I was able to play an early version of PES 2013 last August, which gave me an impression of what to expect from the retail version. Gameplay-wise, that is. Did the game match my expectations? After three patches, two DLCs and quite a few hours with the game since its initial release, I’ll try to answer this question, amongst others. I will only give impressions on the offline modes as I haven’t played a single match online. But we’ve had enough of words, time for kick off!
Before you can actually start with a team, you have to select a mode – and there are aplenty: Exhibition match, UEFA Champions League, Copa Santander Libertadores, several cup tournaments, Master League, Become a Legend and a training mode. Wait, wasn’t there a league mode in recent years? Yes, there was, but it has been removed for reasons we do not know. When you fire up the game for the first time, you’ll see a popup window which asks if you want to play training mode first. You might want to get used to the alterations after all. This mode covers several aspects, for instance manual shooting, dynamic one-two or off-the-ball controls: first, you watch a video, then you’re allowed to practice what you’ve seen. Sadly, this mode only scratches the surface of the possibilities and hides away from tapping the full potential. Although it’s good for beginners, it needs a repaint – it’s expedient but that’s all – as well as much more depth.
After practicing a bit, I’m ready to go. Both the European and the South American champions league – formerly known as European Champions Clubs’ Cup and Copa Campeones de América – make full use of their licenses. As a result, the atmosphere of these events is easily captured or transmitted, respectively. Original balls, (nearly) all teams officially licensed, special kits, intro sequences and proper score boards: everything you’d see in a real match and know from the tournaments. When you play the Copa Libertadores, you’ll even hear drums and see Bengal lights. You really are proud of yourself if you can lift the trophy at the end of the tournament.
There are also a few other tournaments available, which can be renamed in edit mode. The centrepiece of PES, that has constantly been costing me hundreds of hours, sweat and tears for the last six years, is master league. Configuring the appearance of my manager, I’m thinking about my formation and how I’ll draft in Ruskin, Ettori, Gutierrez and others. I’ve already created my team in edit mode (name, kits, sounds, stadium). Well then, off we go to the formation screen! The intro of master league is the same as last year. But what’s that? Ordaz is called Minandinho, and is Minanda’s son? Nope, all the default players we locked in our hearts over the last few years, we dreamt about, we yelled at on the pitch, have been fired and replaced by newbies. Some of their names you can’t even pronounce properly! I cannot understand why Konami did this. At all. At the beginning, all the new default players (all players, actually) have default boots in black, which you can replace with various branded shoes (Nike or Adidas, for example). You’ll earn those shoes over the years in your master league. In theory, a feature that I really like. Unknown players with unknown shoes? Great idea. However, there’s a catch. On the one hand, the boots are pushing the stats of your players, some by 12 points or more. That is both exaggerated and totally unnecessary, to my mind, because the the real skills of players are distorted. On the other hand, it’s perfectly fine for my team of nobodies, but definitely not for the big teams like Real Madrid, for instance. However, Konami quickly heeded the call of the players and implemented the possibility to activate real boots for the teams, albeit the stat boosts remain. The bothersome cutscenes of complaining players are a thing of the past, but so are all the others. Only the regular reports of your secretary are still there. She tells you consistently that you can unlock new items to improve your team when playing online. That upsets me massively as it pulls me out of my own world in master league.
Once you’re on the pitch, though, you’ll find lots of fun. Challenging opponents, varying courses of the matches, improved goal keepers and new animation. Winning the second league and getting promoted was hard work and feels just great. Winning against bigger teams is extremely satisfying, losing against lower teams is frustrating beyond belief, and my own incapability to score is incredibly shattering (five hits against the bar and four world class saves by the keeper in one single game). In a nutshell: simply amazing. It’s an emotional roller coaster, and won cups/league titles feel well earned. Become a legend is, just like master league, very similar compared to last year. A new addition to both modes is the possibility to start in South America, trying to win a league there and to be crowned Champion of South America (Copa Santander). There aren’t as many leagues as you’ll find in Europe, but it’s cool to see that Konami implemented their newly acquired licenses into the various modes. Especially for all the fans who live in South American countries, this is a reward for their years of loyalty. That is something Konami can build upon, and maybe we’ll see Asian leagues in PES 2014?
I won’t detail the gameplay as I’ve already written an extensive report about my trip to Manchester. There were a few things I liked better in preview code, but overall the quality of the gameplay has been transferred into retail code. In my prospect last year, I pointed out that PES2013 will only be an improvement of its predecessor because the focus (and hence the majority of developers) was already targeted at PES 2014. The improvements are important and pleasant, even though some changes are questionable indeed. Konami showed with patches and DLCs that the voice of the fans is important and listened to: further improvements of the goalkeepers, the possibility to turn off auto-save, regular boots in ML/BaL. In addition, Konami continued to give us a whole bunch of new boots and some new goal celebrations for free, like they already did in previous years.
Everyone, who liked PES 2012, will be very happy with PES 2013. To my mind, it’s the best PES of the current console generation. Alone or against friends on your couch: it’s a lot of fun, you’ll cry for joy or for grief on a regular basis, and after every match you’ll agree: “just one last match, ok?”