There's no denying that Pro Evolution Soccer has lost the football gaming crown to FIFA this console generation in terms of sales, and even many ardent supporters of Konami's series admit it has fallen short of its rival in the quality stakes too. But an opponent can be most dangerous when they're at rock bottom, while a dominant force can become susceptible to complacency and being hit on the counter attack. Perhaps with that in mind, Konami is going all out with PES 2013 in a bid to steal back some glory from FIFA before the expected launch of next generation consoles next year.
A recent first showing of PES 2013 in Brazil left attendees excited by the game's potential to mount a comeback thanks to significant gameplay changes, a slower, more considered pace to matches and a number of risky control introductions that promise to offer unpredictable but potentially mouth-watering results. Konami presented its PES 2013 feature additions in the form of a number of key pillars, the most significant of which is dubbed Full Control.
This allows players to have a greater say on how matches play out in a number of ways. They can choose to activate completely manual shooting and passing, enabling them to determine the height and power of each. Of course, assisted shooting and passing are still an option for newer players, who'll be able to graduate to unassisted controls as they grow more confident.
Konami is still working out how best to implement full manual shooting, but using it in its current form lets players pull off some ridiculous, unpredictable strikes, with curl and brutal deflections contributing heavily - sometimes realism is achieved in capturing the unpredictability of real-world football.
PES 2013 also introduces subtle new ways to receive the ball and perform first touches, from trapping a well-hit pass with the R2 button, killing the speed of it and instantly bringing it under control, to using the momentum of a pass to turn a defender with a well-timed flick of the ball into space. Of course, if you're control is awry or badly timed, the ball will bounce or speed ahead of your player, making it simple for defenders to clean up and start a counter attack.
While wing-wizards and attacking specialists like Arjen Robben and Cristiano Ronaldo still have the ability to dazzle opponents with mazy dribbles, the general speed with which players move with the ball has been slowed in line with real matches. Attacking players now display improved close control and accuracy in confined spaces, with the ability to make tighter touches when under pressure, and perform little heel taps and ball rolls that not only feel great when teasing an opponent but also look fantastic thanks to a brand new roster of player animations.
Holding the line
Countering the wealth of new attacking options are more reactive defenders and improved goalkeepers. Defensive lines are more fluid, pushing further up the pitch when their team is under pressure in a bid to block off potential avenues of attack and take advantage of space, instead of simply camping in front of the goalkeeper as they did too often in last year's game.
Players can also slow attacks by holding down the tackle button to harry opponents, while a double-tap of the same button prompts the defender to dive in with a leg in an attempt to make a last ditch clearance. Time it well and it can be a life-saver, but judge it poorly and you're likely to give away a free-kick or be made to look silly when your opponent hops over your desperate lunge. Goalkeepers also look better and act more realistically this year while benefitting from greater control, such as more precise distribution afforded by the introduction of a power gauge when they throw the ball, helping create opportunities for quicker counter attacks.
Players now look and act more like their real-life counterparts too. Perfectly recreating Ronaldo's free-kick stance or Yaye Toure's leggy runs is a claim PES and FIFA games seem to make each year, but PES 2013 appears to be making more of an effort than previous versions. A presentation video clearly captured the running style and shooting posture of Ronaldo, as well as Neymar's teasing stepovers and even John Terry's attempted superman headed clearance from the England vs. Slovenia game at the 2010 World Cup.
Overall PES 2013's slower pace fits well with the introduction of manual passing and shooting controls, as well as the new focus on first touches, which combine to result in a more tactical game. The new additions can take a little getting used to, but with a little practice they can result in wonderful passing moves, blistering shots, last-gasp defensive heroics and plenty of realistic if unexpected outcomes. The virtual football season has yet to begin, but on this early evidence we're fairly confident it promises to produce a closer battle between PES and FIFA than it has over the last few years.