If Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 was the reboot that put the series back in the running, then Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 is the game that pushes it straight to the finals. While it offers more in the way of refinement than something completely new, there are tweaks in PES 12 that change the way it plays, removing many of the frustrations that plagued previous games in the series. AI improvements ensure your teammates attack, defend, and pass in a more believable manner, while smoother animations mean you’re treated to a better-looking experience. Not all the tweaks hit the mark; off-the-ball control is tricky to master, online modes feel sparse next to FIFA, and a renewed sense of speed actually makes PES 12 less realistic than its predecessor. But it’s that very speed that also makes it a great game by offering up an exciting, fluid game of football that’s a joy a play.
Last year’s PES saw the introduction of a more accurate passing system that required you to place the ball precisely, controlling direction and power. Ultimately, this made PES a slower and more considered experience, pushing it firmly into the simulation space occupied by FIFA. While PES 12 retains this passing system, the overall flow of the game has changed. It’s faster and more fluid, with the change being immediately apparent when you see players moving more gracefully than ever before. Performing fast-paced runs, passing long balls, or going for glory with an optimistic shot from outside the box is easier than in previous games, and a lot of fun to boot.
PES 12’s fluidity doesn’t mean that realism has taken a backseat, though. Numerous AI tweaks change the way your team members play, making them less of a hindrance to each match. Some of those tweaks are immediately apparent while others are subtler, but all have an impact on gameplay. For instance, improvements made to the AI mean that computer-controlled players offer more support. The AI is actually good at anticipating your next move, running to open areas of the pitch just as you receive the ball. This lets you make better use of open space for more inventive plays. Active AI also incorporates improvements to dummy and diagonal runs. If you run in wide, a supporting player will run with you, zigzagging around the opposition and placing himself in an open area so you can get a pass in and cross the ball into the box.