Itís taken a while but it would appear Konamiís Pro Evolution Soccer franchise is ready to launch a long awaited title challenge. After numerous poor showings last yearís edition finally demonstrated that there was some life in the old dog. Deep down most gaming football fans have yearned for Konami to recreate their halcyon days and give the FIFA team a run for its money. At last that day would appear to be finally here.
On paper at least significant improvements are difficult to put a finger on. Give PES 2013 a few hours and you quickly realise this is a season of evolution for the series with many subtle tweaks leading to the best entry in the franchise for some considerable time. Maybe the PES series hasnít approached things in the best of ways in the last few years but you can see the benefit the long journey has had - improved AI and more responsive controls being two of the key points . Previous years may have been playing catch up but that isnít the case here anymore. PES 2013 is a real title challenger.
The solid platform of last season has been built on (see our review) - most notably the AI of teammates who always gave you an option and joined in with attacks. Last seasonís entry was an extremely quick game of football. The pace has been dropped a notch or two this time around and it makes the game better. You get a little more time to think and build up the play. Even at a basic level the game feels more responsive but lurking under the surface are more options. The most notable of which is the trapping features which comes into play as the ball comes into feet. A well timed press of the R3 button gives you more options when trapping the ball. Indeed given enough practice itís possible to flick the ball as you receive it and turn a defender. The same goes for bringing down an aerial pass. Time it right and instead of the ball bouncing off the man it comes under closer control increasing the attacking options or allowing you to get a volley away.
Once the ball is under control you get added options to attack with. A close control button allows you to put your foot on the ball even in the tightest area. Itís easy to perform little rollovers to keep a hold of the ball and keep a defender at bay. There are also slightly more advanced options which allow you to nutmeg an opposition player or push the ball around him but these are harder to pull off. Practice though makes perfect and while it can lead to some frustrations there is no doubt PES 2013 has some real depth. With the basic controls it is possible to be competitive but get to grips with the new trapping system, nutmegs and pushing the ball past players as well as the usual feints and dummies available and suddenly the pitch opens up massively.
Getting there however will take a lot of practice but the game offers plenty of training drills to go through. Indeed the game almost trips up in its enthusiasm for these when you first load it up. Sadly the training sessions which introduce a lot of the subtle manoeuvres of the game arenít great. Youíll find yourself replicating the onscreen button presses only to find youíve done it wrong but with no obvious explanation as to why. Itís certainly not a deal breaker but the training sessions could have been something special if Konami had spent a little longer with them. As they are they feel a little rushed and more than a little unpolished.
There are 12 training drills in total which guide you through some of the new tricks including the new trapping features, controlling players off the ball, shooting and passing (both regular and manual options) and freekicks. Each section begins with a video which outlines the button presses and then hands control over to the player. Unfortunately thats about it as much guidance as you youíll get and with some of the moves being more than a little tricky at first it can be something of a frustrating experience not knowing exactly why youíve failed a particular session.
Sadly the unpolished nature is the same for a lot of the presentation in the game. Menus are functional and nothing more. The usual problems with the licensed teams remain (i.e. fake team names) and even the Champions League mode is missing some of the proper team names. Reassuringly though Konami have done much of their talking out on the pitch.
Other changes when crossing the white line include the defending. More onus this time is on positional play (much like FIFA 12 tactical defending) and keeping your defender goalside and being patient enough to time your challenge right. There is definite emphasis on the attacker using some of the new tricks to get around the defender. However the good AI has been improved upon further from last season meaning that dragging a defender out of position is often enough on its own to do damage. Youíll frequently see midfielders and full backs supporting the attack and your AI teammates are smart enough to run into empty space vacated by a defender. The slower pace of the game this year also means you have an opportunity to put a foot on the ball and think a little.
Overall, out on the pitch at least, PES 2013 covers itself in a lot of glory. There are areas for improvement. The physical side of the game feels woefully underdeveloped when compared to FIFA while the slide tackle button seems to result in you getting a yellow card more often that not. Ball physics are a lot better than some of the previous years but occasionally shots can still feel a little floaty. The frame rates also plummet to laughable levels in some of the replays and celebrations - something which Konami has seemingly never bothered to fix on the current generation of consoles.
Away from the playing side there are the usual cups and tournaments to play with including the ĎBecome a Legendí mode which sees you control just one player on the pitch and Master League mode is also back. Master League remains hugely enjoyable and once it gets under your skin it is tough to shake off. However one can argue it is looking a little ropey these days. Youíll often spend the vast majority of your time looking at calendars and waiting for the next game. Indeed it is debatable what you spend more time doing, playing games or looking at loading screens.
Itís a shame the Master League mode hasnít been spruced up a little and the presentation improved because on the pitch PES 2013 is a great game. FIFA is arguably a better simulation of football but PES finds a lovely balance between simulation and arcade. It falls neatly between the two stools and is very entertaining. Players get bags of attacking options which take time to really hone and the AI always give you options off the ball. There are times when some of the truly skillful moves are hidden away in frustrating training drills but when it finally clicks PES 2013 reveals itself to be as much of a showoff as FIFA is. It might have taken a very long time but PES is finally good again. Just like in real football that can only be good for the competition.