Month: April 2012

The Emperor’s New Patch

Superstar has started kicking my arse good and proper, and I love it. That’s the current league table up there. I’ve lost and drawn league matches that I would have won easily on Professional. The League is looking dodgy.

Oh, and I’ve been knocked out of the Champions League—so the Treble is definitely gone for another season. I find that I don’t really mind.

I’m not ready for the Treble yet. When it comes , I hope it’ll come on Superstar, but that’s not certain.

Superstar has got a lot going for it. The CPU defences play a bit higher up. When I played on Professional and the game did its super-dribble, wonder-goal stuff on me, I usually sulked, and often moaned about its wicked ways. When Superstar does it, although it’s just as maddening, I somehow put up with it a bit better.

I’d like to believe I’m on Superstar for good now, but my skill level is still low. I’ll give it to the end of the season and decide then.

I played West Ham away in the league, and I lost 2-0. That defeat would simply never have happened on Professional. A draw would have been my worst-possible result back then, and even then I’d have had to play really carelessly.

I played very well against West Ham on Superstar, but after I went 1-0 down I went chasing a goal and I shouldn’t have. I simply shouldn’t have. I started all-out attacking in the 40th minute. No, no, no. Big mistake.

The CPU made hay with a crushing second goal just before the break, on the counter-attack when I stupidly had all my players upfield for a corner.

All through the second half the Hammers gleefully snuffed out all my attacks, secure in their 2-0 lead. I think I managed 4 shots. I hit the post once. It was so eerily realistic—an example of a big team going to a supposed minnow and being intimidated and outplayed. PES2012’s AI has been much-maligned (often by me), but credit where credit’s due.

This result and others saw me slip further back in the race for the League title. It was followed by a calamitous 1-3 defeat by Real Madrid at home in the Champions League.

Again my tactical approach was all wrong. Madrid scored after 15 minutes and I reacted as if it was a personal insult to be 1-0 down. Again I over-committed too much when I didn’t need to (again with the 40th minute all-out attack…), and got punished.

My goal in this 1-3 defeat (at home! the pain, the humiliation…) was a nice long-range free kick from John Barnes. I don’t score many free kicks in PES2012. I always feel that I should get more. When I do score one it’s a special occasion for me.

So that was nice.

That defeat left me needing to beat Bayern Munich, at Bayern Munich, to progress to the knockouts.

I lost 2-0. And I did the thing—the silly chasing-the-game-early thing—again. I was out of the Champions League. The final group table:

At least I go straight into the Europa League. Now I can concentrate on winning a trophy I don’t believe I’ve ever won in PES before.

What a weird and wonderful year this is turning out to be.

Ruggeri started moaning during my bad run. His yellow face soon became the angriest red face ever seen, after I only managed to draw 2-2 at Cardiff. (Again, this fixture would have been another almost guaranteed 3 points under the old Professional regime.)

I arrested the slide with a stunning away win over Manchester City. I dropped Reyes and played Roberto Mancini as a right-sided AMF. I moved Barnes even further out to the other wing. I tinkered with the tactical sliders pre-match, turning everything up to Wide.

I was rewarded with two headed goals from crosses and a 2-1 halftime lead. One of the goals was from Roberto Mancini. In the second half I squeezed another in with Forlan to make the game safe and take the sting out of City.

The result leapfrogged us over Manchester City back into the top 4, still 6 points behind the leaders Arsenal, but only halfway through the season. Mancini was quoted in a press conference afterwards as saying the title race was over.

As I head into the second half of season 12, I feel confident enough to declare this definitely my best Master League experience since PES2010, and arguably my best since PES5. I’m starting up the game and playing at very unusual times for me—late at night. I usually never play at that time, but recently I find myself playing PES2012 until 2am, marvelling at its discovered complexity.

I should briefly mention patch 1.06, which I installed late Saturday night. I wasn’t going to, but the hysteria on the forums infected me. I got very curious. Surely the Internet couldn’t be wrong about something…?

