Month: January 2012

The Good, the Bad, the Weird

What Happened Next?

The game is FIFA12. The figure in black is the referee. The player immediately behind him is my Virtual Pro, playing for Coventry City. The ball, just visible at top left, is dropping towards us.

So what happened next? See if you can guess. The full replay is at the end of the post.

The Good

I’m currently really enjoying PES2012 again, for reasons I’ll try to go into next week. Today I just want to show a few goals and talk about them.

Here’s one of my top three PES2012 goals ever (so far). The scorer is, yes, a certain Georghe Hagi. This time it’s a flamboyant 35-yard free kick that… well, just see for yourself:

I was 3-1 up against Aston Villa at the time, in the middle of a fine run of results—my best run so far on Professional difficulty.

Confidence was high. I aimed for the middle of the goal and cranked up the power. As Hagi ran up to strike the ball I rolled the left analogue stick around from 12 o’clock to 3 o’clock, slowly, so as to impart the proper amount of direction and spin at the right time. I saw this method on YouTube last year and it still works. Every other attempt I’ve made has failed miserably, usually hitting the wall. This one… this one was simply glorious.

I’m half-embarrassed to admit that this is one of only a couple of free kicks I’ve ever scored in PES2012. Other people may score them for fun, and free kicks like this one may be ten a penny, but to me? I was up, saluting the screen.

I save very few goals to my PS3’s hard drive these days. I find my phone to be a much more convenient replay capture tool. But I saved this one to hard drive.

The Bad

It’s the PES2012 shooting again. Here are two almost identical goals. Both of them came in a match against Manchester City, away from home. Just half a season ago this fixture would have had me trembling with fear, but like I say above, I’m in the middle of a fine run. Confidence is high and my attitude is different. I went into this match genuinely believing I could win. There’s a huge lesson for life in there somewhere.

It was 0-0 at half time. I’d had 75% possession. At the start of the second half I scored the game’s first goal to take the lead. Man City got their automatic equaliser straight from their kick-off (groan). A few minutes from the end, I scored my second—and winning—goal.

As you’ll see, both my goals are so similar that they could be called identical. Stoitchkov first, then Barnes. Both using their left feet, both shooting across the keeper to the right side of the goal as we look at it.

Only, in both cases, I was actually aiming LEFT. In both cases, from the default side-on view, I was holding the left analogue stick pretty much UP, in order to aim that way. Not right.

Take a look, and remember: both times, I was aiming LEFT:

I would love a proper explanation of what is happening here and in the many other instances when ‘wrong-side shooting’ comes to the fore. I’ve heard all the arguments and don’t buy any of them. Konami have not changed the shooting system.

I hated both goals, really hated them. When City equalised for the first, I was almost happy. Then I scored the winner with another wrong-side goal and hated it some more.

These goals came in a session in which I was very happy with PES2012 overall, otherwise I could easily have walked away from the game on the spot and never looked back. Is it any wonder that so many have deserted PES2012 when this kind of thing is so commonplace?

The Weird

Now this one’s just funny. In all my years of football gaming, I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s a novelty goal like none other.

Here’s the replay:

Perhaps I have a low amusement threshold, but it still makes me smile after a dozen viewings.

The referee stands obstinately in the way as the ball drops to my Virtual Pro in a Career Mode match. (My VP spookily resembles what I looked like circa 1991.)

I took the shot anyway, and executed a perfect strike… through the referee’s legs. There’s even a bit of PES-style clipping afterwards, as my shooting leg passes through the ref’s body—fortunately for his collection of soft, dangly objects.

I have to say, I adored the volley despite the novelty factor. I play with semi-assisted shooting. When you really connect with a FIFA12 shot of any kind, you really know that the ball’s been hit. You feel it in your marrow. It’s very satisfying. I’ve had a great few mini-sessions of FIFA12 this week.

And that concludes today’s overview of some interesting goals. It’ll be back to business as usual on Monday, with the completion of Season 7 of my ML career. I’ll be deciding what to do about all my Classic players. Some of them will have to go, and be replaced by home-grown talent. I have a new player in my Youth team who goes by the name of Raul…

(And, yep, the post title is a tribute to one of my favourite Korean action movies.)

The Adoration of the Hagi

You know, if I didn’t have Georghe Hagi playing for my team in season 7 of Master League on PES2012, I wouldn’t have much to smile about. My virtual version of the Maradona of the Carpathians has been up to his usual antics, scoring great goals for me when I most need them.

A few sessions ago—Monday morning, I think it was—I played one of those wonderful single matches that makes PES2012 seem like the greatest football game ever made.

It was Blackburn away, which is a forbidding prospect in this PES. Every team plays with a relentless skill that surpasses Barcelona of 2011, crossed with a gritty aggression that makes Uruguay of 1966 (and 1986) look like saints. Every single team.

