Konami knows the score by now. In order to match EA in open warfare, its Pro Evo series needs to combat FIFA’s licensed players and teams with superior handling and strong, lifelike player movement.
For all its kinks and quirks, that’s something PES 2012 manages to do - sometimes.
Football games generally leave something to be desired on phones, thanks to the limitations of touchscreen. The Xperia Play’s physical controls tackle that issue to some degree, but they never feel like they fulfil their potential.
Having the sprint handily mapped to the R trigger and all the face buttons matching the function of their console counterparts makes passing, crossing, and taking a shot a lot more fluid and enjoyable than poking at virtual buttons or (heaven forbid) using an accelerometer.
However, PES 2012 still lacks depth, the limited array of moves at your disposal favouring quick passing over tricksy footwork.
More's the pity, because it's very vivid compared to previous games in the series. The players are well-modelled and accurately animated, while the ball physics are tightly presented (although sometimes a little on the stiff side).
The audio is likewise true to the spirit of the game, with cries and cheers from the crowd being far preferable to the usual corny banter between AI commentators.
Among the various game modes are the usual suspects, including UEFA Club Competitions, League Cup, and Exhibition. Super Challenge mode allows you to transfer players and build your own team as you compete in a tournament and compare your team to others on the leaderboards.
But perhaps the most immediately gratifying mode is the Free Kick Challenge, a mini-game that emulates the flick-football subgenre on touchscreens. It isn’t exactly what you bought your Xperia Play for, but it makes for a decent slice of casual gaming cake to indulge in between matches.
Overall, PES 2012 still lacks the direct and forceful confidence of its rivals, but the physical controls and its asynchronous multiplayer components are a shot in the right direction.