Welcome to part one of our PES 2012 impressions!
Along with this write-up, we have a podcast coming around 11pm this evening (UK time).
Below you’ll find a quick fire info burst, for those just wanting bite sized impressions. And after that you have the ultra long write up. Enjoy!
- New menu is endorsed by UEFA.com
- New mode in menu screen revealed called Football Life
- Team AI and individual AI is groundbreaking in the game
- Deeper tactics and strategy options in-game due to them being mapped to d-pad
- All teams behave uniquely, with a greater emphasis on team play individuality
- Graphics improved in gameplay cam, although needs some more work to achieve preferred levels
- Match atmosphere greatly enhanced thanks to presence of managers, camera-men and groundstaff
- Fans now wearing kits
- New camera angle added called pitch side, which hangs lower from the side line. A favourite on the day
- New reworked ball physics
- More care needs to be taken when passing and controlling, as ball behaves independently and realistically
- Goal Keepers vastly improved. New animations and more reliable
- Referees vastly improved. Play advantage, and book after a play has stopped
- Gameplay more fluid than before, instant response times when dribbling and controlling the ball
- Animations more varied in passing and shooting, although not on FIFA levels
- Shooting still floaty, needs work
- Throughballs not as powerful, easier to intercept with better control of players
- New personal data feature lets user customize own controller set-up, including adding an avatar picture
TELL ME HOW YOU REALLY FEEL
There’s a lot that can be said for the flaws of last years release. Perhaps it’s always easy to focus on the negatives, but as I’ve said many times on the boards and podcasts, PES 2011 was a few improvements away from being very special.
It was the first game this generation that got any sort of media respect, and was the first game that officially stopped the rot when it came to sales on a yearly basis.
What I wanted to do was focus on certain negatives in PES 2011, ones not so obvious, but fed into other issues. Maybe something easier for me to spot, as I truly fell in love with PES 2011 preview code, but something happened in between that and retail which left a bad taste in my mouth. It also left me scratching my head.
Reason being, it’s not as if the changes were night and day, but a collection of tweaks gave a different feel and outcome. Take dribbling and defending. There was a greater balance in preview code, but once shipped new defensive maneuvers and emphasis on physicality changed things drastically. For example, that stumbling animation? Not in preview code. The falling down face first when passing under pressure? Not in preview code. Dribbling feeling heavy at times and easy to defending against? Not in preview code.
Lets develop that last point. Dribbling in context in PES 2011 is actually excellent. Beyond laboring the point of inertia, it’s well developed and thought out, with realism the key point. No foot sliding, no turning into impossible angles, all believable. Problem is, it lacked fluidity. It also screamed lack of faith from Konami, as they clearly weakened its effectiveness in release code. The slowing down of a dribbler’s speed, and implementing what we now call the catch up bug, created an extremely frustrating experience.
It’s an offset of variables all hindering each other. Slowing down dribbling speed and creating heavy touches, but at the same time making any physical presence powerful, with the ability to stumble the player and take him out of your control. Then there was the fact defenders never committed into a challenge, meaning your nice two-touch dribbles that created space never allowed you the opportunity to put distance between you and the player you’re facing. Because A) he was never trying to win the ball, just contain, and B) Konami were worried about players being able to fly past people so they put in a catch up mechanism. So even if you did beat a man, you wouldn’t be able to stay ahead for long.
Lets keep this web of evil spinning.
So the physicality in the game created a feeling of not wanting to hold onto the ball for any length of time when under pressure. Mix in inconsistent referees that you never really trust, and it makes the player never trusting the game will play out fairly. Now you know how Mourinho feels.
So not wanting to hold the ball meant you’d pass, and pass quickly. Here we realized the flaws of the ball physics and general rules a player could break. Inconsistent outcomes with accuracy and power bar never gave any sort of satisfaction. Passes were easy to misplace without reason. The new freedom elements were a godsend, but the directness and laser guided feel and excessive speed made it all look and feel unrealistic. It was like setting the coordinates to a missile and watching it go.
It almost felt like players would think the same, avoiding through ball interceptions as if their leg might get blown off. And even if they did intercept, passing it first time was not allowed. Unwritten law apparently.
Wind back to the catch up bug, as I feel it has a lot to do with shooting. Again it’s all about taking your time when in space in front of goal, but even when put clean through, there’s never any feeling of trust in the game playing out things how you would want. Players would catch up in an instant, and getting that time and space would be at premium. Especially with the inconsistent outcome of the shot, and the time it took your player to actually fire it off.
That leads nicely onto keepers. No need to digress.
So, starting from something like dribbling you’ve seen so many elements intertwine right through the spine of the game, where one small issue would give birth to many more. That’s where this year’s up coming game comes in. A game on the face of it doesn’t seem to do a lot, but the key gameplay fixes and changes create a domino effect on the rest of the product. Correcting one mistake, and you potentially correct them all.
