The sun is beating down, and the wind is shooting through the stadium. We're at the pristine and imaginatively titled Il Nuovo Stadio Della Juventus, and the home side's slender 1-0 lead – courtesy of a free-kick from the talismanic Alessandro Del Piero – is in the balance. Napoli's Uruguayan Adonis, Edinson Cavani, is sprinting toward goal when he is felled by an industrial challenge from big-beaked clogger Giorgio Chiellini. With the ref waving play on, veteran midfielder Andrea Pirlo picks up the loose ball, and insouciantly strokes a long crossfield ball to team-mate Claudio Marchisio, who dinks a delicate chipped pass towards his club captain in the box. It's a little short, though, and Del Piero's attempted overhead kick at the near post sails harmlessly over the bar.
Such moments of mundanity are often the ones where you learn most about a football game, and so it proves with PES 2012. A tight, defence-dominated 1-0 victory in Serie A might not seem particularly exciting after a rollicking end-to-end encounter in the Premier League, but the very fact that the difference is so stark is an important one. Play several matches against AI opponents in a football game and it often feels like you're playing the same side reskinned. Not here.
The next game sees me torn apart by the near-robotic efficiency of Bayern Munich's counter-attacking style, with Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery rampant. As the third goal slaps into the back of the Arsenal net, the Bayern players celebrate in the time-honoured fashion – by unhinging their lower jaws in a faintly terrifying communal yelling session. Then Ribery plunges his hand through Mario Gomez's ribcage, apparently to thank him for the assist. Some things never change, then.
Indeed, PES's presentation still needs a good deal of work. While it still comfortably trumps FIFA in the replay stakes (memo to EA: more than three seconds of build-up would be nice next time), elsewhere it still lags behind its glitzier rival. Your next game is always two or three too many button-presses away, and the music is, as always, abysmal. Likenesses are a mixed bag – the most famous names have had plenty of attention lavished on their faces (if not their oversized cake-holes) but weaker teams and lesser players are, at times, barely recognisable. And that we're still playing against Middlebrook in this day and age when the Spanish and Italian leagues are so authentically represented is a bit embarrassing, really.
Animation can be a tad choppy in places, although if this is the price we have to pay for better control then so be it. Player movement still doesn't quite match up to the fluidity of FIFA's 360-degree manoeuvrability, but the gap is clearly closing. Canned stumbles from standing tackles and other fixed reactions are disappointing, though at least the hilarious physics-based flubs of EA's game are absent. And PES's lighting remains superior, its naturalistic tones more appealing than FIFA's oddly artificial look. It's like watching a match on Sky rather than ITV, or at least it would be without John Champion and Jim Beglin in the commentary box. While Beglin sounds bored to tears, Champion gets quite unreasonably excited at times, bellowing "CHANCE HERE!" with the urgency of someone warning of an imminent terrorist attack.
Konami mightn't have FIFA's inventive new approach to defensive play, but this year's signature features are more than just hollow words on the back of the box. Instead, the raft of improvements proves Seabass and crew have identified key areas of weakness and are aiming to strengthen them. The Active AI is noticeable mere seconds into your first game. No longer will you be screaming at your wingers, imploring them to sodding well make a bloody run. Intelligent team-mates will hunt for space, weave between defenders, sprint past you on the overlap, and pull away at the back post. And if they're still not doing what you want them to, you can guide them into position with the right stick. That you won't need to do it too often is testament to how well the AI responds without any prompting.