Month: November 2011

The Myth of Cinalton

The new Defaults are a mixed bunch. I can’t even remember some of the names of the ones I released back in season 1.

Among the ones I kept on a bit longer, Elegost flattered to deceive for me. Irjescu is still a solid DMF, and of course he has a true thunderbolt of a shot. But there is one who is greater than them all.

Cinalton is the pick of the new boys for me. As time passes I’m becoming more and more impressed with Cinalton. I didn’t want to be.

Cinalton was billed as the new Castolo before PES2012’s release. Let’s see: a Brazilian flair player whose name starts with ‘C’ and has three syllables? It can only be the new Castolo! (Presumably people meant Castolo when he was good, several years ago, circa PES2/PES3. Instead of the knackered old has-been that Castolo became in more recent years.)

Cinalton played a major part in a recent match—a match that solidified my growing belief that PES2012 may be the most criminally underrated PES game since PES2010.

Allow me to set the scene.

Last time, I was making progress up the table and threatening to close in on a promotion spot. Today, I have to report a slight blip. The table right now looks like this:

One recent match was the best match that I’ve had on PES2012 so far.

It was against Burnley, a lower-table side, and it was Away. That usually spells trouble for me in this year’s game.

Burnley kicked off and passed it out wide. I am always very, very keen to snuff out the CPU’s attacks from kick-off. On this occasion, I was too keen.

I got close to the ball-carrier with Ruskin, close enough to make a blocking slide-tackle. These are a perennial weakness of mine. I try them far too much. Most often they only go wrong when the CPU player skips past the challenge and runs clear into wide open space. Sometimes, though, I mis-connect with the challenge and earn a red card.

Which is what happened in this match. Ruskin was red-carded after 1 minute of the match.

I never reload. Never, never, never. I admit to being tempted occasionally, and I was tempted here.

But I played on. There was a time in my PES life when I specialised in getting results with 10 men, or even with 9 or 8 men. Maybe that was in the ISS years, now I think of it.

I shifted my back line around and went to three CBs, leaving the rest of my formation unchanged. Two DMFs, two SMFs, an SS, and a CF. I figuratively rolled up my sleeves and got on with it.

A few minutes later, I was 1-0 down. During a CPU attack, I panicked and started button-mashing, and a huge gap opened up in my makeshift back line. A Burnley player virtually walked through with the ball and passed the ball into the net.

Damn. But strangely, I was not despondent. This match was a fine example of how the right attitude is important in PES2012 (as it is in everything).

“I am going to get a result,” I thought with determination. “I am going to get a result from this match.”

I was sitting up, leaning forward with the controller in my hand, fully engaged with Pro Evo. It all felt electric for some reason. As if the spirit of PES had descended from on high and entered into me. (I appreciate how annoying this will be to many readers, and I am genuinely sorry about it.)

Half time came without me conceding further, but I hadn’t threatened much. Halfway through the second half, I got my precious equaliser, with Twigg (who else?).

I’d have been happy with a point, but Cinalton was on the pitch by now as a sub, playing as an SS. And this happened:

If you can’t view the clip, here’s what went down:

I worked the ball to Cinalton on the edge of the box. As he received the ball I flicked the analogue stick in the opposite direction, hoping to make space for a shot. Without me consciously making it happen, Cinalton pulled off a flamboyant skill move with his favoured left foot. He flicked the ball with his instep in the opposite direction and set himself up for a shot with the same foot.

In the Wide camera view I knew something weird had happened with Cinalton’s first touch, but had to look at the replay to be certain of what. It reminded me of the Recoba shot.

I exulted over the goal, but the manner in which it had been scored raised a question. How could I have any satisfaction from the skill move, when it was triggered without any input from me to make it happen? It looks good, sure enough, and believe me it felt good, but what had I done to make it happen?

As with so much in football games, it was better to move on and forget about inspecting the wires behind the scenery.

The score was now Burnley 1, Coventry 2.

