIFA now. The former 'King of Football' has succumb to its greatest enemy and now lies on a death bed, and it's going to remain there unless something drastic happens next year. Start praying.