Finding someone who has purchased and played both PES and FIFA in the last few years is rarer than club loyalty in the modern day footballer. You're either into one or the other. Simple as. Or at least it was until this season's head-to-head.
Y'see, even though I switched allegiances from PES to FIFA during the 2009/2010 season and rarely looked back, PES 2012 serves up enough excitement and personality to make me consider playing both this year.
For me, EA somewhat dropped the ball with the new defending and aggressive AI in FIFA 12, which makes solo play a slog for the impatient, angry folk amongst us. Konami pick up the loose ball, flicks it up and volleys it straight into the fun zone by delivering a single-player experience that hooks you in.
Everything about PES 2012 feels instantly gratifying. OK, so the lack of licenses is still enough to deter some, and the animations still feel robotic compared to FIFA 12 but stitching together intricate passing moves before unleashing a rocket of a right-foot to the top corner is immediately exciting. And the players look all sexy like too...
A whole host of new animations add to the entertainment as players fling themselves acrobatically into the air to overhead kick a clearance or execute passes with different areas of their boot. There are even a myriad of ways to bamboozle an opponent too (more on this later).
Yup, from the off you can start having fun without first having to learn some tricky new skills. But the area of PES 2012 that really excels is in the player feedback and glitz that Konami polish their modes with.
Take the Master League for example. Konami may have some mad ideas about how to handle the career side of things, but they always come with bags of charm. You still start with the fake default players that have become a staple of your PES career.
It doesn't matter if you pick Real Madrid as they'll end up as Fake Madrid with players like Ruskin and Ivarov taking the place of the genuine players. But little things like being able to create a manager who appears in press conferences, interact with players who have problems like being sad that they're not a specific squad number and the coach who gives you a brief on the opponent before every game, all creates a compelling experience.
Plucking a young player out of the youth team in Master League comes with it's perks and pitfalls. On the one hand my Japanese starlet, Shimzu, is a serious talent - easily better than the others in the first team - but he's a whining sod and appears in the manager's office demanding he get the #10 shirt. If you say no, his form will drop and he'll agitate for a move but if you hand it over - as I did - he'll play well while frustratingly complain that this has satisfied him for the time being. Little shit.
You're also set targets by your chairman to achieve during games and throughout the season. So, for example, the big boss might request a promotion push in your first year, which is straight forward. But then he might come to you and tell you to avoid receiving any cards in the following game to improve the club's thuggish image.
It's these interactions and depth to proceedings that means that PES 2012 will be my choice for solo football this season. As fun as it is to play with all the right kits, teams and players, there has to be enjoyable substance to the actions and PES has loads this year.
So PES 2012 is better than FIFA 12? Not exactly. While the overall
single player experience is far more rewarding and your AI chums will make the runs you'd expect, PES 2012 isn't without
it's faults. Yes, the animations have been oiled to make them move more
freely than before, but it still feels stiff, making for a real hit and miss
Speaking of dribbling, one of the reasons I used to love PES was the ease in which you could jink around players on route to goal, but Konami have gone down the EA trick-stick path that needs to be tamed to really make progress. It's not impossible, but it's not easy to master either. Goalies are still pan-handed rascals, often dropping the ball in front of attackers when a simple catch would do the job.
The commentary from Jim Beglin and John Champion adds almost nothing to the match atmosphere. Oh, and though it's no fault of Konami, you'll still be going up against PES playing robots when you play online. It's less a game of football as a race to see who can run down the line and hit X to square it for an easy tap-in.
But for instant pleasure, a deep and meaningful career mode and constant fan-pleasing cosmetics, such as the little camera men turning where the action is, PES 2012 is back on song. Looks like there is room for two top football games this season after all.