Burnley came at me with everything they had. If I succeeded in making two consecutive passes in the remaining 10 game minutes, I felt lucky. But I was determined not to surrender my hard-won lead. They had a series of corners and actually headed against the post in the last seconds. The final whistle went. I relished the greatest victory of my PES2012 Master League career so far. And I hailed a new hero of Master League.

Cinalton, step forward. And thank you.

There has been a change in Team Strength which I would like to report

I’ve been through the mid-season transfer window in season 3 of my Master League career on PES2012, and I managed to bulk out my squad a little. Sadly I was unable to sign any ‘proper’ players. The ‘List of Targets’ (formerly known as ‘Openness to Negotiation’) was well-stocked, but either the players I went after didn’t want to drop down a level, or the fees and/or salary were ludicrously inflated and unaffordable.

One average AMF wanted a £600,000 salary. I only had about £700,000 in the kitty to begin with. I have to keep one eye on the end of the season, and the financial reckoning that’s coming my way. It’d be nice to have enough cash to get a staff upgrade or two, plus one or two experienced new players.

I contented myself with signing a couple of players from the Youth squad. I picked up JACOBS (GK, 62OVR) as cover for that position. I’m running with three GKs in the squad for the first time ever, I think. Usually the game lets you get away with just two goalies, but PES2012 is different in this respect as in many others. I’ve come perilously close to having to pick an outfield player in goal at times, and I hear that it can actually happen, so I’m worried enough to take this precaution. Jacobs is a familiar name from recent PESes and may even develop into my official #1, who knows.

Also, I finally took pity on the puppy in the window, SCHWARZ (SS/CF, 61 OVR), and signed him up. Even though he’s 20 years old and probably lacking a few years’ development time.

Schwarz’s celebrated left foot seems to be as much of a lethal weapon as ever, despite his current lowly status. I haven’t scored with him yet. He doesn’t play much, suffering from up-and-down form and low stamina as he does. I tend to bring him on as a late sub in matches that are already safe. When he gets on the ball I try the same kinds of shots that made him such a name in PES, and they almost come off. A good few seasons’ development and he might just be as good as the Schwarz I knew in PES2011.

His wages are as exorbitant as ever: £250,000 a year for a player of his age and relatively low quality is absurd. I just won’t be able to afford to pay that and sustain my squad in other areas. And so I’ll be looking to ship him out on loan at the end of the season. And if I get a tempting enough outright offer for him, I might even consider it.

Getting just those two players eased my squad difficulties enormously. I now had a bit of breathing space. And I went on a swashbuckling run of form, winning matches and coming from behind to rescue lost causes. I’m scoring freely with my star man, Twiggy, as evidenced by the current Top Scorers’ chart:

And below is the current table after 19 matches. I’m sneaking up on the rail:

When I look at that table, I think about promotion. And then I think:  Promotion? But I’m not ready yet…

If I go up to Division 1 there’s a serious danger I’d come straight back down again, or be sacked before things got that far. But I’m honour-bound to go for promotion regardless. It’ll be interesting to see what happens.

It’s worth reiterating that I am, in general, thoroughly enjoying PES2012. There’s no sense of discharging a duty before moving onto FIFA12, or anything like that. This is strange, I know, considering PES2012’s well-documented shortcomings. I have asked myself if I am being blindly loyal to the brand. Am I just an older, balder version of all the foaming-at-the-mouth PES partisans out there on the forums?

My conclusion, needless to say, is that I’m not a blind brand loyalist. I find PES2012 to be a good game, perhaps even a very good game. It should be noted that I am not suffering from the stumble animation or any other standout issue this year. Shooting possibly excepted, but even that is variable enough to be tolerable.

As ever, the part that Master League plays in the PES formula for me is not to be underestimated. Konami tried to kill their jewel in the crown with mind-bogglingly ill-advised removals and worthless additions, but enough is left of the body for it to be a viable pursuit once more.

