Review: Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 (PS3)

Title: Pro Evolution Soccer 2013
Format: Blu-ray Disc
Release Date: September 25, 2012
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Konami
Price: $59.99
ESRB Rating: E
Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 is also available on PlayStation 2, Xbox 360, PC, PSP, Wii and Nintendo 3DS.
The PlayStation 3 version was used for this review.

Gameplay:
In terms of game modes, this is almost identical to PES 2012. You can’t help but get the feeling the development team have become complacent when it comes to Master League (which has always far outshone FIFA’s Manager Mode) and now it’s becoming quite stagnant, urgently requiring a revamp. Thankfully though, the actual on-pitch gameplay has been refined immensely. The controls, the AI, the pacing, the difficulty and much more, have all been upgraded to create a superb experience.

PES now has an incredibly deep control system that, unlike many other sports titles, works well in practice and not just in theory. A new ‘Full Control’ mechanic has been implemented and it works rather like FIFA Street, in that it allows you to control the minutest movements of both player and ball, by using the L2 and R2 modifiers. It can be difficult to master, especially when in a fast-paced match, but is satisfying and useful after you’ve put the time into learning it.

The difficulty levels are nigh on perfect, with a gradual but noticeable step up between each one. PES is nowhere near as accessible as its great rival, but overall it makes for a better game for the hardcore. AI has seen a big improvement over the last few seasons and that trend has continued this time. Not only are your opponents smarter, but there is now less frustration than ever with teammates. They actually move realistically, into decent positions both offensively and defensively.

However, if you still find your attacks breaking down, you can control other players runs’ using the right stick. When combined with the ‘Full Control’ system, it makes for some ultra-realistic and insanely fun passages of play. You could hold up the ball, drawing in a couple of defenders; then send a teammate on a run into the gaping hole in the backline you just created, before threading through an inch-perfect ball using manual passing. All that’s left to do is delightfully lob it over the keeper into the back of the net – or, perhaps more likely, blast it into row z.

Pro Evo gets so many little things like that just right, to make it feel both enjoyable and challenging. It’s a game that relies on skill – not luck, or help from the computer, which is what makes it so satisfying. Mazy dribbles require finesse to slalom between the opposition players; there’s no reliance on high power and pace stats. Referees are pretty strict, so the old adage of good tackling being an art form certainly rings true in this game.

There are a few niggles that remain – such as the goalkeepers, which are as butter-fingered as ever. Also players seem to be tree trunks that are rooted deep into the ground whenever a ball is in the air looping over them, which is strange. Overall though, PES 2013 is an excellent on-field recreation of the beautiful game – best summed up by the footballing injustices that can occur.  You can be dominated for 90 minutes, then grab a scrappy goal on a breakaway deep into added time, to grab a victory in the most rope-a-dope way possible. It’s exhilarating when you win. It’s heart-breaking when you lose. Either way, it’s football.

Visuals:
When the 3DS first launched, I thought that PES 2011 was actually one of the best examples of 3D gaming to date. Rather than just being an extra gimmick, the functionality provided an advantage when playing – you could tell exactly where the ball was in relation to the players. It looked completely natural, wasn’t straining on the eyes, and seemed to be paving the way for how 3D could help sports games.

Fast forward 18 months, and Konami finally see fit to include stereoscopic functionality on the PS3 version of Pro Evo. Unfortunately, the implementation of it is, frankly, appalling. Mere seconds after switching it on, I found it physically painful to endure. Changing the settings does nothing, as even on the lowest strength, the ghosting and double-images are prevalent. They even included a special 3D camera angle, which somehow makes the game look like a stuttering, jolty mess. Safe to say, this is a ‘feature’ purely present to tick another box and should be avoided like the plague.

On a brighter note, the general graphics of PES 2013 are pretty impressive. FIFA has always been shinier and more polished, whilst Konami opt for a slightly grittier, dull approach. In some ways you could say it has greater realism to it. Player likenesses and animations look better than ever, but celebrations still look weird – the strange motion-blur is still there, accompanied by huge open mouths that greater resemble a fish than a human.

Presentation is still a low-point of the game though; away from the pitch, PES’ low production values are clearly evident. Konami continue to work on the ‘important’ matters of the game – the actual football – which is obviously commendable. But they’re at a stage now when they should just spend 6 months working on nothing but the design, because the bland front-end is in dire need of a mammoth overhaul. In all honesty, PES is crying out for that little bit of ‘pizzazz’ that their rival does not hesitate to apply by the bucket load.

Yet again, PES lacks the Premier League license, amongst a plethora of other leagues EA owns the keys to. Konami still have the UEFA competitions and South America’s Copa Libertadores tied up however, so that provides a welcome boost. The presentation of these competitions has been executed brilliantly; that Champions League music will have you tingling ahead of a stellar European night. Unlicensed clubs still have hilariously bad names that border on parody; but thanks to the (as ever) in-depth Edit Mode and the resources freely available from the online community, kitting your team out is not an issue.

Audio:
Commentary should be of significant importance to the developer of a sports series, seen as though this is what players will have forced into their ears for 80% of the time spent with the game. Pro Evo has always had abysmal commentary though, and this year is no different. Music in the game is as bad as ever too, so the audio in general is a complete disaster. To say that’s not the least bit surprising is the most damning thought of all. Players have just come to accept it and the sad thing is Konami have too, completely neglecting the audio aspects of the game.

Online/Multiplayer:
Like always, the online portion of PES is basic, with nothing to match the vast array of modes offered by FIFA. It plays well enough, doing the job well with very rare occurrences of lag. Offline 2-player is still the best way to play, but Konami must make the online modes more of a hook. Something to compete with the likes of Ultimate Team and EA Football Club should be top of the priority list.

Conclusion:
For the first time in a long while, the Pro Evo hardcore finally have a legitimate case in arguing their game is the better of the two annual soccer releases. Whether it definitively is or not is somewhat irrelevant – the fact Konami have recovered from the sloppy start to this generation, to be in a position where this battle is once again meaningful, will feel like victory in itself.

PES 2013 certainly feels like a culmination of three years worth of hard work from the development team – who have transformed the series into something that can neither be classed as ‘arcade’ or ‘sim’, but strikes a fine balance between the two. However, whilst the team have laudably focused only on the key aspects of the gameplay, the need for a superficial upgrade at this point cannot be stressed enough.

Key differences between the two games (and their respective fans) still remain; if generalising, you could say FIFA is for the casual football gamers while PES is more for the connoisseurs. Konami’s series is an acquired taste these days, there’s no doubt about it, but it’s incredibly rewarding for those who stick with it.

Score:
9.0

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Written by Raj Mahil

Raj Mahil

Journalism & Marketing student in London. Huge gaming fan and collector, with a slight fanboy bias towards PS. Life revolves around football/soccer (The Arsenal), but also love most other sport, especially the NBA and NHL.

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