This is PES 2012.
THE BEAUTIFUL GAME
After meeting up with Jon (Murphy) and Steve (Merrett), we quickly got into the game, and just as quickly realized the new post-E3 code was substantially different from the initial code we sampled a few months back. So THAT’S why we couldn’t write about it.
The gameplay has been tightened up massively, with fluidity, consistency, and a feeling of completeness when playing the game. All elements missing from PES 2011. So from here on in, let’s start again with our impressions of PES 2012. We’ll forget the last podcast was ever recorded. Clean slate coming in.
With that in mind let’s discuss the initial presentation improvements, from the front end to pre-match niceties. The front menu is now officially endorsed by UEFA, with a background and bottom of screen ticker linked to the website. Moving between game modes, exactly the same as PES 2011 in the layout, you now have real life footage playing in the background, rather than a single unknown player doing his stuff. The footage we saw looked like Champions League highlights, mainly of Messi tearing apart yet another defence.
Our options there after were limited, as the code only allowed one-off exhibition matches to be played, in the Camp Nou, and only at night. Choosing our teams, which consisted of top European and International outfits, we noticed a new look to the selection process. Picking the teams was still similar to PES 2011; in the way you have two horizontal bars to pic region/league, and the actual team. In PES 2012 you now get a different grading system of the teams, yet again doing away with the hexagon.
Now you get 6 grades for each specific category, ranging from A to D. The criteria are the same, so you have Offense, Technique, Physicality, Defense, Tactics, and Speed. The letter (as mentioned previously) is in a retro ISS 64 boxart font style. Certainly one for the hardcore fans to spot!
Teams selected, and you can then get to pick kits, formation and settings. Team kit selection works the same way as last year, which is perhaps disappointing as confirms we won’t have 3rd kits again for PES 2012.
The formation screen is completely intact from PES 2011, but again the letter grading system in is place. By selecting a player, you now get a picture of him, and beside his mug shot 6 grades showing key abilities you might want to know more than others.
The bottom menus have changed too, with the first four icons linked to the new trigger tactics for the d-pad, which you initiate on the fly. As reported, the d-pad isn’t a control option by default, allowing Konami to utilize the control set-up in a similar to FIFA.
What’s interesting about this element though is that it’s extremely deep. So not only are you changing the formation and playing styles, you can also change parameters even further to make them more obvious/subtle. Another weapon in the armory for the tacticians out there!
Into the match, and you’re first off greeted by a brand new tunnel sequence. It’s much busier than PES 2011, and more ambient. Players are more active, and interact with ground staff walking around them. As they walk onto the pitch you see cameramen congregated behind a barrier taking snaps, with a lone cameraman coming forward ready to wander along the line-up for the big screen close-up. Then a quick jump to players stretching and warming up, right before kick off.
DO YOUR TALKING ON THE PITCH
So with all the pre-match elements intricately described (just so I don’t have to mention them again in the future!), lets get on to the important stuff.
As the ref blows for kick off, a barrage of elements hit you almost instantly. AI, Camera, graphics, ambiance and ball physics. That’s just the first wave! Lets hit those first 5 elements, then.
AI is Konami’s big push this year, and you see it in abundance from the off. Players are so alive to what’s going on around you, and before you know it are making intelligent runs and supportive movements to cover or offer an easy pass. The few minutes of playing PES 2012 actually gives you a clear indication of just how lifeless PES 2011 was in this respect, and it’s the one key thing that has been lacking with the series for this generation.
But it’s not about dummy runs and forward runs trying to get behind a defense, it also about supportive runs and players around you giving you the opportunity to pass. Take Barcelona and AC Milan. Two different formations, and two different ways of playing. Milan’s way of playing is driven through the middle of the pitch, with width only created by the full backs. Options to pass therefore remain channeled down the middle, and means recycling the ball can be difficult due to the centre of the pitch often becoming over populated. Playing as Barcelona however gives you a completely different mindset. Width is always an option, with both wingers and full backs constantly getting forward and supporting attacks. The entire team is very compact, always moving and giving you an option every which way possible – completely differently to Milan.
The camera now swoops low and stays consistent with the flow of the game, always giving you the best view for what’s going on with the action on screen. The camera in PES 2011 was all about giving the broadcast experience, and while many fell in love with it at first, it wasn’t long before we were all yearning for a better scope for what was happening around the pitch, and had me wanting to get wide cam back. The wide cam does just that, sitting still rather than always moving all around the place.
Graphics in gameplay cam have been a sore point for PES fans over the years on this generation; with the game almost giving us a completely different look both close and from afar. Incredibly lifelike close in, PES has always failed to keep the level of detail once the match gets going.
PES 2012 see’s a gradual improvement, although right now it’s not what I would call fixed. There’s much more detail held now, with player physique and kit style (i.e. untucked shirt, wristbands) much more visible than before. It almost looked like the outline of a player’s body had been given a type of shading, emphasizing the differences between shapes. Puyol looked like a mini hulk, while Busquets looks slim and athletic. PES 2011 improved that element, but PES 2012 certainly takes that detail further.