My current ‘favourite’ part of the new Master League is when a player who plays in every match for the whole 90 minutes comes to you and says how pleasantly surprised he was to play the full 90 minutes. My Ruskin keeps doing this, despite being known informally as ‘Full 90 Ruskin’.

It’s shit like that, Seabass…

A hell of a beating

There have been some tragi-comic developments in my Master League. First of all, even though I’m ‘only’ playing on Regular difficulty, I can’t seem to gain any traction. The CPU is still perfectly capable of destroying me. God knows what’s waiting for me up on Top Player, if I ever get there. As for Superstar, well, after waiting all this time for the reintroduction of an equivalent to the old 6* difficulty, I might not get there at all in PES2012.

I’ve had some bad results, including a memorable 5-1 thrashing at the hands of Norwich City that showed me what the AI is capable of—for good and ill.

I went 1-0 down early on. How often does that happen in PES2012? Too often for it to be anything other than a consciously crafted outcome, in my view.

I’m not saying the early CPU goal is scripted, as such. Just that it’s coded to be a strong possibility if you’re not defensively alert. Remember when PES’s core philosophy was just to represent the game of football as closely as possible? Nowadays Seabass is on record somewhere as saying that his aim is to create excitement for the player. The two principles overlap, of course—football is exciting and difficult—but they’re uneasy bedfellows when it comes to making human players feel that they’re playing on a level playing field.

I equalised to make it 1-1 against Norwich. Almost as soon as my fist-pumping and self-congratulations were over, Norwich were ahead again. Straight from the kick-off, in fact. And they went on to massacre me in the rest of the game. Morison was like some unholy combination of Batistuta at his peak and Conan the Barbarian.

Final score: Norwich 5, Coventry 1. On the final whistle I reflected on a humiliating defeat, and imagined some breathless Norwich commentator reciting a list of celebrated Coventrians. “Clive Owen… Philip Larkin… The Specials… That cat bin lady… Sir Frank Whittle…. Pete Waterman… Pete Waterman… can you hear me? Your boys took a hell of a beating…. Your boys took a hell of a beating!”

Anyway, such perennial PES gripes aside, I’m still loving my Master League. Although I am increasingly wondering how and why.

There was a comical moment in a match against newly-relegated Swansea. I was 1-0 up in the last few minutes, and they threw the lot at me. In the last minute, this happened—watch what happens to the ball as it goes towards the keeper’s legs:

I should note here that I’ve been happy with the keepers ever since patch 1.02. If anything, they save a bit too much now. I haven’t seen many instances of the pat-a-cake goals, as I call them, where they push away tame shots for an easy follow-up. Good hands, and good goalkeeping nous, are on display.

Although I do fear that Konami mostly achieved this balance with dirty tricks, i.e. wonky shooting and park-the-bus defences. No power on this earth will ever convince me that the shooting in PES2012 is the subtly nuanced system that its defenders like to claim it is. It’s blatantly been twisted to serve another purpose, in my view.

Here’s the league table after 11 matches.

I have an outside chance of promotion this season. By now I had expected to have won enough matches to regain the Chairman’s trust and go back up to Professional, but it hasn’t worked out like that. If anything, it’s a bit more precarious. After every draw or defeat I get the “Chairman is openly unhappy” message in a cutscene. It gives me the willies, right enough.

Now Wait For Next Year

I keep hearing that PES2012 sucks, as the prevailing transatlantic parlance puts it. And I keep acknowledging in my heart that on some levels, yes, PES2012 certainly does indeed suck. But somehow I keep on playing Master League and thoroughly enjoying it. In this aspect, PES2012 doesn’t suck. Quite the opposite. It feels pretty great, most of the time.

What can I say? It’s a true paradox, is what it is. A paradox that the spiritual sponsor of my past four posts, Mr Philip K Dick, might have appreciated. He’d probably have hallucinated himself into the game somehow. As it is, he would have loved the way the game explicitly addresses you as a game, when it seeks to advise you how to avoid a possible Game Over.

