"Team work is what seperates the world's greatest teams from their peers", claims PES 2012 Producer Seabass, "and is the hub of everything within PES 2012". We outline PES 2012's key new features below, plus what we - as die-hard PES fans - think Konami are doing well, and not so well, when it comes to bringing PES 2012 up to speed, and providing realistic competition for FIFA 12.
So, what's new?
Seabass wants PES to 'match what people see when they go to a match or watch a big game on TV', so the game more closely resembles how real football is played. The essence of this is teamwork, and PES 2012 has undergone a huge AI overhaul.
The PES 2012 announcement video contains some new dribbles, including foot changing direction shifts, and nutmegs.
2) Attacking Play
Decribed as a 'more open' approach, players can dictate the pace of movement, with new AI so team mates make runs and support each other in one-on-one situations e.g. dummy runs to draw defenders, allowing the ball carrier greater options when they are being closed down. The team will work as a more cohesive unit, reacting to the movement of the player with the ball, and working to force the opposition into mistakes. See the screenshots attached for an example.
3) Enhanced Zonal Marking and Positioning
Konami claim you'll need to work harder to split the opposition defence. A new cursor system lets you use the right analogue stick to switch to any player on the pitch - though we're yet to see how this works/feels in action. This should allow you to control a team mate anywhere on the field and react quicker to danger, and close down more quickly. Defensive hold up play is being tweaked, so you can hold a tighter line, position yourself more accurately and track more efficiently. You can also do off-the-ball switching on set pieces like corner, free kicks and throw ins - allowing for quick breaks or closing of danger.
4) Enhanced physicality
The jostling system has been enhanced, so strong players rely more on strength and stature, and star players use their attributes (e.g. tight control, agility etc) to elude a tackle. Players will tumble and lose balance accurately, but can be brought back under control depending on their strength and balance - we're thinking Messi here.
The aim is to create a less predictable, more free form, passing game, with less solo-run super dribbles by the likes of Ronaldo. In short, a bit like they've been promising every year, and slowly (far too slowly for some) delivering on.
So, what are Konami doing well?
1) Focusing on gameplay
PES 2011 made some interesting strides, with advanced - if complex - dribbling permutations, plus the defender jockeying 'wait and hold' tackling - which was interesting, if muddled, and has been essentially copied by FIFA 12 this year. Seabass is tapping into the right language with teamwork, it's what elevates the Champions League finalists Man Utd and Barcelona above all other clubs in Europe. Even in PES 2011, it was too easy to 'spam' with Ronaldo and use brute power/speed to create trouble - and that's after years of Konami aiming to reduce the impact of star players. On the flip side, If Ronaldo/Messi were slow and indistinguishable from the other players, that'd be no good either. The key is making star players stand out for their unique attributes, achieved with mixed success in FIFA 11 - the first game to give Xavi and Berbatov, both touch players, a unique, worthwhile feel. Too many football games have valued power and pace above all other stats - let's see how PES 2012 compares.
2) Focusing on Seabass
The role of the auteur, the individual with vision, has been largely eroded in games, replaced by teams of 200 acting on decisions forged by compromise and focus groups. At core, we prefer the 'one vision' approach, as typified by Hideo Kojima. However, this has a flip side, but we'll get to that. Seabass used to be the cuddly human symbol of all that's right about the best football game in the world, and all that's wrong with the corporate FIFA - but that was 4/5 years ago.
3) Not promising the moon
Underpromise, underdeliver. It's the vintage customer service mantra. The biggest thing to take from today's PES 2012 announcement is... nothing too grand: simply an evolved, more team-focused, game of football. If the finished game turns out to be far in advance of claims, it's a big psychological win. If. We're still waiting on promised PES 2012 new game modes and edit functions, but these will need to be huge in order to grab the attention of the FIFA fanbase.
What are Konami doing less well?
