In the battle between dueling sports franchises, soccer games have been rather one-sided throughout this console generation. Pro Evolution Soccer, once the dominant sim of the PlayStation 2 era, faltered with some huge missteps, while EA's FIFA franchise has nearly widened the gap into a chasm with a continuous stream of innovative features. Konami has taken some big steps to right the ship with Pro Evolution Soccer 2013. There's rust around the vessel, but at the core of its gameplay, Konami is finally steering it in the right direction.
Watch this trailer for Pro Evolution Soccer 2013
PES 2013 introduces a variety of new tweaks to gameplay that change the on-the-pitch experience for the better. For starters, the default game is slower than in years past, which gives it a stronger sim feel and opens the door for much more ponderous, tactical play. And yet, there are flourishes that still keep a certain playful, arcade-like approach, such as the new volley system, which now lets you pop the ball into the air with a simple click of the right stick. It strikes a great balance between serious, tactical gameplay and arcade-like whimsy.
Some additions, such as a newly revamped contain-and-trap defensive system, bring a more fun and tactical approach to gameplay. Unlike FIFA's man-marking, PES 2013's involves more precarious timing, so you'll need to learn and absorb its nuances even more. But it's very rewarding once you've acclimated.
Another helpful addition is PES Full Control, which gives you a greater degree of range and control over exactly where you want to distribute the ball with a button tap. The new feature pops up an arrow next to your player that previews where his next pass will go. It works well with the newly refined teammate AI, which is much smarter about knowing where to go and how to get itself into the right spaces to snatch the ball. For on the pitch action, it’s much more satisfying compared to the shortcomings of its recent predecessor.
All of these elements improve the fun factor on the pitch for PES 2013. If you've got friends on the couch, or a dedicated crew for online matches, it's incredibly entertaining. Unfortunately, other elements of the game are less so. For the number of tangible improvements that Konami's team has implemented, its presentation undermines them. Case in point: The tutorial mode that breaks down each new move and tactic is awful. It gives poor indicators when you've made a mistake--a "too early" or "too late" would go much further than simply saying "bad" and restarting you. PES has always been a series with a steep learning curve, but the initial introduction is unnecessarily complicated and fussy.
One issue that continues to plague the series is staleness, and what's on offer throughout the majority of the package is stagnant. Since acquiring the UEFA Champions League and Copa Libertadores licenses some years ago, the tournaments have remained static. Football Life, introduced last year, fuses Become a Legend mode and Master League. Its changes aren't particularly dramatic compared to its predecessors. To that degree, problems with Become a Legend, like being forced to watch AI play itself after your player has been subbed off, still remain after several years of annoyance. And that's all aside from the lack of licensing for certain leagues that PES fans have begrudgingly come to accept (or spend hours editing players).
The biggest changes to online play come with refinements to a courtesy system. If your disconnect rating is low and you consistently rate other players with "Fair Play" awards, the servers account for it. PES 2013 uses a tiered system that separates frequent plug-pullers from other players, and based on the number of disconnects and Fair Play ratings, your matchmaking is affected. So if you play often, don't disconnect, and award fellow players, you have a higher chance of getting matches and participating in online competitions. It's a great step up from the clunky setup of past games.
Here's another trailer from Pro Evolution Soccer 2013
Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 is a game of highs and middling moments. Its core gameplay is vastly improved compared to past games, and while it's initially less impressive--the clunky tutorial doesn't help--hands-on time really brings out the best of it. It's a tougher recommendation if you're not into online play, since the other elements of the game are in sore need of a refresher. That aside, it's undoubtedly the most fun PES to play against friends in some time, and that's the reason you'll want to play it.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 3.