PES 2012 • Page 2

Form is temporary, class is permanent.

It's also partly because the defensive system in PES is slightly different to what FIFA does [or did - it's worth noting that this year's FIFA takes a dramatically different approach to defending - Ed.] You can still direct two players to press the guy in possession, but you have to be more artful in when you stab the button to intervene or you won't get anywhere. It's not enough to just be standing in the way. Using defensive pressing is also punished harshly by the opposition, who attack the space you vacate.

PES does a good job of encouraging a patient approach, where you use the right-trigger defensive modifier to hold up play - what FIFA calls jockeying - instead. Slide-tackling is also very perilous - although this is actually one area where the game still needs work, as replays often suggest you went to ground fairly even though the referee called a foul and took down your name.

You'll learn a lot of this the hard way, of course, getting smacked around online or by your housemates or friends, but the return of training challenges means you can at least spend a bit of time familiarising yourself away from the shop floor. These fun, testing little sequences of play ask you to take penalties and free kicks, and complete attacking and defensive scenarios, scoring you based on speed and accuracy. The only annoying thing is that there aren't more of them in our preview build.

One thing you will certainly linger on among the training challenges is the new off-the-ball controls. These allow you to seize control of a teammate during throw-in and dead-ball situations, creating space by dragging defenders out of position and generally making mischief. What's interesting though is that you can even do this during open play - by pushing the right stick toward the player you want to control and clicking it, you can direct attackers to make runs and precisely select the defender you wish to control at that moment, rather than cycling through nearby players with the left bumper.

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Unless you play as my beloved Liverpool, presumably.

This approach isn't entirely new of course - it's there to some extent in FIFA and Konami made great use of it in the Wii versions of PES, the god games of sports simulation - but it will be interesting to see how effective it proves and how it evolves, as it has the potential to grant the player too much influence and unbalance proceedings. We're still getting the hang of it, but right now it looks like you have lots of control of the receiving player's movement but less control of the player taking the kick. In other words, it's easy to direct an onrushing attacker, but quite difficult to pinpoint the cross.

You can also now choose either the left analogue stick or d-pad control for movement, and whichever you don't use is reserved for tactical adjustments (it's still possible to play with both as just movement, but you lose a degree of immediate tactical flexibility.) With a much greater range of movement directions programmed into the game than the eight available on the d-pad, we imagine a lot of people have already upgraded to the analogue stick, but at least purists still have the choice.

Off the pitch, Konami's game is still very enjoyable for the tinkering manager too, inviting you to try to coax better stat totals out of your charges by finding more agreeable positions for them within your tweaked formations. Plus you can still fiddle with variables for support play, and arrange the tactical presets you can switch between using d-pad or analogue stick directions.

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Plus you can still dive. True fact.

There's still a lot to see - online modes, including the Master League, aren't currently active in our preview code - but this is already an interesting update to the promising refit Konami unveiled 18 months ago. It's a lot sturdier than last year's game - we've had a couple of goalkeeping howlers but none of the daisy-chained bicycle kicks of PES 2011 - and that doesn't seem to have come at the expense of the charm and character that we most admired about the last instalment.

FIFA is still out there and we have no reason to expect it won't be a fantastic experience, and probably a game we will continue to play every lunchtime in the office until the next one comes out. But PES 2012 feels different and edgy, and playing it isn't just competition, it's exploration of the unknown - just like it was in the good old days. If last year's PES was a promise of what's to come, this year's is starting to feel more like a credible alternative.

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