It’s been a tough couple of years for the Pro Evo series, struggling to break into the top 4 and seeing their cross-town rivals reap the benefits, winning every award and trophy imaginable. PES is to Everton what FIFA is to Manchester City, dwarfed by an astronomical budget and fanbase, whilst faltering themselves in the past few years. They say the number thirteen is unlucky for some, and it’s looking like PES 2013 might just spell bad news for FIFA.
The first hurdle PES has had to overcome is its control scheme; to the newcomer and FIFA convert, the native controls controls can appear somewhat daunting, with crosses and shots reversed and many other intricacies altered in such a way that PES has an almost entirely different feel. This is no fault of the game, by and large, merely a different style of play and game. Some buttons feel far more intuitive than FIFA, with others comparatively nonsensical. Mapping shoot to X/Square might initially pose some problems, but for most gamers it’s where the right thumb most frequently lies, making it both readily available and at the same time significantly more comfortable. Conversely sprint on the right shoulder harks of the ‘tap to sprint’ era of the turn of the century and whilst mapping it to the same button as soft tackle upon defence, not opting for the right trigger causes discomfort, never designed to be held down for long periods of time, typically the least frequently used and most fleeting, legacy might be important but so are ergonomics.
PES may be devoid of big-budget licensing deals, Cristiano Ronaldo aside, but snapping up two major continental competitions has been a masterstroke. But a few years ago these competitions formed games in their own right, now relegated to mere building blocks for a more comprehensive footballing experience. Full licensed, with the intro and humorously self-indulgent anthem, PES recreates the fervour and spectacle of the Champions League rather well, allowing for both offline and online play with any of 32 fully-licensed European sides, even if only Manchester United of feature from the Premier League and reigning champions Chelsea do not. Accompanying the Champions League is the Copa Libertadores, whilst not the most publicised competition in Europe, in South America the sensation caused is other-worldly; a smart move to capitalise on such a grossly neglected market.
The overall feel of Pro Evo 2013 is a much greater fluidity and looseness when set up against FIFA, the ball more liable to spin and bounce with a hitherto unknown degree of authenticity, never more present than during goalkeeper saves and deflections. The ball physics are absolutely sublime, spin and deflecting kills speed and flummox everybody, with saves and parries with both more direction but an added degree of uncertainty through the Dynamic First Touch system. ‘Regular’ player control feels like FIFA’s close control system, players naturally duck and dodge to a greater degree, and FullControl taking this to an entirely new level. Initially feeling clunky and unresponsive, taming this beast will reap the most prestigious of rewards.
An equal amount of complexity is also apparent in off-the-ball player movement, automatically players make far more ferocious attacking runs, with multiple means of manually controlling two players at a time. Using the right stick, secondary players can be fully controlled, mind-bogglingly complex at the outset but has the potential to be absolutely lethal. More user-friendly are the manual set piece controls, again RS manually moving a second player allowing for fantastic set piece control with, making flick-ons, indirect free kicks and corners far more fluid and believable, blowing FIFA’s relatively static and lifeless system completely out of the water.
Gone is the incessant drone of Andy Townsend and even if the array of commentary is vastly slimmer, at least his replacements provide comparatively dulcet, warming tones in John Champion and Jim Beglin, a selling point in its own right.
One of the most impressive things about PES is it’s unique visual style, heavy on neck varicose veins and an impressive attention to visual detail in its craft of even the little known players. Even in an unlicensed team like West Midlands Stripes -West Bromwich Albion to you and I- player likenesses are rather astounding, each player manually designed to look uncannily like their real life counterparts, players rarely have the eerie Goldeneye look that some of the mid-level FIFA players do.
With the Player ID system, fast players have a Usain Bolt quality, world class in PES 2013 really does mean that. Ronaldo does his quirky little shuffle, Lionel Messi will skip around you like a ghost in the wind and The Potteries, or Stoke, feel like the lumbering Ents they are. Players improvisation on the fly and if a ball is played in too close, players adjust their feet to try and get a shot or a pass away, even if at the expense of accuracy
One of the major selling points of for FIFA-converts seems to be the training system, a nice idea which in reality will cause many a broken controller and fantasy fist shaking. It’s a great idea, but executed like a Peter Crouch scissor-kick, cumbersome, unwieldy and very rarely accurate. The simple issue is that it doesn’t inform the new player as to where they are going wrong, leaving the played frustrated and unwilling to continue.
PES 2013 has a slather of game modes, be it the online or offline licensed competitions, quickplay or the intriguingly named Football Life. First is Master League, designed as a fictional management mode where you start with a team of nobodies, excellent for Football Manager regen enthusiasts, building them into a force to be reckoned with, even if it does mean putting up with some mindless mute cutscenes. Teams can be formed using real players, but is a little dull and not what this mode was designed for at all. Master League can also be played online, pitting your fictional teams against others. Also making a return is the Become a Legend mode -read: Be a Pro for FIFA heads- in which you control a real-life, or fictional player in your quest to become a, you guessed it, legend.
Fundamentally goals in PES feel immeasurably rewarding, especially when well-worked and tiki-taka feels sublime, especially when using fully manual passing and shooting. The control scheme can seem a little bewildering at first, but by and large it suits the job just fine and with the off-the-ball control, far excel’s FIFA’s current ability. 2012 isn’t exactly going to be the year of the FIFA slaying, but PES 2013 is a brilliant game, a perfectly viable alternative to FIFA 13 and if Konami continue to approach their game in this way, we could have a very tasty showdown next season.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.
Excellent first touch controls, fluid passing, intelligent attacking movement and off-the-ball player controls are all a treat
Training mode ham-fisted and a lack of licensing will put some players off.