To focus solely on gameplay is a bold move. Whether it was through design and intention, or perhaps a situation realized through a change of team leader and the prospect of a new engine next year. A decision had to be made, and the PES team decided to do their talking on the pitch. Nothing screams confidence in your product than a very early demo, and tomorrow you’ll all be able to decide if Konami made the right choice.
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For me, there’s no other way of coming to any sort of conclusion without getting your hands on the controller and getting to grips with the vast array of gameplay changes, all of which eliminate any issues you might have had with PES 2012. The freedom of play, the realistic positional play of players for and against, the meaty and satisfying shooting, along with reactive and believable keepers quickly diminish any ill feeling from last year. The feeling of change is instant, even if the visuals aren’t.
It’s been well publicized that PES 2013 is using the skin of last year, and at first is gives a very unsatisfying visual appeal. The contrast change in daytime settings is welcome, if not huge or initially noticeable from memory. There are a lot of unsung animation changes, which while subtle add to a smoother experience. Passing and shooting animations are more varied, as are the way players move after each exchange. When passing during a move players will dart off realistically, or move from one action to the other fluidly.
Keepers also receive a very pleasant and surprising upgrade, seemingly void of irregular movements. One handed, full stretch saves are in, doing away with arms that are stuck to the side of the body. A huge variety is shown off well by the better keepers in the game, with the likes of Buffon shining brightest. Same can be said over the ability to throw the ball out, with logic applied to underarm throwing to close players, to overarm throws to players further up the pitch. It’s expected that they look realistic, but it’s nice to say they do.
Alongside them shooting has seen a huge upgrade, and provided me with an impressive amount of satisfaction. The ball literally booms off your striker foot towards goal, creating some memorable moments. Get the ball to someone like Ibrahimovic from far out with space, and taking a shot will be hugely beneficial. As is the R2 curl shot, which finally get it’s own animation and huge curl. Akin to the PES6 days and more recent FIFA days, it’s been a long time coming! The manual shooting, which comes with a preset option to have it there without needing to press a button, continues to shine also. The power isn’t as prominent now that normal shooting has been given an upgrade, but that extra say in the direction is key especially in one on one situations. And those opportunities to shoot become key in deciding a game, as the collective pressing and positional awareness of your opponents is a sight to behold.
It’s a footballing cliché to say you need to pass back to move forward, but it’s the best way to describe PES 2013. You’ll instantly notice the higher defensive lines, but also the way players are coy to engage, happier to block out obvious passing opportunities. This creates limited options, and forces you to try and attempt audacious, difficult passes, or pass back to an unmarked defender to pull players away. This is needed to create space for the like of Pedro or Hazard on the wing, as beating defenders isn’t easy. Holding possession with players like Iniesta and Modric is easy enough, but making that space against defenders who are happier to contain and restrict is another thing. So even the likes of Neymar will need to be fed the ball once you have created space around them, as attacking one defender is easier than having to negotiate more than one.
Previous habits need to die fast, simply blind passing forward will usually mean the ball is cut out, as is simply passing to your star player expecting something miraculous to happen. It won’t, this is real football. Or Konami’s attempt to create it.
The new R2 dribbling helps matters immensely, and the sooner you become accustomed to using it, the better you will fair in the game. Not only is it the first touch button, which requires expert timing, but the small touches back and forth coax defenders into making a challenge and giving you a chance to dance past them and cause mayhem. And that’s the whole point of this close attention they give you, there’s no more bunching in PES 2013. It means, if you beat a man, space is opened up to you and gives you a massive advantage in making a goal scoring opportunity.
The R2 dribbling also opens up to the new nutmeg and run around moves, which are done in a similar way to the speed burst. Pressing R1 while in this state creates a burst of speed that can take out a player if timed correctly.
As mentioned, however, beating a player has increased difficulty and that’s mainly down to the new defending mechanics. Still strong from previous code, and allows users who build their team on astute defending to finally dominate in a PES game again. Dribbling has been toned down, so dramatic turns cause a moment of opportunity to step in. Dribbling with the likes of Gomez isn’t a good idea, you want to be whipping in crosses for him, so utilizing players with different skillsets is another welcome return.
Defenders like Thiago Silva portray a great level of tackling and heading, but also ball control, giving them the edge in a variety of circumstances. The same can be said of Dani Alves, who crosses the ball with devilish whip, allowing any striker with good heading abilities to prosper. The crossing in general has been reworked, taking into account many variables like favored foot and body position. They come with their own animation too, which again is pleasing to the eye.
Alongside the general defensive play, you’ll notice when playing the AI on a variety of levels that possession isn’t as one sided as before. I’m reluctant to say it’s down to the opposition being more patient, more down to the fact that play becomes throttled. The higher defensive lines from both teams initially create a battle to stamp authority on the game, and with play congested there’s a natural consistency in winning/giving the ball away. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not congested through grouping, more space pressing that causes the player to make instant decisions to keep the ball or try a difficult pass. Again, extremely realistic. The higher you go up in difficulty, the tougher it is to break the seemingly easier teams down, although they remain an impotent attacking threat if you’re smart.
This leads me onto a potential key element in PES 2013, and perhaps one element that could redefine the genre – dynamic one-twos. By pressing L1 + pass, you can then make the player who has just passed the ball move in any direction with a flick of the right stick. Doing so right now creates infinite possibilities in directing your attack, and allows you to change the run of the passer from simply moving forward. I say it’s potentially a gamechanger, because I feel it’s not been fleshed out as much as it could have been so far. While the movements are instant, it would be nice to have a variety of runs accesible through Player ID, and player traits. Someone like De Rossi for example might not want go get behind the defence with a one-two, and would rather dart along the field to create a shooting opportunity from far out. It’s impressive, but could potentially be a true selling point in the future.
The same can be said for Player ID. It’s been well documented, and still impresses. However, it currently equates to realistic movements over individual brilliance. As expected, players like Bale and Lennon move like their counter parts, but it’s not exclusive to just those people. Movements like the Iniesta side step or the Terry missile dive are seen being done by all the players, which I would rather not see. Player ID will no doubt be something that defines PES in the future, but I’m hoping to see more player exclusive mechanics. Such as Ronaldo, who is animated wonderfully. Every part of his repertoire is realised in PES 2013, and this attention to detail in all players is what will make it another gamechanger.
While the game continues to improve from previous code, however, there are some annoyances that have crept in. It’s something I would like you all to feedback on from the demo, but currently the long passes have become assisted once again. Passing out to the wing on any assistant are once again homed in, and fail to have error on power. Blind high passing to someone on the wing is again beneficial, and requires little skill. Same can be said of zero bar passing, which isn’t fully manual. Again, it takes into account power more, which isn’t what’s been asked. I’ve settled on 2 bars, as it really does take into account stats while feeling very free. The likes of Xavi pass with incredible speed and precision, and can dissect a packed midfield at will.
Shot faking a keeper is something I feel is too powerful, as the keeper will go to ground easily, allowing a tap in. They need to be aware to the situation, and get grounded more difficultly. My final annoyance comes from free kicks – they still are far too accurate from the AI, and any foul given close to the area usually means a goal.
Aside from the above, the game does continue to impress, and while I’m not so sure about the graphical direction, or lack of, in PES 2013, the game as it is now is a true spectacle for football fans. With the demo tomorrow, you’ll all be able to judge for yourself!
Stay tuned later for a podcast which delves that little bit further!