This is the first year since EA Sports massive overhaul of the football genre in 2009 that Konami has taken its hands well and truly out of its pockets and decided it actually wants to do something about it.
Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) still sells very well year after year and is championed mostly in Japan, but some of the original fans have defected to FIFA over the last few years. I know because I was one of those gamers lured away from PES, teased by the new direction that FIFA was heading and impressed how it had all of a sudden enhanced gameplay so dramatically. Almost overnight, though I never thought I’d say it after years playing PES: FIFA delivered the better and most exciting game of football.
The fact of the matter was EA had left Konami behind and revitalised its franchise to such an extent it was barely recognisable from past games. This year, however, Pro Evo is virtually unrecognisable from PES 2011 and also builds successfully on what was achieved with PES 2012, which was a solid foundation to help take the franchise to the next level.
Indeed, after playing one game on PES 2013, this is the first time for a long while that I’m genuinely excited about what Konami has done on the pitch this year. First up, the match I played was much more physical than I remember from previous PES games, particularly the hustle and bustle at corners, and the jostling for the ball while attempting to get past the defence. Immediately that made me totally zone in and concentrate on winning.
Ronaldo comes complete with his smug smirk
The defenders really did well to close my players down, and the same applied to when the other team were attacking. I could rely on the A.I to keep their position impressively and track player runs accurately. The new FullControl mechanic kicks into play nicely too and definitely seemed to give me more control over the ball. I was able to trap it with R2, or using the momentum of a pass I could execute a first touch pass and manually place the ball exactly where I wanted it to go. This gave me the opportunity to open up the gameplay nicely with a subtle and accurate touch.
Manual passing makes a return and also ensures you can lob the ball into open spaces and get behind defenders, but I’m glad to see that manual shooting has been included for the first time too. Though it takes a bit of skill, I was soon able to place a shot at the goal at a variety of angles that you just don’t get from the traditional control method. This should make for some truly spectacular goals.
I also noticed that dribbling has most definitely been slowed down over previous iterations. This is a great improvement, because it feels much more natural and intuitive to pull off a range of skills to get past an opponent. Overall, I felt more in control of the ball and my player and therefore enjoyed the experience of pressing a defence, looking for teammate's runs and trying to find space to pick out an accurate pass with the manual controls.
Across the pitch, A.I impresses, with players moving into space and tracking runs superbly, while animations and characters models have been stepped up a notch and look far more realistic than previous games in the series. I played as Real Madrid and Ronaldo moved just like the real player.
FIFA, of course, is on another level when it comes down to the online component, social connectivity and community features available, and the new ranking system for PES and Facebook synchronisation still therefore seems like a meagre offering in comparison.
Nonetheless, it’s on the pitch where the football really does the talking and PES 13 plays very nicely indeed. Overall, it feels much more realistic, flows better than PES 2012 and feels like a more exciting game of football. It’s difficult, of course - as I’ve only played one game - to predict whether PES 13 can retake its crown as the best football game on the planet. But, one thing’s for sure: Konami has woken up and is definitely on the right track.