Right, we've done all of the highbrow stuff and weighed, judged and scored both of this year's premier football teams on their own merits, taking care not to mention the rival in respective reviews. There is nothing worse than reading a PES review and having to wade through five paragraphs talking about FIFA, and vice versa. But to ignore the comparison completely would be churlish. We're mired in recession, steeped in debt and consumer confidence is so low that it's verging on the subterranean. It is in such times that gamers have to make hard choices about the titles that they purchase, circumstances such as these leading to conservatism as punters play it safe.
That's a bit out of the question this time around for the discerning football fan, though. In ages past, it was generally agreed that the dial shifted one way or the other, with PES in the ascendancy back when it had numbers after its name rather than years, and FIFA turning things around in the last three or four seasons. This year, though, things have changed. FIFA 12 plays a vastly different, slower and more tactically ponderous game than it has in the past. PES 2012, meanwhile, has gone for all-out offence, eschewing realism for a speedier, more arcadey experience that speaks to its roots back in the ISS years.
The question is, which one should you go for this year?
We reviewed both FIFA 12 and PES 2012 and gave them both an 8, the innovations of each counter-balanced by different flaws between the pair of them. But it wasn't really enough. So here's a step-by-step breakdown of both games, compared and contrasted to give you, the prospective buyer, of which one might be more suited to your tastes.
Let's start on the field, shall we. FIFA 12 has made a big show of giving the player as much control as possible this year. Tactical Defending was part of last year's game, but now you're forced to use it, the removal of the headless chicken pressing options creating matches that rely on split-second timing, complemented by a physics engine that is 95% of the time excellent...the other 5% resulting in slapstick of which Chaplin would be proud. Let us not forget too, the Precision Dribbling, which allows you to mix up the pace of the game, slowing it right down at times, even further. Every situation can be salvaged, you just have to have the nerve and the dexterity to do so. Too often, though, it still feels like the computer is trying to interfere, all of my frustration moments with FIFA 12 coming after control has been lifted, even momentarily, from my hands.
PES 2012 offers a vast array of skill moves, but occasionally insensible button configurations. It's nowhere near as accessible as its rival, but perseverance does reap rewards, especially if you switch everything down to fully manual controls. The Off The Ball controls are fiddly to say the least, but also offer up probably the most fulfilling feeling of satisfaction you'll get from a football game this year. Finally slicing open a defence with a run from deep that you've crafted yourself gives a thrilling sense of achievement. Sadly, though, most of the time will be spent dealing with players who either feel like their boots have been greased up, or weighed down with leaden soles. In spite of this, everything is fully customisable. You can spend hours just tweaking the pace and flow of a game to your liking before you even get onto the pitch.
Winner: Draw (though if pushed, we'd probably just about side with PES)
There's not much to be said for FIFA 12's attacking AI, as it's barely changed since last year, on your side anyway. There's no guile to any of the runs your teammates will make, particularly if you're the one to trigger them, set pieces can be horribly frustrating, particularly when you compare them to PES 2012's and offline Be A Pro is as much fun as watching paint dry. Additionally, the new dribbling techniques have filtered down into the AI, which means that now instead of no team playing like Barcelona, now every team plays like the Catalans...even down in League 2! Although the physical builds of the teams really do come into play, the AI renders that almost superfluous with most offline teams playing the same way.
PES, on the other hand, has managed to craft an attacking AI with some real incisive behaviour. Yes, you can mould your own assaults on the defensive line, but the runs your players make will vary - they'll weave, vary their pace, cut in from the flanks and look for space far better than their shinier counterparts. Teams also tend to play different games, with the tactical lowdown given at the start of each game in the Football Life modes actually proving useful. If the coach highlights a star player on the opposition team or swears that they'll use a certain tactic, you'll see it on the pitch and and shift around if things aren't working out.
Winner: PES 2012
Of course, FIFA 12's defensive AI must take some of the credit for showing up the attacking half. The Impact Engine, realistic injury modelling and removal of pressing feed into the AI. Defenders are not so easily swayed from their positions, goalkeepers tend to be safe of hand and stout in courage. The AI will track and probe, tussle and tease, and on the higher levels it's far more difficult to score than ever before. There are times when this backfires a little, with defenders occasionally just staring into blank space, but by and large it's pretty solid.
