First Impressions: Pro Evolution Soccer 2013
For years, the Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) series was the forerunner of the soccer genre, with a blend of realistic soccer and some addictive gameplay modes. The FIFA series, meanwhile, attracted gamers with a wide variety of licensed players and teams, even if the soccer itself could be seen as subpar compared to PES. However, with the advent of the most recent console generation, EA Sports upped its game, and in the past few years, FIFA has been seen as the undisputed king of soccer, with a drastically improved match engine, and outstanding critical and commercial success due to such. PES has been playing catch-up, and even though it maintains a solid core of fans, the series is certainly seen each year as playing second fiddle to EA Sport’s juggernaut.
The upcoming iteration of the PES series, Pro Evolution Soccer 2013, will be released on September 15 and has recently had a demo released for Xbox 360 and PC. I sat down with it to see if it takes any significant strides forward in an attempt to catch FIFA. While soccer games traditionally don’t receive as much of an overhaul as regular sequels between each entry, they do gain gradual tweaks to the gameplay in an attempt to fine tune the experience. This year, PES is pushing its ‘Player ID’ and ‘Full Control’ additions, which certainly make some difference to the way the game is played, but perhaps not in the revolutionary manner that some players hope for.
The demo allows players to experience the game as eight different teams: four international (England, Portugal, Italy and Germany) and four from the Copa Santander Libertadores, South America’s version of Europe’s Champion’s League competition. Strangely, though, despite the competition including the whole of South America, the four teams on offer (Santos FC, Fluminense, Internacional and Flamengo) are all based in Brazil. Still, the opportunity to play as soccer heavyweights such as Neymar, Ronaldinho and Deco isn`t something to turn your nose up at.
The presentation of PES is certainly impressive, although the menu screens suffer from an annoying blend of background music, which seems to consist mainly of trip-hop. After a while, you’ll most likely have a headache, but if recent PES entries are followed, there will be an option to replace the default music with a playlist of your own. I would heavily recommend this, if not for the sake of your sanity, then for the sake of those in the room with you. Once you get into playing matches though, the visuals for some of the players are close to a standard that will take your breath away. Players such as John Terry and Ronaldinho look particularly impressive, and you’ll surely recognise the running style and pre-free kick stance of Cristiano Ronaldo if you watched any of this summer’s Euro 2012 competition.
One of the main weaknesses with the Pro Evo series has often been the commentary, which is usually significantly weaker and sounds more forced than FIFA’s offering, which aims for (and sounds like) what you’d hear watching soccer on TV. The demo doesn’t actually include any commentary, so I was unable to judge if this year’s efforts were an improvement, although I wouldn’t hold out too much hope that it would be. The other trump card that FIFA often holds over PES is that FIFA is almost fully licensed in terms of players and teams, whilst PES is typically more intermittent in what is and isn’t licensed. This holds true in the demo, with most of the teams, players and kits up to date, but the stadia, despite looking like their real-world counterparts, suffer from made-up names.
Most players will be interested in how the game actually plays, rather than what the players look like, and this year’s entry has a few changes from PES 2012. AI-controlled players on your team run into space and call for the ball, which makes attacking plays easier to manage, and on the defending side, the collision engine has received a touch-up, making for more-realistic looking tackles. Unfortunately, the refereeing system seems to be just as inconsistent as previous titles, with bone-crunching tackles receiving nothing more than anguished cries from the attacking team, and slight nudges causing the referee to produce a yellow card. Even some blatant penalties are waved away by the referee, which will definitely cause frustration, particularly in tight games.
There are also a number of skill moves which have been implemented with dribbling to make pulling off flair on the move much easier, and these moves are controlled with the right stick. Players knock the ball from one foot to the other before sprinting past a defender, and others drag the ball under their feet or do a quick spin in an attempt to make the defender look stupid. There doesn’t seem to be quite the range of tricks that are offered in FIFA, but if I’m honest, most of those aren’t of any particular value once you enter a game situation anyway. What’s offered in PES gives you an extra couple of tricks in your repertoire to attempt to fool defenders, and allows tricky wingers or skilled attackers a better chance of creating a scoring opportunity.
Whilst the changes do make for a different feel to the game of soccer, for the most part PES isn’t much different from the last entry in the series, and for that reason, I imagine FIFA will once again walk away with the soccer crown this year. Passing and shooting is still too reliant on split-second timing, unless you’re playing with the best players in the world, and the lack of complete licensing will, as ever, drive people towards the FIFA series. Those who have pledged to stick by PES through thick and thin will still have an enjoyable time with the game, but on current evidence, it just doesn’t do enough to readjust the balance that weighs so heavily in FIFA’s favour.
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