We’ve been looking forward to Pro Evolution Soccer this year more than ever before. While EA has upped its game significantly with the FIFA series over the past few years, most significantly with some ground-breaking online game modes and fluid gameplay, incremental updates have inadvertently showcased a lack of ambition from the Konami camp. This year however, the Japanese developer has teased us by revealing a host of new additions over the past few months suggesting that PES is about to step up its game considerably.
The good news is PES fans are in for a real treat. On the pitch, PES 2013 offers a great game of football, which has improved so much over previous iterations that it’s bareky recognisable. Not only is gameplay faster, more aggressive and more fluid than ever before, but A.I. is more realistic and animations slicker, while the introduction of full manual passing in-game has opened up a wealth of tactical opportunities and player freedom.
The system for manual passing is superb and easy to pick up. By pressing the ‘L2’ trigger, an arrow points from the foot of the player in the direction you want to pass. You can move the angle of the arrow 360 degrees with the analogue stick and place a low pass, high pass, cross or shot in that exact direction. The enhancement to the A.I. really stands out here, because you’ll see the player nearest the ball immediately respond to where the ball is placed; even if you manage to mess it up and send the ball into completely the wrong area, a player will move into that space swiftly sometimes even beating the defender to the ball and creating a yard of space enabling them to progress up the pitch.
This ability to send the ball exactly where you want to on-the-fly so easily has enabled us to score goals that we’ve only ever dreamed off. In only our second match we scored from a stunning overhead kick because we were able to chip the ball into the exact area that we wanted it with such precision. This new level of accuracy wouldn’t work at all if the A.I. didn’t respond to it, but across the pitch teammates react impressively to the action around them.
Teammates seek out space and make clever runs to receive the ball, while movement across the pitch remains varied with some players looking to receive a through ball passed straight down the middle toward the 25 yard box, and others making curved runs across the back four to get into space. The improvement to A.I. doesn’t extend to when you’re just attacking either, but players will back off to make space for a pass, while midfielders and defenders track runs realistically when the opposition has the ball.
Despite the wealth of improvements to your team, which also extends to the range of player animations, gameplay feels well-balanced thanks to a more physical presence from opposition A.I, who jostle for the ball and chase you down. Nevertheless, a slick skill move executing the likes of “The Cryuff Turn” or “The Roulette” can change the course of an attack instantly, making the opposition player look like an ass as you entertainingly carve a way through their defence.
The enhancement to A.I. complements the new dynamic touch feature perfectly, which enables you to immediately (on first touch) take the ball away from the defending player and into space or trap it dead and hold a player off. The ability to execute one-two passes and send the receiving player in exactly the direction you want to (via manual passing) also adds another tactical layer to PES 2013, further showcasing how the game has come on leaps and bounds since last year’s iteration.
Overall, the action on the pitch is more realistic and fluid than ever before. This is partly due to the A.I. enhancements, but also because players move better and animate more realistically than ever before. Indeed, PES 2013 is the most accurate interpretation of the beautiful game that we’ve seen from Konami.
Where PES still fails to live up to its FIFA rival is with its game modes and multiplayer offerings. The inclusion of the Champions League again is a decent addition, which pitches the best teams in the world against each other, while the return of Facebook connectivity for bragging rights may appeal to the social media crowd, but, in comparison to FIFA, which has brought its football game in line with what’s happening in the real world of soccer, it doesn’t compare.
Nonetheless, the addition of a performance training hub is excellent, allowing you to spend time honing your advanced skills and getting to grips with the new manual passing system. The Copa Santader Libertadores should appeal to those in Latin America, while Become A Legend mode returns – as well as the Master League – have received subtle tweaks to improve their appeal. The servers are offline so we’ve not had the chance to test out Master League Online, but the promise of a more accurate match-making system that puts players together of a similar level, as well the ability to customise leagues, should lead to some fierce and exciting competition online.
Ultimately, it’s the manual passing system that has elevated PES 2013 to the next level, but across the board the improvements are clear to see, from the improvement in graphics to what really matters, the gameplay. This is the first time for a number of years that we’ve been totally engrossed in Pro Evolution Soccer. We’re sure PES fans are going to love the improvements and its fluid gameplay and freedom on the pitch may well attract back some of the fans that the series lost over the last few years.