The PES/FIFA rivalry has always been slightly odd. After Konami's arcadey International Superstar Soccer and FIFA's simulation FIFA games almost switching in styles once the 32-Bit consoles rolled around. ISS really cemented it's quality dominance with ISS: Pro Evolution in 1999 and all the PS2 games up to PES6. From there with the releases of PES 2008 and FIFA 2008, alliances were split and then come the 2009 games, FIFA really took the lead in gameplay stakes while adding features and that's where we're up to now.
This year, Konami are promising a return to the old gameplay mechanics, with a new passing system to try and re-appease their fans while FIFA is talking defensive revolution with new mechanics to stop the opposing team and new physics engines for collisions to bring the game more to life. Both teams have brought out a PC demo and amazingly, the PC demo is now based on current-gen consoles rather than the PS2 version. So, after 20 matches on each, which one's looking the most promising right now? Let's Czech it out and without further ado, LOL SPORTS.
Starting with the control method and a tutorial on the new defence mechanics, it throws you into the arena and into the men us for the game, in these matches, I picked the blue side of Manchester to take on Arsenal. The new defence mechanics work thusly on the alternate control scheme using a 360 pad: Left trigger makes your body perpendicular to the ball to jockey the opponent, B slides in to tacke, X either takes a stab at the ball with your foot or reaches out an arm to slow down the opponent if you're behind them and finally the A button homes in on the ball carrier. There is a big difference with that A button though, instead of pressuring the ball carrier, you now hold your distance automatically and do not try and tackle, that needs to be done separately.
For me, the new defence system was terrible and a step backwards. It felt like I was playing FIFA 97 again where I just took wild stabs at the ball now and again. After 10 games, I delved into the options and thankfully, "legacy defending" was there as an option, back to basics which is much, much better. Also, there are lots of options in there like what shape the nets on the goals are and how tight the netting is and even handball this year. However, FIFA 12 still has one more ace up it's rectum.
As an avid WWE games player, 2011 added a physics system to it's weapons which just turned the matches from fun, to having some amazing spots where a persons body would react to the world around him. FIFA has done something similar here and while it only seems to add to the gameplay in small doses such as set pieces and running into people during crosses, it does bring the world further to life by seeing players react to each other. Like the moment pictured above, a simple lunge tackle that managed to make Van Persie straddle my players shoulder and as he stood up, kind of lifted him up in the air and dumped him on the floor. There's some polygon clashing issues where people merge into other people, but they are minimal and not really noticeable at standard game camera angles.
If I was to pick at nits, I've gotta say that the game still feels much too fast on the default setting and too slow on slow. It's playable on the default, but just exaggerated compared to an actual match. The physics also cause one or two issues where it is far to easy to run past people as you leave a leg out when you turn and mr. Stupid AI will roll over it instead of easily stepping away from it. But it's all looking so delightful, especially with other unplayable changes so far such as storylines being added what's the competition looking like?
I'm just going to cut to the chase, it's back and it's back in a big way. This is the PES we loved before they started adding years to the end. It plays almost exactly like a smoother more refined version of the older games, which is great news. The passing also works brilliantly and in the settings you can change the level that the ball homes on on a fellow player when you pass the ball. When the level is down, you can pass the ball into space fairly easily and use it more effectively than the through balls.
That leaves the old right stick method of manual passing sent straight out to stud, leaving it free to make off the ball attackers make runs. Point at a player and click to make them run or if you're feeling really skilled, take complete control of the with the right stick as you move the ball player with the left. It takes some getting used to, but the level of control it leaves is fantastic.
The other thing it has over FIFA is the tactical side of the game. Maybe it's just me being an anorak, but I do love being able to easily position everyone anywhere I like. You can grab any of those spheres and position them anyway, then fiddle with as many sliders as possible to come up with any tactics. It is something that sets it aside from FIFA, along with arcade style training challenges to try and top your high scored.
Collisions are a lot more jerky after using the engine from FIFA and seeing how everything reacts with everything else, but it has so many animations that it doesn't become a big issue. The biggest question ever since PES went to the year in the title format though is the netcode. It has been worse than terrorism in the past and this demo doesn't have online features to test it out. If that code works though, Online Master League awaits which has the potential to be a brilliant feature.
So which one's on top? Based on the demo's in isolation, it's tough. I was originally going to write this to say "PES IS BACK, SORRY FIFA" but then I figured out you could turn off the horrible new defensive system on FIFA and I was back to square one. Perfect world? FIFA's overall engine with PES's new passing system which just about gives FIFA the edge. If I had to pre-order one and only one right now based on what I know, that would be FIFA too. Online Master League is just a delicious sounding concept, but I can't trust Konami's netcode right now. It may seem like an anti-climax, but PES is back and we should all be happy it will be pushing FIFA to be better in the future and that PES may be king once again in the future. I'll drink to that for sure.