I’ve played 1.06 a good bit now, and so far I don’t see or feel any changes to the ball physics, player animations, shooting, passing, tackling, or any other major gameplay component. The game speed seems a touch faster, which I’m not happy about, but a drop down to -2 speed soon cured that problem.

Otherwise, I have to say right now that 1.06 isn’t wearing any clothes. But I’ll keep playing (of course) and keep trying to feel the differences, if they’re there.

I also have the PC version of the game. One day soon I’m going to mod the hell out of it. I’ll install all the extra turfs and nets that make it look so gorgeous. I’ll play 1.03 on that and compare the two versions side-by-side. That’s if I can tear myself away from the PS3 for long enough, of course…

Mugshot in the dark

At some point this year, I will have to acquire some custom-made PES2012 memorabilia. It’ll probably be something like the mug pictured on the left. You don’t have to Google very hard to come across plenty of websites ready and willing to make ’em. Pick your image and upload it to the site—although I wonder how they’ll feel about dealing in trademarked logos.

I’ll wait a bit, though, before ordering. In the year of PES2010 I bought the t-shirt. This year, so far, there hasn’t yet been that one single player of Capuano-type stature. Although, with potentially another 5-6 months to go, anything can happen. Georghe Hagi is retiring this season and when he Regens…

In all the excitement about moving up a few difficulty levels to Superstar, I neglected to post on my squad and transfer dealings prior to season 12. The situation was simple: there weren’t any. I got rid of a few players and went down to a squad of 23, which feels very manageable. My First XI and squad in its entirety is visible here.

Doolin and Falcao both departed. I put them up for sale, then simply released them after nobody came in for them. That was disappointing, as they’re both still great players. I suppose this is one of the side-effects of unleashing all the Classic players on the ML world. Everyone’s already stocked up with great players.

That’s my new formation on display up there as well. I’ve withdrawn my central attacking midfielder in favour of going with a DMF and a deep-lying CMF. Neeskens and Farinos together there are pretty bloody great. Not much gets through down my centre now, unless I lose focus (which does happen a lot still).

I have the old uber-attacking formation on an alt-formation, and switch to it when I’m goal-hunting. Happily, I don’t seem to need it much.

Superstar is hurting me in some respects, but goals are surprisingly easy to come by. I attribute this to the CPU teams being less prone to parking the bus. Here’s the current table after 11 matches:

Im keeping pace with the top scorers for once. Shame about the two defeats, but I am playing with the big boys now.

Playing a good session the other morning, I scored a goal that, on the face of it, isn’t that remarkable—but subjectively, with my hands on the controller, I was howling out loud with glee. Here it is:

Forlan plays a give-and-go, runs onto the through-ball, and smashes it in off the keeper with his wrong foot. So what?

Well, it meant a great deal in context. It was in the FA Cup, against Sunderland, and I was 0-1 down at the time. And when the through-ball was approaching Forlan, I took an unusual decision to hit it first-time. I would normally stop, check back, and then either square it to a team-mate or get the ball on Forlan’s right foot, and try to shoot across the keeper to the other side.

Here I knew it was on his wrong foot, and consciously chose to take the shot first time with that wrong foot, and just blast it at the keeper. Take him by surprise, so to speak. And it worked.

Pro Evolution Soccer has always excelled at making the mundane seem remarkable and thrilling, and—for me—this goal was an instance of that.

I won that match by the skin of my teeth, in extra time. The Treble is still on.

The dodgiest-looking element of the Treble right now is the Champions League. My opening day victory over Real Madrid has been followed by two draws and a defeat, leaving this rather precarious table:

Real and Bayern are up next.

I can’t afford to lose again, clearly. A win and a draw should see me through. On Superstar, though, these games are tough. Lokomotiv Moscow gave me one of the hardest matches I’ve ever played on PES2012. An unlikely first-time Superstar Treble is still on, but it’s going to be a tall order.

The Timothy Dalton of PES games

Season 12 is well underway in my Master League career, in what I currently believe is the best PES since PES5. Better than PES6(PS2 and 360). Better than PES2010. One of the best football games ever made. This is insanity to many. I know. Just a month or two ago, I’d have been shaking my head in disbelief too. But there you have it.

