Thereâ€™s a divide in the world of football video games. Like Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Marvel and DC. Or boxers and briefs. For years thereâ€™s been a turf war between EAâ€™s FIFA and Konamiâ€™s Pro Evolution Soccer and in recent memory, EA have been coming out on top. However back in 2010, Konami realised their football legacy was struggling to keep up with EAâ€™s ever-evolving title and decided to revamp their series.
The result, Pro-Evolution Soccer 2011 (PES 2011), turned out to be mixed bag and failed to ignite passion in a new audience; despite bringing in a faster pace to the gameplay. After a disappointing follow-up last year, does this latest 2013 installment of Pro-Evolution Soccer make amends?
In order to ensure that it does, Konami changed their ranks and brought back senior producer Naoya Hatsumi, a veteran who originally worked on Pro-Evo back in 2010. Considering the franchise needed to move forward, itâ€™s disconcerting to see Konami take steps backwards. When appointed, Hatsumi stated "When we started developing PES 2013, we asked ourselves questions [like] what is the fundamental essence of football? What's the best part of football? This is our answer."
It sounds promising and initial hands-on time with the game looks set to back up that claim. To help capture the excitement and flair of modern-day football, PES 2013â€™s main update lies in the control department under the guise of PES Full Control (or PES FC) that brings in more finesse with player agility.
Subtle touches of the right analogue stick appear to have more impact on the ball in PES 2013, allowing players to turn and control their movement more effectively. Unlike FIFA though, where a lot of the deft touches are relatively automatic, PES 2013 includes advanced controls such as holding down the trigger to accurately trap an incoming ball. Or clicking in the right stick at the right time to flick the ball in a certain direction, even over the head of a marking player to cleverly pass them on the turn.
While the â€˜on the ballâ€™ mechanics have certainly been improved in PES 2013, there is still an uneasy feeling over the weight of the ball. While the game features realistic ball physics, trying to determine the strength with which you pass or lob the ball doesnâ€™t feel quite right. Often youâ€™ll end up over-powering a corner or under-powering a shot on goal. With some practice, youâ€™ll get a feeling for how long buttons should be held down, but often youâ€™ll be tapping the shoot button even if youâ€™re on the edge of the penalty box in fear of over-compensating. The end result doesnâ€™t feel natural or very rewarding.
One of the biggest differences PES fans will notice is the change in the gameplay. PES 2013 plays a lot faster, with increased end-to-end football action and quick-passing opening up play, rather than simply dribbling past four defenders with your best striker (which earlier PES titles allowed you to do). While FIFA is vulnerable to an over-emphasis on sideline plays and crosses into the goalmouth, PES still favours the direct approach. But the balance seems a lot better here, giving players various options when attacking.
Another huge improvement in PES lies in the goalkeeper AI, who are now quicker to react and harder to beat in the goal box. Unfortunately though, the remaining AI appears to be untouched â€“ especially for the defence who are often caught ball-watching. It was far too easy to cut inside and suddenly be one-on-one with the goalie. They also failed to pick-up obvious runs or follow their marked player in little-pressure scenarios. I was also surprised to see, despite PES 2013 trying to be a faster game, that the referee failed to play advantage of minor fouls. Quite often the trigger-happy ref would slow down the flow of a match.
In a similar vein to FIFA, PES 2013 includes individual player attributes, bringing football all-stars into the game with their own special abilities on the pitch. For example Ronaldo (the poster-boy of the game), has startling speed down the wings and the ability to pick out any player in the box when crossing. Iniestaâ€™s a demon on the ball and could dribble his way out of the Amazonian Rainforest with a blindfold on. John Terry willâ€¦ well probably the less we say about Terry the better.
Graphically PES 2013 looks impressive, especially in terms of the environments and stadium detail. In fact in terms of lighting and texture mapping, PES 2013 could be a superior looking game to FIFA from a distance. But when you get up close, PES 2013 falls short in the player models and animations. While a large amount of detail has been sculptured on the playerâ€™s faces, the end result is extremely unflattering. But more importantly, players donâ€™t move as smoothly or look nearly as fluid on the ball as they do in FIFA.
Because FIFA has set the bar so high, itâ€™s difficult not to notice other presentation shortcomings too. For example the HUD not fading away so that some of the play is obscured by the radar map along the bottom of the screen. It might be because this is a preview of the full game, but the in-game menus are sterile and uninviting as well. We would assume these would be polished for a public release demo, but time will tell if these are addressed for final release.
Over at E3 in June, I had some time with the up-coming FIFA â€™13 and once again, it looks like EA have managed to improve on their formula. Where does this leave PES 2013? I would assume theyâ€™ll be sitting on the bench again this season, however PES has always had a strong following and it is clear that the two games do play differently. For those who had high-hopes for the PES series back in 2010, this game could well be the one youâ€™ve been waiting for. The good news is any football fan can download the free demo on Xbox Live (or PSN) and try it out for themselves. Itâ€™s around 1.3 GB but it includes four International teams (England, Portugal, Italy and Germany) and will give you a decent taste of the game without spending a cent.