Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 Review
One of the hardest aspects of being a reviewer is not giving in to your biases. Having said that, I think the world of soccer video games is firmly rooted in two camps; Coke versus Pepsi if you will, or rather FIFA versus Pro Evolution Soccer (PES). For years now, these two franchises have vied for the attention of the footballing public. For a long time, FIFA held the reigns simply because they could afford the licensing rights (and therefore real teams and player likenesses… it’s EA, after all), while pundits often cited PES for having superior controls and gameplay. Recently, PES has fallen behind the curve as FIFA has caught up in the gameplay department. With PES 2013, Konami isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel (or ball, in this case), but rather perfect that which made them special in the first place.
In all truth, PES 2013 doesn’t really feel that different from last year’s version, warts and all. On the plus side, control over player movement and the ball-at-your-feet skill aspect are still smoother than the competition. Some of the more advanced techniques really require a lot of practice to master (just like in real life). The tutorial mode should serve as an indication of the complexity of the control scheme… if you want to make use of it. The game knows this as you are prompted from the onset to practice the finer points. You can still get by perfectly fine without them, though, but if you do take the time to master the skills, it pays off. The Deft Touch Dribbling mechanic allows for even more control in tight spaces, as well as multiple ways to trap incoming balls. First touches are now more important than ever. Giving yourself that extra half yard of space for a shot feels as it should: difficult to master, but incredibly rewarding when you pull it off and bury one in the top corner. However, it truly does take a deft touch and impeccable timing to get it right. Be forewarned: there is a steep learning curve to get the most out of this game. I can’t think of any other sports game franchise that gives itself over so completely to the intricacies of the sport in question, and then actually pulls it off nearly as well as PES.
Of course, you can’t just dribble through the competition, especially in the modern game! You need to pass the ball, and more importantly play the ball into space. Holding down the left trigger brings up a handy arrow that you can use to guide passes. You can then play direct passes (both in the air and on the ground) or through balls. This is a great addition, and really feels natural and smooth. It’s sometimes difficult to do correctly in tight spaces, but as with the rest of the PES 2013 experience, practice makes perfect.
However, one of FIFA’s big changes this year was more dynamic AI that facilitated truly realistic runs. Despite the fact that playing through balls is easier in PES, your teammates aren’t always on the same page. You can control them by clicking the right analog stick, but honestly, it’s hard to pull off when you are trying to dribble around a defender at the same time. The other issue: the defensive AI seems content to let these passes go through, even on miscues when they should easily intercept the ball. You might consider upping the difficulty once you get used to the control scheme.
PES 2013, like its predecessors before, hangs it’s hat on being the best in the gameplay department. When the ball is at your feet, it’s still the best in the business. However, I feel like there are some aspects of gameplay that aren’t up to par. Shooting still seems over-powered, and aiming the shot doesn’t seem as accurate as it should either. A cross from the wing doesn’t seem to properly gauge the strength you put into it. Trying to cross to the far post seems to send rocketing balls to the near post more often than not, even with multiple targets in the box.
The biggest inclusion to the Football Life and Master League modes is the fact that you can essentially earn upgrades to outfit your players. These work in a traditional RPG upgrade sense, although it takes a while for it to actually make a difference. You might think the idea of “magic boots” that make you shoot better is a bit silly, but it gives you a tangible sense of reward when they are earned.
In Football Life, you can play as a player (picking your team, but starting at the bottom) or a manager (you start out in the lower division with a poor squad and have to work your way up). There are some nice cinematic touches that accompany both (even though they are largely the same). This mode is designed for the long haul: it’ll be several seasons before you really see a payout. Bringing your team, as it develops, online is the real treat here. It’s a fun way to bring the efforts and time you put in at home to a bigger stage and test yourself and your team against others who have done the same.
Other than that, the modes are fairly straightforward. Exhibitions and tournaments are the name of the game. One of the few big licenses that escaped EA’s clutches is the UEFA Champions league… arguably the biggest of them all! Being able to play through the storied tournament is a treat, but the luster wears off when you can’t figure out who you are actually playing.
As much as I hate to admit it, the lack of major licenses really does take me out of the experience somewhat. I know this doesn’t affect everyone equally, but it sticks in my throat like a fish bone. For me, the magic of sports games is immersion. I like being able to create my own avatar in-game and play for my team. Famous rivalries lack the depth and intensity of the real life drama that makes those games so special when you are looking at the right colors but the wrong names.
Like the rest of the experience, visually PES 2013 has moments where it looks amazing tempered by a lot of moments where it doesn’t. The player models for the big stars are arguably better than FIFA, but the scrubs look like just that. The lack of licensing shows when nameless players have clay faces, not to mention when stadiums begin to get recycled. It’s annoying and frustrating trying to figure out who is supposed to look like whom, because they obviously made an effort to match them up despite not-so-subtle name changes when they didn’t have the rights. The in-game animations don’t look nearly as smooth as the competition either. The player reactions and physics still look overly animated (with a beginning, middle, and end to each movement), which doesn’t lend well to fluidity. Speaking of which, watching national team players singing their national anthems is laughable; they look like fish out of water. There are texture issues here and there as well. While the sound work is decent and some of the chants are great, the commentary is stilted, bland, and rarely insightful.
In the end, I feel like the PES/FIFA battle is shaping up more like an early round FA Cup tie. A little team from a small town gets to go to the home of giants and play on the big stage. Occasionally something amazing happens, but most of the time they just get trounced. Everything that once held PES apart, FIFA now does (fairly) comparably in my opinion. As good as PES can be, and the moments of magic are arguably better than those on FIFA, it has fallen so far behind the competition in so many aspects that it’s difficult to make a serious comparison. I know I’ve come across as a FIFA fanboy here, and PES 2013 isn’t without its merits, but if you can only play one soccer game this year, I’d go with the former rather than the latter.
Reviewed By: Simon Waldron
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 provided by Konami.