With another new season on the horizon and continued pressure from arch-rival FIFA in the battle for virtual football glory, PES 2012 (Xbox 360, PS3), steps up to the plate with a range of improvements over last year's edition, alongside a few of its seemingly ever-present quirks. While it may lack most official team licenses - although it does have the Champions League competition – and the commentary and crowd sounds are still as poor as ever, PES sparkles in several ways.
Visually, in some departments at least, it's arguably the best-looking football game yet. The stadium environments are excellent, with a quality lighting system and use of shadows adding weight and dimension to the stands, the players and the pitch itself. Player likeness is equally impressive in places, although star names appear to have been given more attention to detail than less well known players.
On the pitch the game has made some significant strides too. Your team-mates are much smarter this year when it comes to positioning, especially up front where strikers are better at making darting runs through the opposition's defence. But if you want to take greater control of proceedings, you can direct a team-mate's run yourself with the right stick. This is also the case when it comes to free kicks and throw-ins, meaning you can actually position a second player exactly where you want them to be rather than just delivering a hopeful ball into the box, as has been the case in previous PES games.
Compared to FIFA the general flow of games, from passing to shooting, is zippier and more arcade-like, resulting in faster-paced, end-to-end action and unpredictable results. Displaying what feels like an aversion to actually catching the ball, goalkeepers can be a bit of a liability. Opting to parry or punch the ball in almost every situation, they're not very realistically presented, although their inability to effectively pluck the ball out of the air leads to plenty of exciting, frantic goal mouth scrambles.
The game now supports online play for up to eight players simultaneously, while the online matchmaking system has been improved to ensure you're more likely to be pitched against a rival whose manner resembles your own, meaning those with poor reputations will be pitted against one another, leading to a smoother, improved multiplayer experience. Additionally, players disconnecting to thwart a defeat will also be blocked from certain competitions.
An impressive range of game modes mean there's something on offer for all types of football fan, from those just interested in playing to those who want to take a more hands-on approach to team matters and off the field affairs. In Become a Legend, you receive agent support and complete coaching missions in a bid to become a legendary player, while the returning Master League mode sees you take control of a team, buying, selling, training and playing your way to world-beating stature. A new addition to the series is Club Boss mode, where you try your hand at running a club as an owner, guiding it financially.
Top of the table
PES 2012 might not be as accurate a football simulation as FIFA 12, but if you're looking for a more entertaining game of attacking football - and don't mind the odd moment of goalkeeper-inspired craziness – then you should look no further this year's title.
With a wealth of improvements both on and off the pitch, PES 2012 represents a strong showing for the long-running, much-loved football franchise.
+ Fast-paced, exciting gameplay
+ Something for every type of player.
+ Looks great.
- Lack of official licenses.
- Commentary isn't great.
- Goalkeepers are unreliable.