I’m a PES fan; one of the last true believers. Despite FIFA’s meteoric rise to prominence since the release of FIFA 10, I have remained loyal, arguably stubbornly so, to my one true love. I’ve stuck with Konami and PES through thick and thin and I don’t plan on jumping ship anytime soon. Now, don’t get worried by that. Before you dismiss this as a one-sided, PES fan boy review, please, allow me to allay those fears. While I have always preferred PES to FIFA, I’m not blind to the quality of EA Canada’s exceptionally polished product. I have tried just about every FIFA game released, and honestly, the last few have been exceptional. If I had reviewed FIFA 12, I would have happily given it a 9/10. If you’re interested, I would have given PES 2012 a 7/10. Still, despite FIFA being the superior product on paper, I nevertheless stuck with PES last year. Not out of some kind of misguided loyalty, but because, despite FIFA 12 being the ‘better game’, I still preferred to play PES 2012.
In recent years, the two series have gone in slightly different directions, and my argument has always been that while FIFA now delivers the most realistic representation of a full game of football, PES plays and feels more like a highlight reel. Not as true to the actual sport and certainly not as polished a simulation as FIFA, PES’ Match of the Day-esque take on the beautiful game is nevertheless the more exciting and immediate product of the two.
The same is very much true for PES 2013, the only difference now being that it just happens to be far and away the best PES game ever created (don’t let nostalgia blind you, modern day Pro Evo is far superior to the PS2 releases of yore). It’s hardly going to win a sales war against EA’s behemoth, but from what I’ve read, there are a lot of gamers who had previously jumped ship, just waiting for Konami to deliver a genuinely competitive package – PES 2013 is it. It won’t win back all of the deserters and there are still a few rough edges that could do with a sneaky polish, but personal tastes aside, this is the first time in years that Konami are genuinely competing with FIFA since that series’ own ‘evolution’ back in 2010.
Although a little bare-bones, and perhaps, even a little old fashioned in terms of game modes, PES 2013 does all of its talking out on the pitch. The is the slickest, deepest and certainly the most refined football game of the generation, a game that, like its classic forbears only begins to reveal its true majesty and depth after hours of extended play.
Still, while the hidden nuances and subtle improvements are worth the wait, PES 2013 certainly has its fair share of immediately noticeable improvements. The most revelatory of these are the new ball physics. While I have always preferred the weight of Pro Evo’s shots and passes in comparison to FIFA’s more floaty ball behaviour, I’ll be the first to admit that the last few releases have had their fair share of problems. Gone are the bizarrely weighted lofted balls of last year’s release and the occasional oddities of its short game, and in come a much crisper, far more subtle passing game for this year’s release. Short passes glide smoothly while long balls move with a realism and weight never before captured in a virtual take on the beautiful game. From looping long balls to more deliberate passes that skim the surface of the pitch, there seems to be no end to the control on offer.
Emphasising the new levels of control, manual passes and shots are now available at the quick squeeze of a trigger. Doing so will bring up an arrow that lets you take exact control of your shots and passes. Its nuances do take some getting used to, but for the pro player looking to take full control, its inclusion will prove invaluable. While it does allow for perfectly pitched passes into space, it’s in the shooting where it feels most revolutionary. Shooting in previous releases has always proved a little hard to judge, but with manual control added, the already industry-leading shooting mechanics have now moved out into a league of their own. From well placed, curled efforts to the all-new ‘knuckle shot’, there are so many great ways to score in PES 2013 that the simple joy of mastering shooting truly cannot be underestimated
With animations improved no end by the all new Player ID system that not only sees players make much more realistic runs, but also sees them move in the same style and manner as their real life counterparts, PES 2013 delivers a much more natural game of football than its immediate predecessors. It still can’t quite match the fluidity of FIFA’s system, but the weight behind player movement, combined with the new emphasis on capturing the nuances of the best players certainly combines to impressive effect.
Further enhancements have been made to the offensive game with first touch control imbuing even the most basic of movements with a sense of skill. Rather than control being little more than a forgone conclusion, a well-timed tap of the trigger now allows you to take down a long ball in classic Messi-esque fashion while a new close control system allows even the most uninitiated of gamers to skilfully roll the ball under their feet. With these cool new tricks and a host of new skills, PES 2013 feels more dynamic than ever before, allowing newbs to pull off some impressive pieces of skill straight out of the gate, but with more than enough depth to allow the hardcore to put together some truly bewildering combinations of skills and movements.
The defensive side has also seen something of an overhaul; taking on FIFA 12’s style of hold up play and manual talking and adding a few refinements of its own, PES 2013’s defensive game feels like a huge step up from 2012’s often cumbersome control scheme and a more natural take on the defensive game than FIFA 12’s innovative but flawed system. Of course, you can still upend a fleet-footed winger with a well-timed lunge, but for the most part, the emphasis now leans toward containment and tactical manoeuvrability rather than aimless lunges and constant pressure.
Sadly, while the improvements to the on-pitch action are an almost unequivocal success (minus the return of the consistently questionable keepers), off the pitch, PES 2013 is still, at least partly stuck in the past. Master League still delivers the most comprehensive single player experience out there, but despite a few welcome rpg-style additions in the form of boots etc that will boost individual player stats, it’s still largely unchanged from previous years. The Copa Libertadores makes a return alongside the Europa and Champions League licenses, but quite bizarrely, Konami have not managed to get the rights to last year’s winners, Chelsea. The Italian and Spanish teams etc return in all their fully-licensed glory, but with the exception of Manchester United (booo!), the Premier League is once again represented by a collection of comically named replacements. Long standing fans of the series will be more than used to these omissions by now, but in terms of the title race, it’s still a bitter blow to PES 2013’s chances over making a serious dent in FIFA’s astronomical sales figures.
The online aspect of PES 2013 has also seen a raft of improvements, but until more players are online, it is hard to judge just how successful they have been. It will obviously pale in comparison to the exhaustive options available to its primary competitor, but at least Konami are moving in the right direction.
Presentation-wise, beyond the aforementioned improved animations, PES 2013 continues to impress visually. Since the visual overhaul a few years back, PES has, in my opinion at least, trumped FIFA in regards to player likenesses with this year’s release improving once again on the already impressive platform built for previous iterations. I appreciate that it’s a matter of taste, but I have always found FIFA’s likenesses kind of cartoonish and certainly lean towards the sharper, harder lines of PES’ visual style. It’s still lacking the kind of all-encompassing detail found in FIFA’s fully licensed presentation, but in terms of fidelity, lighting and art style, I would take PES over FIFA any day of the week. Of course, the commentary from Jon Champion and Jim Beglin is utter garbage, but hey, did anyone expect anything different?
On the pitch, PES 2013 can comfortably compete with EA’s all-conquering football behemoth, and in many ways, actually manages to surpass it in terms of depth, nuance and, most importantly, entertainment. It’s still lagging behind in terms of off-the-field options and the licensing issues continue to be a problem, but visually, PES 2013 looks absolutely fantastic and with Master League remaining the de facto single player experience, 2013 might just be the year that Konami and PES reignite their title challenge.
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