It’s also nice to see a richer looking player surface, with the cut of the grass and believable textures giving you the illusion you’re playing on a wonderful pitch. And it’s not just the pitch that looks great; the entire stadium is something that is more prominent in the new camera angle. Playing in the Camp Nou, the viewpoint really gave the impression that you were watching an actual broadcast.
Now for the ambiance, and PES 2012 has really come a long way. It’s simply brilliant. Managers gesturing and walking around their technical area, ground staff walking around the pitch and behind the goal, and camera men who are on a base follow the play and move with the ball. The crowd (more visible on the fantastic new pitch side cam) animates subtly, but add to the overall visual and atmospheric experience, especially with them wearing the shirts of the home team. And while we’re yet to be able to truly judge the sound and how that element will add to the final experience, it’s already at an incredible high level that not even weird anecdotes from Champion and Beglin could ruin this one.
The final instant realization of change had to be ball physics, which have undergone a massive transformation. Less pace, less laser guided, and more free. For the first time since the PS2 days, the ball actually feels like it’s own entity in PES again. And that’s from the moment the ball is passed, to the way it’s controlled, and then passed on again – each element is key as in every moment you need to make sure the ball is your possession. The power in the passing is ever more key, with over hit passes requiring more care in bringing under control. You’ll also find the ball will curl and bobble in ways it simply hasn’t done on this generation.
After getting past the ‘Fantastic Five’, other key changes quickly become obvious. As you pass, move and dribble, the improved response times and fluidity in movement has been ramped up, with small added animations making it look better and of course make it more responsive.
The physicality has been worked on a great deal too, allowing for better ball retention and interaction with an opposition player. Gone are the days of cumbersome dribbling feel and control being taken out of your hand via a stumbling animation. Things are more seamless, and always keeping you in full control of everything going on during the game. Players will palm off players trying to subject them to pressure from behind and the side, and includes seeing this off the ball too. In the same essence, players are able to ride and skip over challenges, keeping things moving,
The changes also impact how you might approach the defensive side of the game, as you’re more likely to be punished by a mistimed challenge. Something we noticed this playtest is that pressuring a player as he is receiving the ball is sometimes beneficial, as the impact could put him off balance, or make him miscontrol the ball. Other times though, a little bit late in getting there, and you could either be giving away a free kick in a dangerous area or see a player turn you easily with a touch and leave you for dead.
Talking of leaving for dead, fans will be happy to hear the catch up bug has completely gone. Quicker players when past their men will be able to stay ahead, and sometimes even extend the gap between them and the defender. It’s not an exploit however, as you can still contain by holding R2 and X. Suff got the hang of this rather quickly, and was very good at tackling as a whole.
Moving onto other fixes, and I’m happy to report referees were 99% awesome. Calling fouls, playing advantage, and booking players after play had stopped. The 1%? Me and Suff noticed perfectly legitimate slide tackles from the front or side were penalized more often than not. Needs work.
Something that needs less work than expected is Goal keepers. Wow, what a turn around. After being the key element that could possibly ruin an amazing product, it’s already achieved a respectful level, with me and Suff seeing them make saves they would never make in PES 2011. More importantly, they would also make saves in a fresh new animation brand new for PES 2012. We’re talking one-handed saves, reactions to one on one situations etc etc. Throughout the playtest we had a lot more trust in them when reacting to saves. Simply put they caught more and spilled less, with everything spilt usually pushed away from danger whenever possible. From here on in we would like to see much more animation work, and as Suff put it ‘theatrics.’
Shooting also could do with some work, and from the entire playtest, was probably the one key part of the game that could do with a total change. It was odd, as ball physics for passing, crossing etc felt great, but shooting (like in PES 2011) felt extremely floaty.
It didn’t affect you too much when one on one, but shot outside the box usually ended up comfortably in the keepers arms. Not to suggest crackers from outside the box weren’t attainable, it was just they were few and far between, and the feeling of the correct outcome from a controller input just wasn’t there.
I guess it’s also worth rounding up our impressions about dedicating actual time to the animations. It’s a difficult subject, as comparisons to FIFA will always be there. Right now PES still needs work regarding this, as while they’ve made great additions to make the game extremely fluid, it still doesn’t compete with EA’s series. For me and Suff it’s more than enough in it’s own right, but to really make an impact across all fanbases they need to consider a drastic change for the future.
Overall then, at this stage, PES 2012 is playing a fantastic game of football. It corrects the wrongs of PES 2011, and adds new and exciting elements to go a step further. Expect updated impressions late July from WENB, where we can tell you how the game is looking closer to release.
So far, PES 2012 is looking like it’s on a road to greatness, passing the likes of PES 5 on it’s way there. Yes, that good.