Pro Evo genuinely hit creative pay-dirt again last year (for the first time of the current console generation) and this year’s game is even more impressive. It’s visually slicker – something that everyone expects from a title such as this – and the general pace of the gameplay has been ramped right up again, making it feel much more like the Pro Evo of old than last year’s iteration did. The ‘Precision Passing’ dynamic that was implemented in that game – which made long passes considerably more accurate – also slowed proceedings down, which was somewhat detrimental to the exhilarating rush of a well-structured attack.

So the relentless pace of Pro Evo’s glory days has returned to the party. Similarly, that once-revolutionary PES staple Master League mode is here in all of its glory (and still available both online and off) and the official UEFA Champions League mode returns from last year along with it. Become a Legend is also back in business and the online side of things is padded out by some addictive leaderboard support, and an entertaining new offshoot called Club Boss rounds everything out. Club Boss is a very neat little Management sim that takes place entirely in a club boardroom, but whilst entertaining, it’s basically a mini-game in comparison to everything else.

A significant new option – the lack of which was capable of intimidating curious newcomers previously – is an extensive and enjoyable series of training modes which give you ample time to master every piece of the gameplay puzzle before you leap into the deep end. The opponent AI has also been very effectively refined, and as we pointed out in our hands-on preview earlier this year, so too has the AI of your comrades. Now you’ll no longer be forced into time-wasting on the wing during a break, simply because your strikers aren’t keen on creating chances or running on. Konami are calling it ‘Active AI’ and it’s a massive coup for the series.

The new Teammate control scheme, which allows you to handle a second player on your team with the right analogue stick, is probably only going to be adopted by hardcore players at first because it takes so long to get used to. Even if you manage to master it in training (which is no mean feat in itself) you’ll probably falter during actual games because most people instinctively focus on one player at a time, and trying to break this habit whilst two or three defenders are hounding you is definitely liable to frustrate some people. But once you’ve faced a demon online who’s mastered it, you’ll quickly get a sense of how vital it’ll become a few weeks and months down the line.

The battle between FIFA and Pro Evo continues to endure primarily because it’s a showdown between two very different beasts. Whilst FIFA 12 turned its core experience into something more strategic and guarded this year – tasking you with manually maintaining a defensive line via a tackling system that’s a perpetual gamble – Pro Evo still strives to offer up an attacking game of football that’s edifying and complex but never intrusively so. PES has always tried to be both a simulation and an arcade thriller, and PES 2012 is Konami’s most convincing attempt to harness that concept in at least five years.

Gamers who’ve only ever played FIFA titles will probably (as ever) be sniffy about the lack of licences and the comparatively sketchy visuals, but this year they’re more likely than ever to be galvanised by the gameplay. Pro Evo still has that rousing magic that’s almost impossible to define; the unquantifiable flutter that endlessly compels you to leap from your couch in noisy jubilation. A match of FIFA is always more likely to surprise you – because luck has always played a big part in FIFA – but in many ways Pro Evo is the more rewarding experience because luck almost never plays a part. In its own unusual way PES 2012 is as adept a recreation of football as FIFA 12 is. It just takes a completely different path to get there.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 is released on Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Playstation 2, Nintendo Wii, Sony PSP and PC on Friday October 14th 2011. A version for the Nintendo 3DS is coming soon.

Watch the Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 launch trailer below:

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