For the record, I also believe that Timothy Dalton was a great James Bond, that Windows Vista was OK, and that Lexx was the best science fiction TV show of the recent era. Make of it all what you will.

I might even end up thinking PES2012 is better than PES5, but let’s not get carried away just yet. There are still 6 (SIX) whole calendar months of PES2012 left to go. A fact that seems to be lost on much of the PESverse at the moment, if the forums are any guide, but I won’t get into that now.

In PES2012 I’ve gone up a few difficulties to Superstar as an experiment. Still not decided whether it’s permanent, although it probably is.

My initial findings, that the AI on Superstar plays a more open, realistic game of football, is still holding up. But only just.

I came up against Liverpool, in recent seasons a very easy team to play against—on Professional. This time, things were different. I got properly schooled. I was 2-0 down inside the first few minutes. Somehow I clawed it back to 2-2 by half-time, completely undeserved. But that’s football.

After half-time, things went up a gear. Andy Carroll was back to his devastating best. The high-tempo, constant CPU pressure that I feared encountering on Superstar had finally arrived.

I’d got used, on Professional, to having some time to hold the ball, check back, lay off a pass, and build up quite slowly. In this match, that wasn’t allowed. The second or two that I wanted to take was brutally cut short, time and again.

I was 4-2 down pretty soon. I got a late goal back to make the final score 4-3 but in truth that was totally flattering. I didn’t deserve anything.

It was my first defeat on Superstar, and a very intriguing one. The CPU played in this match just as I’d expected the Superstar AI to play beforehand. Would that be carried over into the next game—Newcastle away? I hoped not.

No, thankfully. The game had recovered its sanity. I think the high-tempo pressing stuff might be reserved for the top teams.

Newcastle were still a tough proposition, but the insane pressing was gone. I eked out a hard-fought 2-0 win, where I scored first and then withstood pressure, getting my second goal on the counter-attack.

Here was the pick of the goals—a lovely ‘reverse wedge’ from John Barnes, who doesn’t get many:

Next up was game 2 of my Champions League group stage. I’d had a tough draw, pretty much the Group of Death.

I beat Real Madrid 2-1 in the opening match, away. At home now against Bayern, I fancied my chances.

Superstar had other ideas. Bayern were immense! I spent the first half hour completely under siege at my end of the pitch, like nothing I’d ever encountered before in PES2012. I loved it. Being pinned back didn’t often feel very cheaty or artificial, and when it did… well, it’s Superstar, I could tell myself.

And most realistically of all, totally against the run of play, I broke away and scored with my only effort on goal. Forlan latched ont0 a cheeky through-ball, and I side-footed it past the Bayern keeper.

Heh. Take that, Superstar,

Ah, but Bayern’s pressure kept up. In the second half, I soon conceded. The match ended 1-1, which under the circumstances I was happy with.

Superstar still gets a huge thumbs-up from me. The past few sessions have seen some pretty amazing football, some of the best I’ve had on PES2012.

I’ll still be testing out Top Player soon, if only because I’ll feel incomplete if I skip it completely this year. Ultimately, I’ll settle down on the difficulty that most closely gives me the football game I want to play.

Jesus Christ, Superstar?

No, I haven’t signed a young, bearded Middle Easterner with a dreamy look in his eye who shows potential. I have gone up to Superstar difficulty, and crazily, I seem to be thriving. This is BIG NEWS, especially coming from Mr Average here.

First, the end of one season and the start of another brings with it a certain amount of admin work.

There’s the new Home kit pictured above. I wanted to try a horizontally-striped kit. I’m sticking with the brown 1970s Away strip for another season. I’ve got used to it.

The tale of the tape for season 11:

A good season by any standard, really.

And so I came to the pre-season Training Matches. And I went up to Superstar!

For now, it’s just an experiment. The other morning I was thinking about difficulty levels on PES2012. Well, I thought, I’ve never actually played the game on Top Player or Superstar—time to give it a go?

I was interested to see it styled in the Settings menu as Super Star—two words, both capitalised. I notice things like that, and I think about them. In general PES2012 discourse it’s known as Superstar.

