The passes were errant; either underpowered, overpowered, or gifted straight to an opponent. The shots on goal were hopeless; trickling into the arms of the keeper at times, soaring into the stands closer to the corner flag at others. My first half hour of playing Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 was humbling, just as it’s been with every new PES game I’ve ever played. Each new iteration demands that you relearn the basics, but this one more so than any before it.
PES 2013 sees more changes to core gameplay than any game in the series I can remember, and that’s no coincidence. Series veteran Shingo “Seabass” Takatsuka has given way to Kei Masuda, who now heads the development team. Konami has even set up a London studio specifically for PES to stay attuned to the European game. Things are changing and the events of the first paragraph were a direct result of it.
The first big change is the amount of weight required behind passes and shots, which is a welcome change from last year’s over-sensitive power gauge. It’s now far easier to get the right amount of power behind a pass or shot on goal. Another area that’s received a complete overhaul is defending. Gone is last year’s overcommitted tackling that more often than not resulted in fouls being conceded. Defending is now three-layered. Hold down X on the PS3 controller, and your defender begins tracking the player in possession. Hold down L2 as well and he’ll start to apply pressure. Only when you double tap X will your player initiate a tackle. It sounds complicated, but works surprisingly well and if used correctly, is an effective way to neutralise even the most dominant attacks.
The renewed attention to defending is welcome, especially because PES 2013 also adds several new elements to attacking gameplay. The new PES FullControl system allows for better close control, but significantly, introduces an ingenious first touch system. Press R2/R3 just as the player is about to receive a pass, and depending on the player’s skill level, you can either trap the ball or perform an array of first-touch manoeuvres to get a leg up on your marker; maybe push the ball into open space and catch the defender flat footed, or even flick it over the head of your bewildered marker. It works well and while it would have seemed to tilt the game in the attacker’s favour, the new defending system brings in a fine balance.
PES has always prided itself on offering an option for complete manual control over passing, and now, even if you go with AI-assisted passing, you can choose manual passing whenever you like without having to go into the menus to activate it. L2 acts as a manual modifier and when pressed, brings up a small arrow ahead the player in possession, which you move to accurately direct your pass. The power here is also manual, so you’ll have to weigh your passes accordingly. It’s a great new tool for those who don’t like to play manual all the time, but would like the freedom to bring it into play occasionally. For example, after using assisted passing to ping the ball around and create a build-up, manual passing could be brought in to take advantage of any spaces in the opposition defence to thread through a perfectly directed pass that would have never been possible with AI assistance.
Taking manual even further is the inclusion of manual shooting. It works about the same as manual passing. Holding down L2 brings up the direction arrow, which you can then use to slot the ball home. An unnecessary complication here is that for manual shots along the ground, you have to press the Triangle button rather than the Square/shoot button. I hope Konami manages to find a way to keep it simple in the final release. I’d missed the viscous curling shots the PS2 games allowed you to unleash from the edge of the box, and it’s something the FIFA games have adopted of late, so I was thrilled to see the R2-powered ‘controlled’ shots finally return in PES 2013.
To combat all these various shooting options, Konami has paid a lot of attention to goalkeeping this year, and it shows. In fact, it was quite difficult to beat the keeper on Top Player difficulty even from one-on-one situations. And unlike last year, shots that aren’t held are either turned around the post, parried away from goal, or punched out of the box rather than presenting it to an opponent and conceding a soft goal.
The new defending, close control, first touch and goalkeeping systems are all accompanied by a whole range of new and convincing player animations, but elsewhere, PES 2013 has seen little change in the visual department, at least in the preview build I played. Perhaps the graphics team is hard at work with Seabass on next-year’s Fox engine-powered PS4 game? Since this was a preview build, the teams mostly featured last season’s player rosters, although some of the big teams (Manchester Utd) were fitted with their new jerseys, which was nice to see.
The preview build also came with the new Performance Training mode that puts you through your paces and brings you up to speed with all the gameplay nuances, especially the new defending, manual controls and dribble techniques. Some of the challenges aren’t very well explained, however, and it’s something Konami will need to address before launch.
PES’ strong suit has always been its gameplay, and that’s what PES 2013 is all about. There’s a steep learning curve, but on the other side of it rests a game that is designed to let you express yourself with a style of play that is yours. Even in this unfinished build, PES 2013 shows immense promise, with enough time for fine-tuning before the game’s release.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 is scheduled for release in September-October for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC, with the first of two gameplay demos available for download later today.
The game will be released in India via Origin Games alongside its European release. Indian pricing is yet to be announced.