The less said about the defensive AI in PES, though, the better. There have been patches already, and there'll be more too, to try and iron out the godawful goalies. But, playing both games alongside one another, it's clear to see the mindlessness of one far exceeds the other. That it is possible to have six players bundle a single winger off of the ball is a bit ludicrous. I've seen conga lines and defensive swarms moving like a shoal of fish. It's too erratic by far.
Winner: FIFA 12
FIFA 12 is excellent in this department as per usual. The two commentary teams work well, even if Alan Smith appears a bit uncomfortable (we miss Andy Gray!!), the sights and sounds of the stadia fully evocative of a Saturday afternoon special. This is football as television drama - glitsy, gorgeous, bright and clean and scrubbed. The main menu has undergone a bit of an overhaul and it's easier to see where everything is amongst the wealth of game modes and options.
PES 2012 makes a good go of it this year, though the commentary is still awful. There are a few new additions such as subs warming up, little player stretches, but these things have been part of the FIFA makeup as standard for a couple of years, now. The lighting is excellent though, and the cinematic replays are the best we've seen in any sports game, seriously. The extensive use of the Champions League licence, too, shows us just what Konami can do if they up their game in the bells and whistles department...and it really makes a difference, but that only leads to a slight pang of disappointment when you go back to the other, less polished modes.
Winner: FIFA 12
I'm going to put it out there now. Be A Pro and Career mode are boring. Really boring. They really haven't changed much from last year's efforts, with a few tweaks to transfers, the addition of scout reports and players occasionally moaning about you benching them being the only real things to note. I miss player progression!! Thankfully, Ultimate Team, with it's team building, trading card foundations, and a wealth of competitions both on-and-offline to participate in, saves the day for the solitary football fan. There's no Lounge for local competitions either.
Just as every year we facepalm at PES' consistent failure to scrub up as nicely as EA's effort, every year Master League trouces whatever FIFA has to offer. It's grand, sprawling, deep and incredibly satisfying...and now it's more accessible than ever. The Football Life modes have far more interactivity, offer more ways to get into the processes behind the scenes and away from the pitch, and the cutscenes are a nice touch. And we like the operatic Champions League theme too.
Winner: PES 2012
This one's too early to call really, but let's have a crack anyway. EA Sports Football Club is the big draw for FIFA 12: a permanently plugged-in network that sees you earning XP for your chosen team, no matter what mode you're playing, offering up leaderboards, league tables and daily challenges. There are still one or two sever issues, but it's been miles better since we published our review! Ranked matches have been fleshed out into ten divisions, your performance of seasons of ten games determining your divisional position. We found matches to be lag free 85%+ of the time and since review everything has been very smooth.
Minimal lag, too, for PES 2012, even if the team choices of those online seem to simply circulate amongst three teams (Man Utd, Barcelona and Real Madrid). Matchmaking is much better than before, and Master League Online may well be even better than its offline equivalent. There are divisions here too, though FIFA does a far better job of shoving stats, placings and history into your face, daring you to do better. MyPES offers Facebook integration for bespoke tournaments amongst friends, but there's little of the centralisation offered by EAS FC. You can't do 11-on-11 in PES either.
Winner: FIFA 12
A direct comparison leads us to a conclusion that we were espousing long before these two hit the shelves: that they play a completely different game of football than one another. The difference this year is that both will probably surprise - indeed, it's almost as if the two have swapped, with PES 2012 at its best when you're pounding up the wing on a mazy dribble, triggering a run from your striker on the fly. FIFA 12 on the other hand, eschews immediate accessibility to dare its players to do better in the pursuit of realism.
We have to say that offline, we found ourselves being drawn far more easily over to the Master League and its quirky charms, but online it's difficult not to side with FIFA 12. The fact is that EA Canada have done such a good job at making you feel part of something larger, and you never have to go digging for it at all. Notifications abound, progression targets shoved in your face at every opportunity. We like rankings, we love XP, and EA have made everything so utterly convenient off the pitch.
We rather anticipate converts going both ways this year. There'll be those who miss the pace that FIFA used to offer, finding that this year's PES harks back to a golden age of arcade football that they might have missed out on. We're yet to find anything in FIFA's arsenal that rivals the satisfaction of perfectly executing an Off The Ball move, but equally, we've never been so enthralled by online football as we have with FIFA 12. At the end of the day, both are great games, both offering an idiosyncratic take on the Beautiful Game, both with their innovations and faults. It's a damn close year, this one, and we like it that way; because, with two cracking games on the shelves, there's really only one winner, and that's footie gaming fans like us.