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Old 2 August 11, 22:39   #3819
goalgerd
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Default Re: PES 2012 Discussion Thread .......

PES 2012 – Preview
We find ourselves in the middle of the PES revolution. Rewind 12 months, and you would see PES 2011 demanding that you re-learn everything you know. It was the same game that we're used to yet, at the same time, was entirely different. Some loved this new direction, others hated it – I, personally, reside in the former, with the caveat that, whilst the changes in PES 2011 were good (and needed) – it had a lot of work to be done before it could be classed as great.

Also, those that have followed my thoughts over the last 12 months will have seen my scribbling that PES 2012 would need to ditch the annual cycle of unnecessarily-complex overhauls and reinvention, and instead opt for a more streamlined approach – a process of improvement and refinement, with a particular focus on enhancing the most important element: gameplay.

As you're no doubt aware by now, this is exactly what Konami have done. Which leads us to ask the inevitable: Has it paid off? Will PES 2012 finally give us a great game of football?

AI/Gameplay

Konami have been shouting from the rooftops, claiming that the gameplay advancements in PES 2012 will more-than-prove that last year's rebirth was the right decision. Despite this, the sceptics amongst us would have looked at the recent gameplay videos and assumed that the footage was cherry picked to show the AI improvements at their best, myself included, but that's certainly not the case.

When you play it, you instantly find yourself with options on the pitch – players are constantly moving around you, trying to create space and often make those incisive “diagonal runs” that we've heard so much about. The overlaps are obvious – but it isn't just the fullbacks, you notice your midfielders constantly trying to pull the defence apart in order to create vital passing and scoring opportunities. This is a world away from what has gone before it – and even though I still like PES 2011, placing it next to PES 2012 makes it look like it severely lacks invention, and all that credit should go to the team in Japan and the efforts that they have put into the new game.

To pull that back in – you aren't always being given gilt-edged chances, but your teammates are actively trying to manufacture attacking plays and that is something that has been missing from PES for a while. Obviously, as the player, you want to be the decision maker, the one that runs the game but to do that you need your team to assist you, to be creative and present you with options – and it's impressive to see just how well they do that in PES 2012.

There's also a raft of improvements that when isolated seem relatively small, but when put together increase playability tenfold. Player responsiveness, for example, is so much faster – you have more control over your movements, allowing you to turn with pace and precision, perfect for those that like to move with the ball in the midfield. This was most prominent when playing against The Boss, I felt that I had more freedom to move with the ball – and turn a man, rather than just resorting to systematically passing past him a la PES 2011.

Allied to that, reduced animation lengths (multiple frames have been cut from animations making them quicker and link more realistically) and less instances of player unresponsiveness mean that you can shrug off challenges, or even stumble, but remain in control of your player, rather than being locked in a lengthy animation and end up losing possession. This was obvious from the offset – being a Manchester United fan I chose the reds for my first game and was instantly energized when Rafael made a surging run from the back, rode a dodgy tackle from Tottenham's Huddlestone and regained composure to pick out Valencia on the wing. I didn't score from the move – but seeing play flow with a greater degree of realism was just as rewarding as finding the net. Obviously, the magic of this sort of thing will hardly be noticed after a week or two, but PES players will undoubtedly appreciate it the first time they see it.

PES 2012 also promises that you will be able to impact on the gameplay like never before with the brand new 'Teammate Controls' – meaning you can, whilst controlling your own player, directly influence the behaviour of a teammate. There are two options: Assisted and Manual. Assisted asks that you choose a second player, then once selected the AI sends him on a run into space, whilst Manual requires that you control the run yourself with your right stick (and still control your player with the left stick).

The true value of this function will only become obvious over time, but it's definitely a great addition. Admittedly, I found the Manual Teammate Controls a little too complicated – controlling two different runs, in two separate directions, at the same time would probably work better if I could move my eyes independently (or at least use my peripheral vision more effectively). That said, with time and practice I don't doubt that the best gamers would be able to make this work for them – and the benefits for doing so are obvious. I, on the other hand, will happily settle for the Assisted Controls. A flick and a press of the right stick sends a man running – simple yet effective, and as well as creating direct scoring opportunities, it can be used to draw defenders out of position to open up extra space for the man in possession to have an open shot.

