Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 3D is about as hardcore as a sports video game franchise can get. If you thought that anything EA Sports has published was difficult to understand or grasp, your mind will explode as you try to wrap it around PES. That incredible denseness seems to be what the fans really enjoy, and Konami once again delivers it with the 11th iteration of the long-running soccer series.
This iteration of the game obviously lacks the graphical fidelity of the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions, but it's no slouch in other departments. The content of PES 2012 is staggering, so much so that there were a number of things that I was unfamiliar with, and I've played a number of PES titles in the past. In addition to the typical modes, like Master League, there are a number of new modes, such as Copa Santander Libertadores, and that's nice for longtime fans to see.
If you're a hardcore fan of PES, there's a good chance you've already purchased the game, so I'm going to approach this review from the perspective of the uninitiated. How does the game play? How accessible is it? Let's take a look!
Pro Evolution Soccer is a simulation-heavy series that features a fair amount of on-field action, but a lot of time is also bogged down in menu screens. You'll constantly be comparing stats between teammates, looking to expand your roster, unlock hidden legends, and possibly enhancing your current version of the game with more up-to-date statistics found on various Internet sites. The current roster listing for most leagues in PES 2012 is a little out of date, but that's not unusual for most sports titles so it's not a mark against it. It would be nice to see some online patch support from Konami in that regard, as this is certainly an area in which other sports developers trump them.
In PES 2012 for the 3DS, there are 10 different gameplay modes. The first is a simple exhibition mode, allowing you to pit two teams against each other from the dozens of teams featured across multiple leagues. You can alter settings to affect camera placement, player fatigue, substitutions, the time of each round, and so on. The game doesn't suffer from a lack of customization, that's for sure.
Next up is the Network Match mode, or online play. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the online mode worked extremely well on the 3DS; I had no trouble locating opponents or keeping a solid connection going. Another big plus is the fact that the game penalizes quitters with a loss. You can also opt to play in ad-hoc mode in case you have some local friends with a copy of PES.
Then there are the UEFA Champions League and Copa Santander Libertadores modes. These modes are very similar but feature different leagues. There are a ton of teams in each mode, and the addition of Copa Santander Libertadores certainly adds some significant punch to the huge roster from previous PES titles. Both modes incorporate a number of matches in their seasons, but neither seems overly lengthy. Another big plus is that they use real-world players, unlike Master League mode.
Master League is sort of the traditional PES mode, and this is probably the heart of the game for me. Master League puts you in hands-on mode for a club of your choosing, allowing you to develop a roster of players and mold your club into a championship team. You'll start off with relative unknowns, mostly made-up players for this specific league. As you play this mode (and others), you'll unlock PES Points that can be spent in the gallery, which unlocks real-world players and legends that can then be recruited to your club.
Next up is Become a Legend, which is new for the PES series. This mode allows you to create a single player and guide him from the rookie rankings and into the league of your choice. It's an interesting and challenging mode, as you'll only have control over your player in every match. You'll even spend a significant amount of time just sitting on the bench early on, until you prove your worth to the team that picked you up.
Another mode, World Player, is very similar to Become a Legend but allows you to choose an established soccer player instead of making up a rookie. Again, you'll only control this one player, and again, it can be pretty challenging to rely on your AI teammates to win matches.
The next two modes, League and Cup, are going to be pretty familiar to most sports video game fans. League is essentially a season mode; just pick your league and team of choice and advance through the rankings for the championship. Cup strips out the games prior to a championship run, placing you through various tournaments to come out on top. There are a number of cups and leagues to participate in, so again, you have a lot of content to check out.
The final mode, Training, is just that. I found it to be rather bare-bones as far as training modes go because it doesn't teach you how to play PES as it does let you practice the game outside of the other modes. I really wish they had gone with a more traditional training or tutorial mode because if any game series could use one, it's definitely Pro Evolution Soccer.
That's my biggest complaint with this particular entry: It's almost completely inaccessible to new players. I know that an argument could be made against dumbing down the series just to sell a few more copies, but even for fans of the series who haven't played in a couple of years, like myself, jumping back into PES isn't quite like riding a bike. You certainly can, and probably will, forget some of the finer points of gameplay.
For instance, on the surface, the gameplay looks deceptively simple. You have three pass buttons assigned to the face buttons on the 3DS and one shot button. Pass and shot strength are dictated by how long you hold down the button, but you only get a visible meter for shots, not for passes.
You can increase run speed by holding down R, which gives you a significant boost, but the opposing AI has little to no trouble keeping up with you. The overly complicated feint system comes into play. In PES, feints are handled like special moves in fighting games. You're required to hit a certain combination of directional inputs or button presses to effectively dribble and evade opposing players, but the game does an incredibly poor job of explaining that. The accompanying instruction book is massive for this reason, but modern players are accustomed to learning a game through the actual gameplay.
I love that Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 has as much content and depth as the previous entries, but making that content a little more digestible for new players could go a long way toward making the series a contender in the West. The game sells copies left and right, but it will only appeal to the people who have been picking it up for years. The training mode could have addressed that, but it seriously wasted its potential.
As far as the port from consoles to the 3DS goes, everything seems to be pretty intact. As expected, the visuals take a noticeable hit, but the frame rate remains solid throughout. The only time I encountered slowdown was when I switched the camera from its default 3-D setting to the wide view, but that slowdown rarely occurred, even with more simultaneous players on-screen.
The 3-D effect that's exclusive to the 3DS doesn't add much to the gameplay, but again, I wasn't expecting much from it. It's neat to enable it here and there, but I found it more distracting than useful. It is devoid of that pesky ghosting effect, and that's nice.
Overall, Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 3D feels like another great entry into the series, but it also feels like little more than an upgrade over PES 2011. It's nice to have a portable version, and it doesn't feel like anything was lost in the transition to the 3DS, but if you have access to a home console iteration, that is definitely the better way to go. It would be great to see Konami put more effort into the accessibility of the game for newcomers, but PES 2012 doesn't address that. Hopefully next year, we'll see a more refined and user-friendly PES — but without losing all of these fantastic modes.
More articles about Pro Evolution Soccer 2012