Ah yes, the age old wars in gaming; Microsoft versus Sony; Call of Duty versus Battlefield/Medal of Honour and more relevant to this article, Pro Evolution Soccer versus FIFA. Year on year, battles are waged and year on year there always a definitive ‘winner’. The annual scuffle between PES and FIFA is particularly intriguing. In recent years the balance of power as shifted with a revitalised FIFA taking top dog honours off of Pro Evo. All of which has made the two franchises yearly clashes a white wash, about as relevant as Mario versus Sonic in the here and now. The problem lies in innovation. With the clout and weight of EA behind it, FIFA has the money and team to make massive improvements and additions with every iteration of the series. Whereas with every Pro Evo game you get fewer, smaller, incremental updates between games, giving the impression that FIFA is light years ahead of its rival.
Unfortunately Pro Evo 2013 doesn’t do anything to challenge that illusion and break with tradition. It’s a step in the right direction for the franchise, but a small step compared to FIFA’s giant leaps and bounds.
That’s not to say Pro Evo 2013 isn’t a more than competent football game, its much more than that. It’s just much more of the same. There’s not too much we haven’t seen before. Nothing compounds this more than PES 2013 mode selection. It’s the same old story. Play an exhibition match, Europe’s Champions League tournament, South America’s Copa Libertadores cup, the series synonymous Masters League which enables you to manage your team or play as your own professional footballer or the usual PES online modes, play any of those but you won’t play anything NEW. Pro Evo 2013 has no additional new game modes and with the series crying out for a shake up, it’s incredibly frustrating.
There have been a few additions elsewhere though. 2013 introduces MyPES which is an obvious socially integrated inclusion allowing players to link their PES playing activity with Facebook, allowing you to irritate your friends with numerous updates. My only skepticism is that, like with most games that are now including features like this, they often go ignored. PES 2013 hasn’t proved to me otherwise. I just don’t think many people will use it.
The most important additions and improvements though come in two fold. One, PES 2013 features more licensed teams. Fully licensed Brazilian, French, Spanish, Dutch, Italian and Japanese leagues (aside from a logo licensing issue here and there) supported by licensed clubs cherry picked from other leagues are strides towards a more fully licensed game (something which has always been a contentious point when it comes to PES).
Improvement number two, and by far the most significant is the reworking PES Productions on the pitch. Despite its shortcomings in terms of licensing and presentation (I’ll get onto that in a moment) Pro Evo’s flowing on field gameplay is king (yes, I am saying it’s better than FIFA in that respect). Whilst FIFA has made improvements to its defending system, an area in which PES lacks, Pro Evo 2013 contains improvements to its attacking system, improving on an already stand out formula. PES 2013 introduces ‘Total Freedom of Control’ which is essentially a complicated way of saying it has better player AI. Your AI teammates make better runs and your AI opponents read the game better meaning that goals can be created in a more spectacular fashion without it feeling too easy. It’s satisfying and competitive in equal measures, and a great addition to the game’s match engine.
The same can also be said for PES 2013′s dynamic first touch which introduces more subtle ways your players receive the ball. With the press of a button and the flick of your players ankle you can turn a defender inside out. An incredibly important addition when you look at the gameplay improvements being made across the waters, and coupled with the improved AI it’s a lethal combination, allowing you to create some incredible plays and runs. The PES franchise has always been famed for it’s superb, flowing, attacking gameplay and with the additions above, things hit even higher notes.
The addition that has made less of an impact surprisingly is full manual passing and shooting, allowing those that scream red in the face with the frustration of awful assisted settings their chance to let loose. But due to the game’s control system, manually passing and shooting is more of a hindrance. Holding down a trigger button before you press pass and shoot may not seem like such a hardship but, when you can pull off passing and shooting rather well with the single push of a button anyway, it seems like a fairly redundant feature.
Uncortunately there numerous problems in the game’s match engine elsewhere. You can talk the game’s attacking gameplay to high heaven all you want but PES 2013 still sees no improvements to defending (which still feels quite primitive and outdated), refereeing (who seem to make some frankly INSANE refereeing decisions) or the game’s general user friendliness. Sure, there’s a Performance Training mode which attempts to teach you how to play the game but they are so inexplicably poorly put together that you just end up ignoring them completely through frustration. Spending hours attempting to do a basic one, two perfectly over and over again because you’re not quite sure what you’re doing wrong ISN’T FUN. The game should show you exactly how to use the games complicated systems and exactly where you’re going wrong or not bother at all. This is arguably the game’s biggest disappointment.
And of course, it wouldn’t be a Pro Evo game review without a few choice pop shots at its overall presentation would it? Pro Evo 2013 doesn’t break with traditional in this respect either. It features awfully complex looking menu systems, terribly awkward commentary and a disturbingly bad soundtrack. Nothing new there then.
But when the gameplay is SO GOOD you can look past those aesthetic traits (well, at least some of them) and there’s no denying that on the pitch PES 2013 still does the business where it matters. There’s a lot of room for improvement but for all it’s flaws PES 2013 still delivers compelling, flowing gameplay. End of.
With a new game engine promised in future instalments of the series, PES 2013 is a solid send off for the series before its transformation in the next entry in the franchise.
Review Round Up
Graphics: 3/5 – Equal measures stunning and dated. The game’s textures and likenesses are superb as always but as a spectacle it still leaves a lot to be desired.
Sound: 1/5 – Match sounds and soundtrack are as with any PES game, typically awful.
Gameplay: 4/5 – Flowing, creative but still areas for improvement. PES 2013′s improved AI and first touch ball control system add to an already rich gameplay experience but things like referee AI and defending still feel quite dated.
Longevity: 3/5 – With free DLC promised and six or seven different modes included on the disc, there’s plenty to do in PES 2013. The only problem is they all offer the same experience, there’s very little variety.
Overall: 3.5 Net Busters out of 5
PES 2013 is not the return to form players were hoping for but it’s a step in the right direction. Solid, competent and a true alternative to the likes of FIFA but not worthy of competing for the crown of king of football games just yet.
- Kieran E. Roycroft