While FIFA has all those official players, kits and clubs to shore it up, Pro Evolution Soccer lacks that expensive safety net and so lives or dies on how it plays.

Unfortunately it’s been years since it last outdid FIFA on that front. But if PES 2010 marked a low and PES 2011 a slight turnaround, PES 2012 is a game that narrows the gap between the two rival football titles in this seasonal playoff.

For a start, there are the more intelligent players, who now do a better job of positioning themselves for passes and defending than in PES 2011. It’s also tuned up its ability to select the controllable players; previously, those decisions were often questionable or frustrating. And, just in case, there’s the new ‘off the ball’ control mode employs the right controller stick to take control of any player on your team at any time. Nifty pass, that.

On pitch, things are zippy: PES 2012 is a faster, more action-driven game than FIFA, even before you crank up the speed adjustment until the players dart about like Speedy Gonzales. This year also sees the addition of animated scenes to the football manager mode showing your club boss making decisions from behind a desk (with subtitles rather than voiceovers). Unpromising as this sounds, it does manage to inject a much-needed dash of humanity into the usual football number crunching.

But there’s plenty that still grates: keepers who prefer to deflect than catch; the useless training mode; Gestapo-like referees; commentary that doesn’t always match the action. So once again PES is the runner up to FIFA, but there’s enough here to show it may yet regain the top spot. There’s always next season, eh lads?

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Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 review

Pacy and much improved, PES isn’t out of the cup yet, but it’s still left watching FIFA lift the silverware