The Pro Evolution Soccer franchise hasn’t had the best of times in recent years, after years of dominating the football game market on consoles, everything was looking rosy for Konami’s all conquering franchise. Then in 2008 everything suddenly seemed to change. Pro Evo seemed to lose its direction, not quite knowing which side of the simulation/Arcade line it wanted to settle on. This identity crisis came at a time when its main rival, FIFA, previously known for its style over substance approach, was making wholesale changes in an effort to establish itself as the king of the footy games.
FIFA’s introduction of new features like the stupidly addictive Ultimate Team, helped EA’s franchise replace PES as many people’s football game of choice, while PES seemingly experimented every year hoping to stumble upon the one feature that would help to set it apart from the rest.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 is the culmination of these experiments. Melding together 2011′s more realistic style and 2012′s more attacking focused outing, whilst introducing amazingly precise control over the ball after some practice with, what Konami calls, PES Full Control, PES 2013 attempts to delicately straddle the border between an arcade and simulation experience.
Practice really is the name of the game here. From the minute you first load up the game it encourages you to dive into a series of mini-game tutorials designed to teach you the basic controls as well as some of the more advanced techniques available for you to master. Even seasoned PES fans will want to delve into these to acclimatise to the new features, and may even have to lower the difficulty level to get to grips with some of the new systems in place. Some of the tutorials can be a little tricky, especially to new players or even players returning to the franchise from a FIFAvbased love affair, and this may put some off, but you don’t have to bother with them if you just want to play the game at its most basic level.
PES Full Control is designed to give you the ability to pretty much put the ball anywhere on the pitch you want with absolute precision; with dedicated players soon being able to ping show stopping passes around like a virtual Ronaldo with the squeeze of a trigger. Once you’re firing the passes around with deadly precision you can then master another new feature. Pulling the other trigger allows you to pluck the ball out of the air and control it at your feet or with a touch of the right stick flick-on the ball past stunned opponents. The advanced controls extend to controlling your teammates as well. At the press of a button you can force players off the ball to spin off marking defenders or make a run into a channel, drawing defenders away from the ball and creating space in anticipation of that match winning curler into the top corner.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 is more akin to an arcade fighting game for those that want to take it seriously. Casual players will be fine messing around on the lower difficulties just having a kick around with the AI, but those willing to commit to PES 2013 will see what the game really has to offer. Spending hours honing your skills in matches or in the training mini-games really will pay dividends and is essential should you wish to venture online.
The game’s AI has also been greatly improved. The behaviour of players from top teams will match their clubs standing. Top level defenders will be harder to fool with dummy runs, whereas the best attacking players will exploit even the smallest gap in your defence. This can make matches sometimes feel more like chess battles than fluid attacking football, but this is ultimately the rewarding thing about PES. Organising your teammates into positions whilst dribbling round an opponent to split their whole team wide open is endlessly satisfying and feels rewarding in a way its more flashy rivals can’t compete with.
Where Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 does come unstuck however, is in its presentation. While the Champions League mode is almost identical to what you’d see on your TV, the rest of the games is a bit bland and uninspired. While the game looks nice enough the menus are plain and unimaginative, player models are generic - apart from the obviously crafted superstar players – and animations are often stunted and slightly weird. The soundtrack is also pretty bland, with nothing recognisable, whilst the commentary from ITV’s own Jon Champion and Jim Beglin is patchy and feels phoned in.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 offers the usual gameplay modes, with the UEFA Champions League and South American Copa Libertadores available and fully playable online alongside PES stalwart Master League as well as the Football Life career mode. However, I was unable to try any online features for this review as the servers were unavailable pre-release.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 certainly offers a lot for established fans of the series and will be a welcome return for those who lost faith a few years ago. The depth of gameplay available to dedicated players will keep them engrossed for months. Newcomers or FIFA veterans wanting a taste of the dark side however, may be unimpressed to begin with, maybe put off by the lack of licences and bells and whistles, but for those willing to commit, you’ll no doubt find PES 2013 rewarding as well as challenging in much the same way as a well-crafted RPG.
MLG Rating: 8/10 Platform: Xbox 360/ PS3/ PC Release Date: 21/09/2012
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a physical copy of Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 by the promoter for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of three days on a PS3. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.