PES2012 hasn’t been teetering on the brink of collapse for me lately, but it’s been showing signs of getting there. The fucking shooting! I’m so, so tired of the shooting in this game.

So it was refreshing to play this one match that seemed to make the dark clouds disappear.

Before playing it, I made a much-needed formation change. With my old 4-3-3 I was conceding too many goals, and felt lightweight in midfield. So I changed to… a 4-5-1.

Yes, it finally happened. Since I started the blog, one thing I have consistently resisted is using a 4-5-1 formation as my main starting formation. Many have suggested it, but I never seriously considered heeding the advice—until now.

Yes, that is the Falcao in a CMF role. He was my one and only signing in mid-season. I searched specifically for a player with the Long Ranger skill card, and he popped up. A few presses of buttons later, he was mine.

My team is overloaded with Classic players. It’s a bit much, even for me, but if I didn’t have these Classic players I wonder if I would be still playing PES2012.

The game felt different with that 4-5-1. I loved the beefed-up presence in midfield. The two deep-lying midfielders seemed to have a big impact. I denied Blackburn all but the most fleeting of half-chances, which they didn’t take.

The game was tight at 0-0. I was making my own chances but not taking them either. It wasn’t just the wonky PES2012 shooting. The AI is wonderful at pressuring you just as you’re about to shoot (as if it knows!). There’s usually a magic AI leg in the way.

In the middle of the second half, my right back, Brehme, had decent possession in some space. I looked up and spotted Hagi, also in some space, on the other side of the pitch. I lofted a circle-pass his way…

The resulting goal was a placed semi-daisycutter. A good goal, without being utterly spectacular—but I celebrated as if it was the greatest goal ever. I knew that was the 3 points in the bag.

(There’s also a bonus Hagi goal in the above clip, from a few matches later. I love the way the ball curls out around the defenders and sneaks past the unsighted keeper. Hagi in PES2012 truly has a Stradivarius of a left foot.)

Sadly, that Blackburn game was a bright spot in the midst of a few more downs than ups. Life on Professional is grim and attritional. Look at my goals-scored column in this league table, pictured after 25 matches of the season:

31 goals. That’s really poor.

I grow weary of PES2012’s signature playing style: endless passing it around, and passing it around, and passing it around, in front of a solid double-wall of 9 or even 10 AI players all camped out in their box.

PES2012 is like an overcast, muggy summer’s day. Occasional breaks in the cloud transform everything into a splendid, sunlit landscape—but it’s never long before the cloud comes over again.

So today’s update is a mixed one. I played a great match that had me sitting up and begging for more. Then it was back to the grind again immediately afterward.

In football, goals change individual games. Clearly, I need to discover the trick of scoring more goals on Professional in PES2012, and fast.

Steamboat Footy

Over the weekend I took a mini-break from PES2012. A few days off here and there always helps me to maintain my high regard for the game’s twisty, evil ways. I don’t recall ever having to take breaks in the Classic PES days on PS2—but it occurs to me that maybe this is no bad thing. Times change and people change with them. Why should everything always have to be the way things have always been? No reason at all.

I spent the weekend playing, in order of time given to them, FIFA12, ISS, ISS98, Disgaea 2, Football Manager 2011, Championship Manager 01/02, and Batman: Arkham Asylum.

Two non-football games in there, both pretty compelling in different ways. I started Batman a few months ago while off work with a bad back. Got about halfway and had to return to work. I’ll finish it this week, I hope. As for Disgaea… words of praise fail me. Surely the most neglected ‘comedy strategy RPG’ in the gaming world.

FIFA12 was the big one for the weekend. And I really liked what I found, yet again. But yet again I also felt unmoved in my decision to stick with PES2012 until the latter game comes to a natural and proper conclusion. I will not become one of these yo-yo football gamers whom you see plenty of on the forums, forever tracking back and forth between the two games, forever wondering why they can’t seem to find what they’re looking for. That way lies dissatisfaction and madness.

FIFA12 felt slow and cumbersome at first, but that’s actually one of the secrets of its appeal. The ball is heavy, the players are heavy. The game is as hard in its own way as PES2012. Moving the ball and creating opportunities requires a different way of thinking.

I played about 10 matches in total of my Coventry City career in Career Mode. By common consent, somebody at EA—a fellow named Simon Humber—has done a fine job with the single-player mode this year. (Which leaves just one lingering question: where the hell was he for the past 4 years?)

For the first 5 of those 10 matches, I didn’t score a single goal. I hardly made a chance in some of them. I had to get back to grips with tactical defending, which emphasises containment and jockeying. Actual tackling is almost a subsidiary part of the overall defensive system. No wonder the online hordes hated it at first, and probably still do.

After a couple of hundred hours of PES2012, it feels natural to play FIFA12 like PES2012, but this is wrong, wrong, wrong, in so many ways. I suspect I’ll be talking about this a lot from around March or so, so I’ll let the topic alone for now.

