On the surface it looks like not much has changed in the yearly updated world of Pro Evolution Soccer, but a lack of big new tournaments or flashy features masks the huge work that's gone into improving the football itself.
After the rigmarole of picking a team (mostly unlicensed, so you get the real Manchester United, but Aston Villa are West Midlands Village) you're on the pitch, ready to guide your team to victory.
Attacking players have more of a pulse this year. Instead of tottering level with the ball carrier waiting to be marked out, they're far more inclined to take a run behind enemy lines, dashing down the wings and even making the occasional slanted run in the middle of the pitch.
Gone are the days when you'd stand outside the opposition's box with one foot on the ball, shouting at your men to sodding do something, only to be kneecapped by the sliding boot of a defender moments later. If your men are starting to loiter, you can command one to start running with a quick point and click of the right stick (play with a joypad, people!). It's an essential move that bypasses occasional AI lethargy and gives you much more precise control.
But all that new attacking movement can leave defenders stuck in the mud. For the most part they're sensible, but their refusal to dive in for a necessary crunching tackle means that a pressing team can get away with too much. On one occasion a simple clearance from a corner reached my pacey young striker, Gabby Agbonlahor. I'd caught the opposition on the counterattack and Gabby had the entire pitch to run into. The two Liverpool central defenders had taken up sensible positions, and dutifully dashed in to sandwich my lone striker as he powered towards the box. They ran alongside him for a full ten metres without delivering so much as a shifty elbow. I scored an easy goal when I should have ended up in the dirt at the halfway line.
No surprise, then, that matches in PES 2012 tend to be high-scoring affairs, but it's forgivable given how much better the football feels this time around. Everything is faster and more precise. While FIFA's trick stick has players performing ever more convoluted manoeuvres, PES is about passing and team movement. Matches are far more lively and competitive as a result.
It would be wrong to point to one big factor as the reason behind PES's revival. It's the result of a number of incremental improvements on the pitch. Players are more responsive on the ball, a tricky attacker feels different to a lumbering defender, the animations are more convincing, the crowds noisier and attacking play is enormously improved.
PES still struggles to offer anything its monolithic competitor FIFA can't do with more polish, but 2012 is an incisive diagonal run in the right direction. If only the defenders were a little braver.
An overhaul of the match engine and lively attacking play bring PES back into contention, but don’t expect much from the AI.