Passing has been tweaked too – though it's easy to miss it with everything going on around you. The biggest annoyance, for me, on PES 2011 when it came to playing in a Barcelona fashion (passing the ball around in midfield) was that I occasionally found it hard to stroke the ball to a man a yard or two away from me, often watching on in frustration as I rifled it past him instead. I didn't see that happen once on 2012. Also, if you're the type of player that'd like some assistance when it comes to passing – you've now got a slider that determines how strong the helping hand of the AI will be. Push it up full for a lot of support when placing passes, or tone it down to have the full freedom of choosing power and direction yourself.

I mentioned earlier that the freedom to move with the ball is greater – and that's directly proportionate to the freedom to pass it. Both I and The Boss had sessions of one touch football, creating glorious passing triangles – followed by sessions that saw us embark on close-quarters twists and turns that inevitably lead to panicked last ditch slides, all within the same match. It's somewhat cliché to put it this way – but you have been given a little more permission to play exactly how you'd like to.

So, you can pass better – and you can run with the ball? Surely that's setting up a game of goal-fests? In a word: No. The team in possession aren't the only ones that have benefited from a boost in intelligence – defenders move also move a lot more proactively, with increased awareness of the dangers around them. I'm not sure whether I'm alone in this – but on 2011, when stretched on the flanks of my defence, I found it safer to control a Centre Back in the middle and use the AI to pressure with a Full Back, purely because as I had more belief in my central defensive positioning. This wasn't the case in the play-test – I found that I was controlling the hounding and hassling on the wing as I had more confidence in my central defence.

In general, I found it harder to defend – the increased freedom in player movement obviously amplifies evasiveness. To use a word, I found dribblers a little more “slippery”. I'd get near the man only for him to find ways to slide past me, but I'd confidently put that down to inexperience on the newer version – as I would the number of fouls I made too. The referee seemed suitably balanced – and yes, he did call for more fouls than I'm used to, but they all seemed to be the right decisions. The fact that a man can skip out of a challenge means that if you slide, you need to be sure. I obviously need to work on my sliding technique in 2012, but on the flip side – I wasn't penalised for any aggressive slides where I took the ball cleanly. The AI wasn't afraid to go in for a challenge too – or lunge to put a block in, which as you'd expect will lead to more cards for the opposition. A straight red was given for a nasty foul on my winger just 6 minutes into one game, and I also had a couple of penalties for mistimed challenges in the box.

There is a key area that has been worked on for both attack and defence – and that is one-on-ones. However, I got very little experience with this so can't comment fully at this point, other than to say if it adds any more excitement to player movements and defensive timing/positioning to that already contained then it can only be a good thing. This is something that I'll look at in more detail in future.

Other elements of gameplay that I'll refrain from commenting on with such conviction, simply because they need to be viewed over longer periods of time, are things like the AI's desire to win. I had instances where I was controlling the game, flying 2-0 up, only to be lucky to still be in the tie going in to extra time and penalties. Also, I found that I was beaten more regularly via the use of skills and feints – with a quick inside-bounce or stepover wrong-footing my defender on a number of occasions.

There is still work that needs to be done on the pitch and, after all the efforts gone into creating a more free-flowing game in the midfield, it seems to be mainly in the final third. Shot selection is a little baffling at times, and efforts on goal are occasionally a touch too weak meaning that you can carve a team open with realistic moments of brilliance, but finish with a powder-puff effort – where you'd ideally be looking for a daisy cutter.

Looking at it optimistically, the shooting is balanced by the keepers – who seemed solid at first, but after more play time it became evident that they chose to parry a number of shots when they should have opted to catch. They did have greater responses generally, managing to get firm hands on more strikes and getting back up on their feet much quicker – ready for double and even triple saves, but also caused more corners than was necessary by tipping tame shots wide, or over the crossbar. They do have moments of brilliance, and they have it in their arsenal to leap and punch shots clear with a strong fist, with such purpose that even David Seaman would be proud, but in general they need a little more work before release, as does shooting.

Finally, there was also couple of animations that caught my attention, for the wrong reasons: Firstly, when I sent in a low shot with little power (or it had a deflection and had started rolling) I expected the keeper to drop onto it, instead he jumped over it and lifted his arms up to his head as if he was held at gun point (this happened twice, with two very different quality keepers). Secondly, I saw Berbatov perform an 'improvised' overhead kick on goal which looked great – but after that it occurred nearly almost once per game, and was also used as a defensive clearance, and to pass to a team mate. It works as a rare instinctive shot – but it was used too frequently, and in the wrong scenarios.
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