As for ISS and ISS98, they were required in order jog my memory for the book. The games in their day, and for years afterward, were the cutting edge. But, just like an old black-and-white episode of Doctor Who or Upstairs, Downstairs, time has not been kind to the earlier ISS games. If there were no other football games on earth, they’d be worth playing, but nowadays their value is solely one of historical curiosity (in my view, of course).

If you’ve never played an ISS game and you see one going for a pound or two in your local store, buy it and take a look. If you’re an aficionado of football gaming at all, it’d be more than worth it. The original ISS game is the Steamboat Willie of football gaming. It changed history. You can see the embryo of all modern-day football gaming, right there.

I played a few weeks of my career on Football Manager 2011. I’m never going to have time to play this game, so my occasional dips in the water are no more than wishful thinking. I’m very impressed with FM these days. It’s become a phenomenally deep game in recent years. If only I had nothing else to do…

I also played a few weeks of Championship Manager 01/02 on a USB stick at work. I brought in a young Darius Vassell on loan from Villa, and played Crystal Palace away in the cup. The Palace manager? A man named Trevor Francis. Memories…

And so it’s back to PES2012. I played a couple of matches late on Sunday night. They felt good. I’m not forcing myself to play on. I very much want to, make no mistake. I expect to emerge from this footy game year having played and enjoyed both games.

Today is Friday the 13th

Last time, I was feeling very positive about PES2012. Playing on Professional difficulty and not being destroyed in every match was novel and exciting. I almost allowed myself to start thinking that that this was it. I had finally arrived in PES2012.

Sadly, the bright spell has not lasted. I have been cast down again. Not all the way. But just far enough for me to need another break. I’ll be taking another holiday from PES2012 over the next few days (partly for other than purely PES2012-related reasons, of which more later).

My hopefully fleeting disenchantment is nothing to do with league form, as such. As can be seen in the league table picture, after 13 matches of season 7 I’m still holding my own. I could do with scoring more goals, but that’s a familiar refrain for me at this stage of an ML.

Playing in the Europa League is, as I feared, an unwelcome interruption to the serious business of league matches. Europe costs me time, fatigue, and injuries. Now I know how real-life league managers feel about the competition.

I’m third in the Europa League group table, behind the likes of Wolfsburg and other similar clubs. They’re notably better than the league teams. I’m not too fussed about qualifying but I’m too proud to deliberately engineer an early exit. And it is £3m per home game, which is not to be sniffed at. I’m still rolling in filthy lucre from the sale of George Best but it’s all welcome.

Hagi has gone quiet. He still nets the occasional 25-yarder that makes me smile. Otherwise, he’s doing a very credible impersonation of a flair player going through a quiet spell. And the AI teams seem to be marking him out of the matches.

My main problem with PES2012 is twofold. First of all, it’s the fact that just about every team plays identically. The difference between Man City, say, and Middlesbrough is only one of degree.

Every team in the game, from the lowliest to the highest, plays the most incredible brand of technical and skilful football. It’s as if Brazil 1970 and Liverpool 1977 and Italy 1982 and Argentina 1986 and Arsenal 2004 and Barcelona 2011 all got together and had a baby, and it grew up to be just about every single team in PES2012.

And that’s not all. I’m becoming less and less tolerant of the way the AI interferes in the execution of my gameplay. The randomly directed shooting is bad enough—but that’s a given, at this stage. The shooting in PES2012 is so despicably bad that it’s almost not worth going on about.

One particular moment of AI interference, which I recorded, is emblematic of how I view PES2012.

I play a through-ball to a striker who is clearly in prime position to run onto the pass. A defender is lurking but my player is the clear favourite to get the ball. Then I’ll either cut inside and take a shot with him, or send in a cross for someone else. In either case, there is going to be danger for the CPU.

But just see what happens. At the crucial,moment, the game steps in and moves my player in the other direction, just enough to allow the AI defender to get across and retrieve the ball:

No, it’s not very subtle, is it?

I was disgusted, naturally. I’m far too old and long in the tooth to be very tolerant of moments when the game seems to laugh in my face and mock me for playing it.

For the above and other reasons, I need to take a break from PES2012. Just a few days. I’ll be spending some of the weekend keeping FIFA12 warm.

But I’ll spend most of it playing ISS and ISS98 and ISS Pro Evolution Soccer.

I’ve reached that part of the book where I need to write about playing these games. I’m refreshing my memory, and I can also blog about them in the here and now too. Monday’s post will be a special on how my weekend of FIFA12 and ISS turned out.

I do want to ‘finish’ PES2012 Master League. This isn’t the start of a wholesale revolt against PES2012. I don’t think I’ll ever come to believe that the game is as bad as its fiercest detractors believe it to be. But neither will I ever believe it’s as good as its devotees think it is.

I’m not saying that either party is wrong, as such; only that my view is somewhere between the two. If I come out of the year of PES2012 exactly halfway between them, it’ll be a good year. Here’s hoping.