I’m starting season 3 of my Master League career. Pre-season, as ever, is the most important part of the early seasons of Master League. If you’re ever going to shake off the Defaults and start progressing towards that elusive promotion, here is where it starts to happen. It’s all about the players and staff that you sign and which ones you get rid of. Mess this up, and the coming season will likely be another write-off.

My first action was to sign RIBEIRO (CF, 61OVR) from the Youths. I was surprised to discover he was a classic English-style centre forward. There’s a prejudice that South American players have to be small and nippy in the Romario mould. A lanky, barrel-chested number 9 like Ribeiro just doesn’t fit the stereotype. (He scored on his full debut. There’s a clip further below.)

The finances looked hellish again. I had to cut my one staff upgrade—Atheltic Coach—back to basic. I put my weakest Defaults on the transfer market, incurring their wrath, but it was neceesary. Only Baumann had any takers. I managed to sell him for £140,000. A sizeable drop in the ocean. Sponsorship money came in and boosted the coffers.

I bought CLARKE (CF, 71OVR) for a few hundred thousand. DO PARADO (SMF/AMF, 75OVR) came on a Free thanks to the Advanced Search category that allows you to do to other clubs what they do to you, and tap up their contract rebel players.

My best outright buy was an experienced right-back, JANTSCHKE (SB/CB, 71OVR). He’s already displaced El Moubarki as first choice right-back, and is palpably different. Better, stronger, faster.

At the last minute I signed up a  Youth CB to replace Baumann. MANDELLI (CB, 60OVR) may hardly get a game. Purely for cover.

Maqualao simply disappeared. Nobody bought him. He didn’t retire. He just ‘left the club’, a message said. Oh. Okay, then.

The comings and goings weren’t very well handled by me, I have to confess. I ended up with fewer players than I would have liked. A squad of 21 is still manageable and I should always be able to field a decent team, but a few more players wouldn’t have hurt.

With injuries and fluctuating form, it could be hairy at times over at least the first half of the coming season. And it’ll be at least another game-year before I’m truly competitive, I feel. Drat.

For a couple of games the situation was so bad that I had to play El Moubarki as an RMF. Another time, I had to play Camacho with a purple form arrow—almost unprecedented. I don’t even put purples on the bench, usually.

Opening the season on Regular, the gameplay felt very good. I am surprised at how tough Regular still feels. You do end up with at least 60% possession and around 20 shots per match, but the CPU is stubbornly resistant. I haven’t the appetite for repeated flirtations with the sack, so I’m sticking with Regular for now.

Gradually, a tried-and tested scoring method has emerged. The CPU packs its defences so tightly. Here is a typical example from a pre-season match against Bayern Munich. I was 2-0 up at the time. Against Bayern Munich. It was the 70th minute and they needed a goal urgently. I’d been using my emergency 5-4-1 formation for several game minutes. And here you see how they were lining up against my lone striker. 7 men behind the ball, against Ordaz. While they were 2-0 down. And they were Bayern pissing Munich.

It’s a constant recurring criticism of PES2012, and a justified one. It’s a cheap-ass way of keeping scorelines low, as indeed is the more pronounced random error in shooting. Must do better, Seabass.

Getting around these packed defences is tough, and you need goals to amass points and cash, so it’s not surprising that you need a reliable method of chance-creation. Mine is to play a fast ball to the feet of a striker, turn, and shoot.

As I get better players I’d expect to be able to play down the wings and score more reliably from other situations. At the moment, though, I’d estimate about two thirds of all my goals are variations on the turn-and-shoot theme.

Here’s an example—Ribeiro’s debut goal, which pleased me because of the placement into the opposite corner:

Overall, I’ve not scored many goals, but remain undefeated after several matches.

It’s too early to say that I’ll challenge for promotion. Not least because I might go back onto Professional difficulty if I can build up a nice cushion of Chairman trust. On Professional the AI is a bit more aggressive and threatening.