Konami's long running soccer series, Pro Evolution, is back for the 2012 season. Looking for a FIFA alternative? It's not a direct comparison, but it's getting closer.
Sports games are largely dominated by EA Sports these days, and for two good reasons: EA either has exclusive contracts with the league(s), or they simply put in more resources and talent into making better games. With soccer, Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) may not have all of the leagues and players that FIFA has, but the gameplay is not completely dominated by EA's offering.
A newcomer to the Pro Evo series, I wasn't sure what to expect, but I liked the eight step setup procedure that greeted me at the start of the game. In addition to setting up a few basic settings, it allows you to create a detailed avatar for your online presence, as well as (optionally) choosing your favorite club. PES can integrate with Facebook too, to share your offline and online game results.
After this brief setup, you're ready to dive into PES. Available modes of play include: Exhibition, UEFA Champions League, Copa Santander Libertadores (a Latin America cup chase), Football Life, Master League, Become a Legend, Club Boss, League & Cup, Community, Online, and Training. Some of these modes are self-explanatory, others like the Football Life and Master League are Pro Evo's in depth career-like modes that hardcore fans might enjoy.
PES includes numerous customization options to help define the gameplay that you are comfortable with, but by default the gameplay has an arcade-edge to it, especially in terms of speed. The game speed, set at 0 by default, can be stepped down, or up, two notches, but I found it quite comfortable at 0. It may be somewhat unrealistic, but I found the pace a little more to my liking. In general, I found less tweaking necessary with the gameplay settings to find something I was content with than what I had to do with FIFA 12, although it wasn't difficult to setup in either case.
Controls for PES are comfortable and intuitive on one hand, and wildly deep and, at least initially, complicated, on the other hand. It just depends on how deep you want to get with the gameplay mechanics, but obviously the more advanced players and those who take their games online are going to be familiar with the deeper controls. That said, my biggest complaint with the controls, and the gameplay for that matter, is achieving consistency in power. It's very easy to accidentally put too much power into a strike, pass, or through pass. On the next possession, in trying to compensate, I wouldn't press the button long enough, resulting in an awkwardly under-powered attempt. This inconsistency can be frustrating to work with, but after a few hours you get mostly used to it.
New off-the-ball controls make setting up give-and-go passes very satisfying and a key part of higher gaming in PES. The AI has seen some overhauling on both sides of the ball as well from what I have read (having not played the series before), and in my experience the AI is a big reason why game results stay on the realistic side, in terms of number of goals, even though the game (by default) feels like an arcade game.
In terms presentation, PES 2012 doesn't really impress, but it's sufficient. While the opening video is pretty cool, the menu system is bare. More importantly, the in game graphics, while fluid, leave something to be desired in their level of detail. Commentary and effects are sufficient, though.
To the summary...