The Pro Evolution Soccer series has taken a bit of a hammering in recent years, mainly due to the fact that EA Canada has seriously pulled their socks up on the FIFA series. Last year saw PES taking a giant step towards a style of play more similar to FIFA and while it was a better game it lost much of the appeal that the PES series had to begin with and it still fell short of the experience that FIFA 12 was offering.
This year Konami has gone for refining the authenticity of the footballing experience (like EA is doing with FIFA 13) offering the opportunity to apply much more finesse and control over the ball in both attack and defence. Much of what they have done has improved the game over last year but sadly PES 2013 still feels like a shadow of the dizzying highs of PES 6.
In order to get to grips with all the improvements in the control system Konami has put together a series of tutorials aimed to give players a taste of what PES 2013 has to offer. Each tutorial focuses on a different aspect of the new gameplay helping you get to grips with the new skills they have laid at your feet.
What the tutorials serve to demonstrate is the impressive breadth and depth of skills that Konami have managed to implement in PES 2013 allowing you to leave leave even the finest defender in the world standing still with deft footwork. The new PES FullControl system equips you with all the tools you'll need to play some of the most exciting and dynamic football ever seen on a console.
Or at least that's the idea. There's a lot to get to grips with here and having so many new options can be overwhelming. There's a variety of degrees to which Konami has succeeded in what they have set out to do with the PES FullControl system leaving it feel a bit like a patchwork of different ideas rather than one glorious unified system.
Dynamic First Touch works fairly well for instance. Correctly timed use of the R2 trigger as a player receives a pass or a cross makes them cushion or trap the ball more effectively opening up the possibility for more deft touches to pass a defender or even tee up an impressive volley on goal. The Response Defending too is a bit of a triumph making it much easier to track the player with the ball. Simply holding down X will allow you to track the attackers run and adjust your positioning using the left thumbstick. A correctly timed double-tap on X will engage a clean tackle, winning the ball and putting you on the offensive again. It certainly works much better than jamming on the O key to dive into a potentially reckless sliding tackle.
Well-implemented features like these are somewhat cancelled out by some optimistic but overly complicated features. Full Manual One-Two is one feature that is guilty of over-complication. It requires a X and L1 to pass followed by a perfectly timed press of the triangle button to play the returning through-ball. This can end quite badly as the direction of the pass is always influenced by the direction of the left thumbstick. Where it begins to get really complicated is when you try and control both players at once. While executing the one-two play you can control the player receiving the through-ball using the right thumbstick in between playing the first pass and the through-ball of course. Using the right thumbstick you can direct where the player will run, clicking R3 it will trigger a forward run and holding R3 will allow you to control the player off the ball while you control the player on the ball with the left thumbstick. This becomes exceedingly complicated, especially when you consider just how quickly you need to react in order to play a one-two and makes it a very dangerous gamble to try the manual one-two.
The new more responsive dribbling can prove quite frustrating too. Feints and nutmegs are the main areas of weakness. These are very useful moves if you can master them but they require very precise timing and for most gamers they'll probably prove far too frustrating to use regularly.
With all the control updates PES 2013 wouldn't work properly if they hadn't updated the player AI to match and thankfully the new ProActive AI is one of the game's high points. Players all move as you would want them to and for the first time you'll see AI players making attacking runs off the ball. Konami has also gone to great lengths to try and ensure that all the big names like cover-boy Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi play like their real-life counterparts. This makes some of the effort required to master the PES FullControl system almost worthwhile.
I say 'almost' because the ProActive AI actually makes it much easier and more fun to play the game in a more simple and arcade style. Because the players off the ball behave more like you actually expect them to it makes it much easier to control the game without the need for using all the fancy tricks and precision features almost making the work Konami has put in to enable things like the manual one-two system a bit redundant.
PES 2013 feels like very much like a game of two halves. In one half it has a great new AI system which makes play feel much more fluid and organic making you feel like you're actually experiencing a real game of football. In the other it is bogged down and overwhelmed by over-complication disrupting the flow of the beautiful game by demanding a precision that may be beyond the average gamer.
In many ways PES 2013 is a vast improvement on previous entries in the series. The new ProActive AI system proves that Konami's football sim can still compete with the juggernaut that is EA's FIFA. However in racing to catch up with FIFA they have forgotten much of what made PES special in the first place. In trying to play FIFA at its own game PES has left itself wide open at the back. PES 2013 is a step in the right direction but if the series is to ever realistically challenge FIFA again it needs to get back to playing its own brand of football instead of trying to copy the competition.