As regular readers of this blog will no doubt be aware, we at Mediolana have something of an obsession with Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer (‘PES’) series, a selection of video games that has never failed to beguile us since the autumn of 2003, when a chance encounter in what was the old Virgin Megastore on the corner of London’s Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road led to a purchase of a title that even now evokes passion and devotion: PES 3. And by what appears to be a startlingly general (if hardly scientifically validated) consensus, PES has never really recovered from its transition to the seventh-generation consoles exemplified by Sony’s Playstation 3: graphical embellishments and a slowly-expanding empire of licences have been prioritised over core gameplay.
However, with this year’s iteration of PES – the by now predictably named PES 2012 – Konami, one of many software houses now surreally based in radioactive Tokyo – have seemingly gone out of their way to listen to fans’ feedback on their creation, releasing not one but three gameplay patches (1.01, 1.02 and 1.03) to modify various aspects of the game. Bizarrely, the official descriptions of the patches only seem to vaguely correlate with what players are experiencing; the latest patch, released on 15th December 2011, promises little more than improvements to shooting and some peripheral amendments, whereas in fact it is obvious to any seasoned PESer that the ball physics have totally transmogrified, resulting in an entirely different game.
After some quality time spent with PES 2012 with both Konami’s official Patch 1.03 and PESedit.com‘s magnificent Patch 2.5, Mediolana’s blogger-in-chief is fairly certain that in terms of ball behaviour, the present version of PES is as satisfying as any he’s played in a long while. However, there remains one overwhelmingly obvious problem: the computer AI, which in the days of PES 3 and its sixth-generation console successors yielded a fabulously realistic and intelligent opponent, is all-too-primitive in its approach to the game. Playing as SG Dynamo Dresden, a mid-table side from Germany’s Bundesliga 2, against a computer-controlled Manchester United at Old Trafford, one would expect to be up against a team who would dominate possession, yet the CPU insisted on bombing long balls to, from or in the vicinity of the always centrally-placed Wayne Rooney; United edged the match 1-0 while mustering a mere 39% of the ball. A similar story was seen in a 3-6 reverse for human-manoeuvred Beşiktaş against all-conquering Barcelona: the Catalans, who in real life pass the ball between themselves more than anyone sane can really stand, were reduced to a team which knew nothing apart from efficient, goal-engendering dribbling, mostly by Lionel Messi.
As well as being scared of the ball, the CPU AI in PES 2012 has one other crucial flaw: it does not know the meaning of the violent foul or rash challenge. Yellow and red cards – a staple of contemporary football – occur with startling rarity, with entire games passing without so much as ticking-off from the referee for a tetchy tackle. Again, this is a world away from PES 3, 4, 5 or 6, which prided themselves on being the closest representation of real football in an electronic simulation.
So the message from Mediolana is simple: the Pro Evolution Soccer series must – simply must – go back to its roots as a simulation if it is to capture the hearts, minds and ultimately wallets of the gaming, football-adoring public. If this means dusting off the old PES 6 code, adding 360° movement and manual passing and implementing some presentational tweaks, then so be it. Shingo “Seabass” Takatsuka - a hero in our circles – has already promised a radically different PES 2013; the hopes of the global gaming public are resting on the execution of his undeniably noble intentions.