It's safe to say that the PES series has endured a bumpy road in recent times. After going through a tough transition to the current generation of consoles, whilst watching EA's FIFA series take its crown as the premier football game, Konami has had to reconsider its approach to the sport. After spending the past few years in FIFA's overwhelming shadow, is Konami ready to climb back up the table?
PES 2012 made some good strides in rediscovering the form of the series' good ol' days, and PES 2013 looks set to continue the trend with its 'back-to-basics' approach to the core gameplay. Konami's driving philosophy this year is player control and how players connect with the ball, as well as introducing some new AI tweaks to create a more realistic experience. Here's our rundown of some of the key changes coming in this year's Pro Evolution Soccer:
PES Full Control
PES' Full Control System takes player control to a whole new level. Players can now choose to have full authority over the direction and power of passes and shots. No longer will you have to sit and listen to friends complaining that the game is cheating them out of perfectly good scoring opportunities with dodgy shooting mechanics; this year it's all on you.
The first touch system has also received an update, with more options available to players as the ball arrives at their feet. You can now leave defenders for dead with a deft flick of the heel sending the ball over their heads, or a cute trap-and-turn can give you the perfect opportunity for an early shot at goal.
There is also the new Deft Touch Dribbling, which is pretty much the same as FIFA 13's Complete Dribble mechanic, and is therefore a very good thing. Allowing you greater control over a player's close control movement, Deft Touch Dribbling finally gives the Xavis and Iniestas of the world the chance to express themselves on the field with neat touches and close control to bedazzle opponents. You can now beat players with close control instead of PES' flashy tricks, which is good because the button inputs for tricks read like Ryu's movelist from Street Fighter IV.
Response Defending means you can decide when a defender makes a tackle. With a quick double press of the tackle button, players will now lunge in and attempt to win the ball. The problem is it's the same tackle every time, a desperate leap towards the player. What should be a carefully considered challenge is never worth the risk, especially when combined with the new total control system. In instances where players could simply step in and make an easy tackle, they invariably make a hopeless lunge and more often than not take the player's legs. You feel more likely to win the ball with a lucky block or deflection than by tackling - especially as slide tackling seems to result in players forgetting there's a ball to be won, and going straight for an attacker's kneecaps.
Konami are fully aware of the complexity of their control system, and that's why this year they've included an in-depth tutorial to teach you every trick in the game. From basic passing to sombrero flicks, these sessions will guide you from Non-League Newbie to World-Beating Galactico. As I said before, the controls still seem a little convoluted for what you are actually doing. The reason why FIFA has been so successful is that it buries deep complexity behind a simple control system, while PES at times can control more like a 2D brawler than a football game.
Still, improvements have been made to the Master League to prevent the chasm that was forming between high- and low-ranked players. Now, players will compete in rival matches between players of a similar rank. The mode has been designed with the aim of creating a more active community, with rivalries akin to those of real-world derby matches. Hopefully it creates more El Clasicos than Old Firm derbies.
Everyone wants to play as their favourite teams, and in every team there are one or two players that are more special than everyone else. PES 2013 looks to capture the key characteristics of some of the world's greatest to reflect their on-field actions in the game, replicating how players look, run, behave, and even celebrate. PES 2013's debut trailer showed off some of these features with the real-world Cristiano Ronaldo running in his trademark style across a training pitch, before smoothly transitioning to PES Ronaldo, who moved in the exact same fashion.
So now you will see Nani do exaggerated flips when he scores less than five goals next season, Ronaldo will take a shot when he should pass the ball, and Neymar will have a ridiculous haircut, just like the real thing.
You know those moments when you concede a goal and look at your defenders wondering what the hell they were doing? Konami is looking to fix that with the enhanced ProActive AI system. The defence will now react to situations more realistically, shifting across when the ball is switched from one side to the other, stepping up when the ball is played backwards, and create better opportunities for full-backs to overlap on counter-attacks.
For attacking play, your chaps will be swifter to take advantage of space left by defenders, giving you more options for passes. In practice, sometimes players can seem a little too eager to get ahead of the play. At this week's showcase there were many instances where attackers wandered needlessly offside at the cost of a goal-scoring opportunity, or worse, a goal. A lot of player runs were also in straight lines, which led to a lot of offside decisions. It gets incredibly frustrating when a decent attack is squandered because the AI doesn't pay attention to the defensive line, or simply stops running forward and comes towards the ball carrier. And PES is still evil enough to let you watch your team celebrate and gloat to your friends before showing the linesman with his flag raised, and that smug look on his face.
Clearly some things never change.