1) Focusing on gameplay
We're being slightly facetious, but unless you've got something really remarkable to trumpet, bar sensible iteration, perhaps the best thing to do is to tackle FIFA 12 from a different angle - not 'we're as good, or better, a simulation as you', but 'our unique modes drop a large sh*t on anything you can offer'. PES have the unique Champions League licence - the world's most exciting football competitiion - but their inability to leverage it more succesfully needs to be noted. At core, CL mode in PES is like any cup competition, but with a new intro movie, *that* anthem, plus some nice colour menus. What we really need is a super authentic, atmosphere-rich, in-depth celebration of the CL, that really tracks your tournament progress. Have pre-match press conferences with multiple choice answers that affect player's morale, or even the tactics of your opposition if they're lulled into thinking, say, you'll play 4-4-2 away and go on the offensive, when you'll really play 4-5-1 and play on the counter. We want commentators that say 'Drogba got a brace in the last group game against Juvenus, can he maintain this form and push Chelsea into the last 16 in this momentous game?'. We want animated off-pitch scuffles, manager histrionics (can they licence Mourinho? We'd all love that), explicit stat tracking twinned to commentary/cut scenes, extensive post match highlights and analysis - you know, like the real thing. Ditto Master League. No more Ronaldo costs £15m and is going to Sunderland nonsense. Total reality. As far as is sane.
2) Focusing on Seabass
Seabass, however much we love him, can verge on a symbol of faded glories - easily lampooned by FIFA die hards. His passion is unarguable, but maybe the game needs a totally fresh brush? Keep Seabass on board, but bring in a new figurehead? It's pure symbolism of course, but this is the age we live in. FIFA has David Rutter, but Gary Patterson is also a key figure - and the game focuses more on its features, all clearly branded and sold, than its backroom personalities.
3) Not articulating points of change clearly enough
The super obvious thing: it looks almost the same as PES 2011, based on this early glimpse at least. After a year of PES players saying the animation was the thing that Konami had to change above anything else, this instantly puts PES on the back foot, certainly in FIFA comparisons which still looks the 'smoother' game - hence the old 'is it really 360 dribbling debate?', that should be a non issue. We know it's hard to bin a game engine overnight and start again, especially since PES 2011 was the first step on a new path, but the fluidity of animation was picked up by everyone.
What Seabass is promising in terms of team work and free pattern play could be immense - the biggest problem of all football games is that the CPU attacks you in a very predictable fashion, using his 'computer-ness' to cheese you with stats and logic, not, say, playing overwhelming, unpredictable and fluid passing like real-life Barcelona. We want the challenge in a top level difficulty game to be 'how can I stop this team?', not just 'how do I break down their iron AI defence?'.
If PES 2012's key features were being 'sold' by FIFA, they'd have clear brands and labels, so 'free form attacking play' wouldn't sound so nebulous, but be called something borderline stupid and clear like 'Attack-tics (tm)' or something less stupid than we can think of in three seconds.
PES 2011's biggest failure, above all others, was its inability to explain its changes - not just to newcomers, but to die-hards. It took us 30 hours to truly love and understand PES 2011, and that was still with caveats. How can FIFA converts and new players be expected to keep up? Konami need to introduce super clear, interactive, tutorials like FIFA, or even SFIV.
The PSM3 Verdict
In fairness, Seabass is saying the right things, but the changes are hard to translate to clear bullet points - and it's impossible to evaluate their impact without a hands-on. It's still completely possible they've cracked it, and this could be the most unpredictable, free form, football game yet. Still, years of hurt leads to understandable cyncism, and the lack of clear visual improvement kicks hard. We'd be very surpised if this video does anything to sway anyone but the converted - which seems to be Konami's strategy. Get closer to its existing community, listen hard and act. It's admirable, but won't help inevitable comparisons with FIFA anytime soon. The hope, of course, is to quietly, off radar, build something beautiful, that's not just liked, but adored by its hardcore fans. You know. Like how PES grew to prominence in the first place. We'll have hands-on impressions soon. As it stands, we're no more confident of PES rivalling FIFA, than Man U beating Barcelona in the CL final - but you never know.