What PES 2013 Got Right
- + Refined gameplay
- + Manual shooting
- + Quality (offline) multiplayer
- + Slower pace with improved physics
What PES 2013 Got Wrong
- - Outdated presentation
- - Awful music and commentary
- - Licensing will always hold it back
- - Single-player isn't as compelling
Konami and its Pro Evolution Soccer franchise is never going eclipse EA Sports and its Fifa series, no matter how much if might have tried over the last few years. By changing its presentation amidst an awkward stage of self discovery since 2009, PES has fallen away from being considered the leading football game, and undeniably left Fifa the outright star. It all turns around this year. PES 2013 is back doing what it does best: a different take on the football genre.
PES 2013 isn’t, in my mind, trying to directly compete with Fifa 13. Having tinkered with Fifa’s more accessible and attacking pedigree over the past few years, PES 2013 has combined its arcade and serious heritage with the most important simulation qualities to make for a rather intriguing game of football.
PES is still the more serious of this year’s two major soccer offerings. It doesn’t possess the same pick up and play qualities as Fifa, and it doesn’t want to. It’s for players willing to learn its somewhat complicated, but precise, mechanics.
Scoring from the impossible angle comes down to my single-handed brilliance, while spraying an absolute sitter should, and will, haunt me for days. Just ask Fernando Torres.
Manual shooting for goal is the crux of PES’s distinct formula. A few weeks ago, PES 2013 visited our office, and all of our staff got to compete for ultimate bragging rights. Nobody scored using the manual aim; as video game writers we were embarrassingly terrible, like a seventh grade choir teacher outperformed by her unenthusiastic students, and soon had to abandon it in favour of sheer automated luck.
However, after some considerable practice with the review build, I wouldn’t have it any other way. The manual scoring, while difficult to master, offers an unprecedented level of control over hitting the back of the net and puts the responsibility squarely on my shoulders. Scoring from the impossible angle comes down to my single-handed brilliance, while spraying an absolute sitter should, and will, haunt me for days. Just ask Fernando Torres.
Likewise, ball control is more precise thanks to the Dynamic First Touch system, but difficult to master. One mistake and it all goes horribly wrong, but with practice a new world of traps, fake-outs and pin-point accuracy opens. A newfound focus on defence also rewards perfect timing with tackling and pressure, which will see lesser skilled players getting it wrong far more than right.
To come to terms with controls more reminiscent of an arcade brawler, PES 2013 inundates you with information upon first turning it on, before suggesting you complete its step-by-step training mode. I should stress that while the complicated control options are available, you don’t have to use them all. However, if you aren’t willing to at least try to master the core tactical options, PES isn’t for you. It’s designed for players willing to let go of what they already know about soccer games and commit to doing things its way.
Improved physics makes everything feel more natural and rounds out a package which, at first, doesn’t seem all that different. Once you’ve spent some time with it, however, PES 2013 stands out as a massive improvement on last year’s effort. Everything is refined and just feels right, especially when you begin to grasp the more complicated player movement mechanics. It’s all made possible by a slowed pace compared to the speedy PES 2012 that allows you just enough time to make the right decision and hit the right buttons.
This all comes together best in multiplayer, particularly edge-of-your-seat offline against an opponent you can taunt directly in the disappointed face when you slip one past their fatigued ‘kepper in the 89th minute. You always feel in complete control, like you’re going to make a decision that turns the match. The perfect makings of a multiplayer sports game.
While I love it as a multiplayer game, the single-player modes won’t keep you coming back, especially if you played PES 2012. The UEFA Champions League and South American Copa Libertadores are the officially licensed modes and will offer some interest, while the Football Life mode returns as it was last year with a disappointing online option. While the off-field considerations are interesting in this career mode, it just doesn’t have the substance and influx of cash to compete with Fifa’s solo offerings.
Off the pitch PES 2013 is still horrendously dated. The menus feel tacked on after several rounds of budget cuts and you’ll want to avoid them and their awful music as much as possible. Likewise the commentary is almost as bad as AFL Live (I said almost).
Licensing is also an issue that is going to continue to hold PES back from becoming a more mainstream title. Its audience doesn’t care, as the team editor can side-step those lingering legal issues, but a less dedicated fan base won’t even contemplate that easy fix. Without the official licenses, it’s never going to make up ground on Fifa.
The Final Verdict
PES 2013 improves where it matters and goes back to what made the Pro Evolution Soccer series so popular in its heyday. The on-pitch improvements are fantastic, and once past the learning curve, offer more control than any other football game on the market. Yes, it’s still let down by a poor showing off the pitch, disappointing music and commentary, which combines with the well documented licensing issues to diminish the single-player appeal. Still, PES 2013 is fantastic when your opponent is sitting next to you, and fans should be able to overlook the faults to celebrate Pro Evolution Soccer getting back on track.
By Ben Salter