Saturday, March 17, 2012

The problems with Pro Evo 2012 (are all nerdular*)

(* Nerdular: adjective of, relating to, or denoting nerd-like tendancies. inf. nerdy)

I suppose I may as wel get the obvious out of the way, FIFA is clearly the superior football game; It's got vastly superior graphics, better online, full licenses, is more realistic and is overall a better technical achievement. And has been for the life of this generation of consoles. But when it comes to human v human living room action, Pro Evo is just more FUN! Especially when drunk.

But therein lies the problem. Pro Evo was at it's peak at the end of the PS2 cycle, with Pro Evo 6 probably being the best incarnation of the series. The Master League was the best single player format of any football game, and the pre game management screens were vital to securing a win - FIFA players would sit impatiently waiting for you to bench your blue arrows, set up the man marking and configure the position swapping, then wonder why you could consistently beat them with inferior teams.

And with their multiplayer options such as setting up home and away fixtures for ties, meant that securing that last minute away goal to hand you the match was one of the many joys of life.

Now though, they have needlessly stripped away all these minute, but unique, little eccentricities to the point that I have been moved to use my hangover-free St Patrick's day morning to rant about it on a blog I rarely update. (I'll disclose now that I skipped a few years of the game between PES 2008, until I played my friend's PES 2011. I now own PES 2012.)

The Master League mode has now been usurped into a Football Manager-esque overview game, where you are not involved the action - you merely set the tactics. Football
Manager is a behemoth in this genre, and as far as fans of management sims testify, has pretty much sewn up the market. Why would Konami try to move into this genre on a console! Management sims necessarily require exhaustive scrolling though lists and menus, and thus is perfectly suited to a mouse-enabled environment - and is the bete noir of console gaming, which is designed for action. Sure the original Master League had it's menus and player searching as well, but then you got to play the game with these players, and use their strengths and weaknesses productively, so you could make Balaban one of the most potent strikers in the D2 League.

The Online Master League mode is available, which is more reminiscent of the original format, but it is too impenetrable for a newbie, and too infuriating when you are laden with the shit players at the start of the game so that you can't compete with a player who has an established line up. I do have hope for the online Master League though, because it is an intriguing idea - you build a team as you gain XP, and compete against other players in matches and competitions, with player value being based on their popularity with other players - everyone will want Messi and Ronaldo together, but it will take months before you can afford them both. Hopefully Konami can make this a bit more accessible to new users, and not require such an intensive investment of patience and time before it becomes enjoyable, because if balanced properly, Online Master League could become an essential purchase on it's own.

The Become a Legend feature is a bit of a non-starter as well, because it forces you to control only one player in the game, which gets very boring. When I want to play as one player in a game, I play actual football. FIFA has the similar career mode, but it allows you to choose whether you want to control one avatar or the team, which gives you the opportunity to make your avatar more involved in the game (and selfishly set him up for every shot), rather than relying on the CPU to find you in space.

But back to the lamented qiurks that have been jettisoned in newer incarnations of the series - such as the two legged exhibition match. In PES 2012, to set this up, you have to create a Cup competition with two teams and set it up as a two legged final - and you have to do this every time you want to change teams. After this convoluted set up, users are required to physically swap controllers before the start of the second leg! Myself and a friend only found this out (we had chose the same created team) when he couldn't sprint - I use RT to sprint, while he uses RB. We keep records of when we play so if we hadn't figured it out, we would have had our records skewed - these records form the basis for important bragging rights, dammit, and they could
have been scuppered by a terrible oversight in the game code - and the winner's trophy was on the line.

The pre game management screen that I mentioned earlier has been completely blunted now to basically the formation and the form guide. It is nowhere near as in-depth as before, so it has less of a bearing on the game - especially when competing against the computer. You can't set up a man marker, or dictate the runs of your speedy winger, and it's more difficult to compare to similar players' stats. The User Interface of the manager screen is certainly much more pleasing than before, but the lack of options available to the player, smacks of wholesale dumbing down of the main USP of the franchise.

I still feel that there is a classic Pro Evo title round the corner that can reclaim the mantle of best football title for Konami, but reviewers have said consistently for the past three years that the next installment will be it and Konami kept dropping the ball (not entirely unlike the AI keepers, funnily enough). They have now acceded a lot of credibility to FIFA (to EA's credit as well, it must be stated), to the point that they probably will not get some former fans back ever again. They really do need to buck up their ideas quickly, or else the series will be redundant by the next console generation