I think the two-word menu version is an instance of Japanglish. A native English-speaker would naturally incline to the one-word version, Superstar, which has ample precedent in common usage. No, I really don’t get out much.

I played a couple of Exhibition Matches on Superstar first. I was expecting Superstar to be a dizzyingly fast torture chamber of CPU pressure and dribbling and scripting—like Professional at its most extreme, only multiplied by a hundred.

I didn’t want to risk my Master League season on something like that. A season in ML is a lot of work, and you don’t casually throw one away by doing experiments on it.

So I played two Exhibition Matches, England vs. Scotland, on Superstar. I recommend trying Exhibitions first to anybody interested in sampling Superstar for themselves.

Both were very absorbing, intriguing games, that I loved. I had two of the best games I’ve ever had on PES2012—on any PES, ever—right there.

I drew the first 1-1, with just 57% of the possession. I’m used to 60-65% on Professional. I lost the second match 1-2. There seemed to be more midfield play in both matches than I was used to on Professional.

Of course, never discount the prodigious power of the placebo effect. I was acutely aware of this.

But here’s the big deal: the CPU didn’t seem to be camping in its own box quite so much, and there wasn’t a crazy amount of dribbling going on.

What there was of it I could weirdly accept, a good deal more happily than on Professional, telling myself, “Hey, it’s Superstar.”

I went back into my Master League career and played the rest of my Training Matches on Superstar.

And now I’ve started the proper Season 12 on Superstar. I’ve won all three opening League matches, on Superstar. I had to go back and check after each match, unable to believe it.

One of the matches was away against my nemesis of last season, Manchester United, away. I beat them 4-2, and it was startlingly easy.

Look at those shots on goal. Again, I checked the difficulty post-match. Superstar. Weird, isn’t it? If any readers conduct a similar experiment, I’d be very interested in hearing about it.

I’m going to give it 10 matches. It’s a risk, as you don’t just throw away Master League seasons, as I risk doing if this goes wrong. Surely Superstar will give me a good pounding sooner or later?

But it’s a worthy risk.

Playing on Superstar is bloody amazing! First of all, you get to cackle and tell yourself: Ha-haaaa! Superstar! Everything counts treble!

And the game overall just feels better. You find you focus more, knowing it’s Superstar, and when you focus more, you play better, and when you play better, the game rewards you more. It also feels less ‘cheaty’. Even when it does feel cheaty, it feels less annoying, because of being on Superstar.

Here’s one of the concrete differences I’ve noticed on Superstar—look at how the CPU team, in white, is shaped here:

That’s a moment from a match against Real Madrid in a Champions League group match. The score at the time was 1-1. This was a normal passage of play. I wasn’t counter-attacking.

Look at that CPU defence! It looks quite normal—no camping AI. There are actually CPU midfielders standing upfield, watching the action.

In the screenshot, my Forlan is about to receive the ball and score this great 25-yard strike:

I won that match 2-1. On Superstar.

Okay, I have got some serious misgivings. Somehow, it doesn’t feel right that it should feel this easy on Superstar. Here’s the league table:

My other results were 3-2 over Manchester City at home, and 3-0 over Sunderland at home.

Maybe it’s partly down to a change in formation? For the new season I decided to sacrfice one of my advanced midfielders for the sake of accommodatng Farinos and Neeskens in the same team.

Finally, I am seeing the best of Farinos. Him and Neeskens together in that midfield are immense.

Farinos is also a great passer, and has a wicked shot, although I’ve yet to get a belter with him. It’s coming though, it’s coming.

We’ll see how Superstar pans out. It should be remembered here that I’ve only played about 8 matches on Superstar so far.

I will give it until 10 league matches, and then decide what to do. Although right now, I’m in the weird position of contemplating going down to Top Player—or even back to Professional—to make it harder…

Perhaps Superstar will tear off its mask of reasonableness and DEVOUR me pretty soon.

Right now, though, I am loving PES2012 even more than I already was. This is an amazing game of football, and it just keeps getting better.