Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 attempts to close the gap on FIFA
Pro Evo has been on the losing side of the football simulation battle since the dawn of the HD era — a baffling, meek surrender considering its truly incredible pedigree. In console generations past, an annual instalment of Pro Evo was an essential purchase for football fans, despite the fact that Konami's game lacked then what it does now: licenses. Pro Evo has always been a football fan's football game; one whose core focus was on gameplay and tactical depth. This hasn't changed over the years. In fact, so little changed that everything became a little too predictable over a period of time. Adding to that was complacency from its creators, who chose to rest on their laurels and failed to innovate. Let's not forget that their closest and only competitor, EA, after the truly atrocious FIFA 06, got their act together and threw everything but the kitchen sink at their (at the time) superior nemesis. Pro Evo has since then been forced to play catch-up. This year's iteration heads in a different direction, delivering an entirely skill-driven experience rather than attempting to beat the competition at their own game — like what Chelsea did to Barcelona in last year's gripping Champion's League semi-final. No, it's not what you think. Nobody is parking the bus here.
Think of Pro Evo 2013 as the new Chelsea — fresh, exciting, skilful, energetic, clinical and full of potential. They're not champions of anything just yet, but the intentions are clear and there are points to proven. Let's delve a little into the much-hyped core features of which there are four (one more than FIFA — a good start). Player ID allows you to perform signature moves of international football stars. But as with anything in Pro Evo, nothing is easy. If you want your players to genuinely look like football exhibitionists on the pitch, you'll have to really know your way around your controller. Skill moves require insane timing and pressing of complex button combinations — even something like a driven shot or nutmeg/panna is pretty difficult to pull off. Then comes PES Full Control, akin to FIFA's system, but there's no doubt that Konami's version has more depth. For instance, there's skill involved in the whole process of receiving a pass — trapping and first touch to the follow-up (which can be anything from chipping the ball over a defender to lining yourself up for a volley). Pro Active AI is another much-touted feature of PES 2013, and this is evident from the second you begin an attacking move. Full-backs make realistic runs on the flanks but have no problem quickly tracking back on the counter, forwards are aggressively looking to move into attacking positions, but withdraw when play slows down to receive short passes, while your centre-halves are very organised and don't break their line unless absolutely necessary. The fourth feature, Goalkeeper AI supposedly makes custodians smarter and improves positioning, but it still seems they’ll let in a header from the edge of the box on occasion. Go figure. Overall, the game feels fresh and interesting. Mastering the skill moves and new mechanics will take time — as much time as it would for to you perfect the entire move-lists of a couple of characters from Street Fighter 4.
PES 2013 has a reasonably impressive feature set as well. Everyone's favourite Master League mode is back and it's as good as ever, while Konami have retained the licensing rights for the UEFA Champions League (but not for all competing teams and players, unfortunately) as well as South America's Copa Libertadores. But this battle is not one that Konami can win against the licensing behemoth that is EA. Manchester United fans will be happy to see their team is fully licensed, while La Liga and Serie A teams are all in there. There's some fun to be had playing online (after you sign up for a PES account, of course) as well, making PES 2013 the complete package. There's one massive, massive gripe I have with the game, however. There isn't an acceptable, functional camera angle to play the game in. Camera controls lack any level of customisation and none of the preset camera positions work effectively (given the complexity of the context-sensitive control system). That aside, PES 2013 is a fine effort from the folks who used to make the best football games on the planet at one time. The game is available on PC, PS3 and X360.