With the rise of EA Sports' FIFA series over the last few years, the Pro Evolution Soccer franchise is not quite the dominant player it used to be amongst soccer gamers. Still, the core PES fan base is as passionate as there is in sports gaming. I got a hands-on look at PES 2012 at E3, and it’s clear that this year the developers are looking to appease their fans with a richer and deeper version of the soccer game they’ve come to know and love.
What I was shown were gameplay improvements centered on what is being called “Active AI” -- the main idea is to have all the other players that the user is not controlling more engaged in the action. Teammates now initiate more runs by themselves, opening up the passing lanes for your team to work with on the pitch. Dummy runs are also being implemented as attacking players now make runs with the intent of drawing defenders from a teammate or a side of the field. Perhaps most importantly, these off-ball movements are made in different directions. In the past, players would only run a straight line to the goal, but now attacking players look to move diagonally or to whatever part of the pitch creates a better scoring opportunity. With AI like this, playing versus Barcelona will be a nightmare.
The defensive side of the game is also being upgraded. There’s an emphasis on zonal defense and marking, which helps the back line keep their shape much longer. Even when defenders are man-marking players off the ball, they always seem to have an eye on the action and position themselves accordingly.
Lastly, set pieces this year will be accompanied with the new “off-ball control” feature. In the past, users were stuck controlling the player taking free kicks, corners and goal kicks. But with “off-ball control” users are allowed to take control of other players on the field and move them into the position they would like as the set piece is being taken. So rather than randomly kicking a corner somewhere in the 18-yard box, you can now control your striker, make him go to the near post and then cross the ball into his vicinity.
Seabass is hoping these gameplay upgrades improve and perfect last year’s PES 2011. It’s still to early to determine whether they will succeed, but this sort of attention to detail for gameplay is what I’m sure PES fans will appreciate.