Such has been the dominance of the FIFA behemoth in recent years, there is probably a whole generation of gamers that doesn’t even remember when PES ruled the land. Cruelly coinciding with FIFA’s long-overdue finding of form, the decline of PES seemed irreversible, its great history sullied by a run of shambolic releases.
That rot was stopped last year, when we tentatively declared that PES was back. Konami has built on those green shoots of recovery, and this year’s outing can once again look FIFA in the eye and take to the pitch on a level footing.
Whereas FIFA has always been streets ahead in terms of periphery, it is of course on the pitch that it matters, and PES 2013 plays an often thrilling game of association football, with an emphasis on instinctive control. You are no longer wrestling with the game, instead concentrating on the action in front of you, looking for player runs, and delivering that killer ball. It’s possible to play a neat possession game, safe in the knowledge that your players aren’t suddenly going to freak out and give the ball away. Alternatively you can simply hoof it up to the big man and hope for the best.
Much has been made of the player likenesses – and they are by and large recognisable – but far more important is the mirroring of their attributes, to the extent that you will recognise individual stars by their playing style. As such, Ya Ya Toure is a beast, bludgeoning his way through the opposition, cover star Ronaldo is a slippery character with an armoury of tricks, and Wayne Rooney is a pocket dynamo with an eye for goal - presumably modelled on vintage Rooney. As well as making teams appear more like their real life counterparts, knowing what particular players can do really does make a difference, and in the heat of battle you find yourself relying on your big names to get you through.
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A Deeper Love
New controls have been introduced, including the dynamic first touch, enabling you to kill the ball with Cantona-esque precision, or use its momentum to find yourself some space. Dribbling has also been tweaked, with a slower more deliberate approach enabling you to utilise actual skill rather than simply hammering the sprint button. A whole raft of flicks and tricks has been introduced, and there is an extensive training section that feels a lot like homework. Suffice to say, we gave up almost immediately, but still went on to achieve Champions League glory with a rudimentary pass and move approach.
PES 2013 is as deep as you want it to be, with entire tactical levels beyond the ken of the average sofa-bound pundit. And if you want to go really hands-on, there is full manual passing and shooting available, a feature that we generally found to be a novel way of losing possession. That said, if you have the manual dexterity to point an arrow at the corner of the goal and strum the ball in, it’s a deeply satisfying feeling.
At the top level, these little touches could make all the difference, and there is enough in the game to have you still learning throughout another bleak winter.
Off the pitch, the DNA of the series is firmly embedded, from the cup competitions that have been around since the 1990s, to the life-sapping Master League, and the mysterious Bristol Mary Stadium. As for obligatory Japanese weirdness, we were informed apropos of nothing that we had earned a new nickname: The Bison. So thanks for that.
As for the licensing - or lack of - cut and paste any review from the past century. Welcome to the Premiership: Berkshire Blues (Reading), Soton (Southampton) and East London (West Ham). And we don’t know when the cut-off date for transfers was, but Van Persie is still plying his trade at North London, Berbatov is skulking round Manchester United (actually licensed) and Ian Rush is about to make his big money move to Merseyside Red (not really).
FIFA has effectively bought football, and the lack of authenticity in PES will certainly irk the purist. That said, keener gamers with a USB stick and access to “the internet” might be able to seek out a site where enthusiasts have updated the team names to the real thing. We couldn’t possibly say where, but we believe that there are ELEVEN of them and that they are definitely WINNING.
Brick Him Up
On the commentary front, John Champion and Jim Beglin have put in a minor shift in a soundproof room, wheeling out the obligatory sound bites and faux-witticisms. That said, they don’t always appear to be on their game, and occasionally miss fairly key events such as thwacking the crossbar from distance. In general the atmosphere is pretty good though, with the muted graphical approach giving it something of a retro feel.
Ultimately, it’s exciting to play, whether battling out a hard fought goalless draw or breathlessly winning a seven goal thriller. Treading the fine line between dour realism and fantasy football, PES 2013 is a hugely entertaining package.
With a more measured approach allied to a genuinely reactive control system, PES is the most playable it has been for years.
Off the pitch, there’s still something of a homespun feel to proceedings, but once you cross that white line this is a serious title contender, and a game that is finally truly exciting to play. It almost makes you wonder why they didn’t think of it earlier.