Konami’s finest efforts out on the pitch comes at a cost.
If one were to be charitable, it could be said that PES in this generation of hardware has proven to be a consistently divisive experience, with every new release feeling like a complete re-write of the previous and results often proving to be greeted with mixed reaction from a passionate community. This year with PES2013, Konami have for the first time since the PS2 days offered up a title that feels like a true evolution from the game that preceded it – last year’s PES2012. So how does this latest offering perform out on the digital turf? Do this seasons new signings offer up the required improvements needed in key areas to ensure that PES2013 remains a contender? As always, it is a little complicated… sometimes more than it needs to be.
If PES2011 was Konami improving its tactical game and PES2012 injecting some pace to proceedings, then PES2013 has seen Konami add some much needed technique and finesse. As with all things PES however, the discovery of this new weapon – along with relearning that which might be familiar – in the players arsenal and what it demands of the user can take tens of hours to achieve some semblance of understanding and even then much can still remain unanswered. Once it all (slowly!) begins to click though, PES2013 offers up a remarkably creative and expressive brand of digital football and it is one button that is the nucleus of it all.
A Touch Of Class
It might actually be impossible to underestimate how important R2/RT is to this year’s game. To start with it is key to players first touch, enabling the ability to buy a vital yard of space when the button press is timed to perfection. While previous games in the series along with its direct rival, FIFA, have always at least nodded to the importance of a good first touch, in PES2013 Konami have really made it a key mechanic and one which truly does make the difference between the good and the merely able human player, never mind the great and the good.
No longer can you spray the ball around with reckless abandon, knowing that an on screen players first touch is largely automated with a minimum level of user influence, thus allowing for stress free and somewhat unrealistic highly accurate one-touch/two-touch play regardless of team and players. Now the right to play a slick brand of football has to be earned and its foundation is through hours of practice in this one discipline before mastering the expansive passing game on offer. It proves a genuinely innovative addition not only to PES but the genre as a whole. What’s pleasing to the eye is that this is bolstered by contextual animations, with Player ID adding yet another layer as to how quickly or explosively that first touch can be. Sure, the engine may well be creaking and showing its age but it kudos to the developers for eeking out some variety – even if not exactly massive – in what proves to be a key component of gameplay. Word of warning : the Training Challenge scenario that looks to educate you on the first touch control is utterly useless. Just the one scenario to pass and you will come away none the wiser – learn by doing is once again the best advice.
Treat It Like Your Lover
The mastery in application of R2/RT doesn’t end with first touch though. Once you have the ball under control it is key to maintain possession and probe for openings in which to exploit, and it is here where the new deft-touch dribbling control comes into its own. Be it holding down R2/RT and have your player gently caress the ball forwards, drag it back teasingly whilst facing goal, or feathering the button lightly so as to leap over challenges or to perform subtle, more controlled changes in direction before exploding into a sprint in order to wrong foot your opponent, deft-touch dribble control is core to crafting effective, incisive attacking play. Again, it is something that requires patience and practice to appreciate all that is possible but the game will reward you for your efforts, even if it initially feels somewhat ineffectual and merely aesthetic.
It’s not perfect, however. It is this players opinion that the developers could have made the transition into and out of the deft touch moves a little more snappier and responsive with more ‘range’ in movement, especially with higher skilled players; It can feel a little too sluggish, unforgiving regards timing on higher skill levels, and perhaps lacks variety in animation/transitions. It should also be noted that Konami still seem to struggle with player animations when moving laterally with the ball – still looks awkward and impacts on response. These things need to be weeded out if one were to look ahead to a FOX Engine powered PES for a moment. The new knock around, nutmeg, shot-feint first touch and double-touch moves look pretty sweet though and add a layer of ‘cheeky skill’ that will always please the eye, as well as humiliate a human opponent in multiplayer! All other skill moves are pretty much as you were, in that they need skill to perform them. Linking feints still remains an option and for the first time this player has actually looked to utilise them, albeit manually mapping one move to each prompt.
Tiki-Taka At Your Fingertips
As briefly mentioned earlier, the passing game has seen some welcome improvements; there is a nice zip and weight to be found resulting in a far better balanced match tempo, zero bar assistance feels satisfyingly ‘more manual’ without negating the need for the manual modifier (now with an on screen arrow for help in placement) , and generally there is a greater feeling of scope and expression to be had when building play. The introduction of flatter lofted balls, along with a more pronounced higher arc variant (R2 again) offer more in the way of improvement than one would first think, as when executed by the games better passers of the ball like a Xavi or Pirlo, they are a real threat and look marvellous when they come off. The high arc pass has uses in the short passing game as well, with you now able to perform cheeky short dinked passes in tight spaces.
Making its debut in PES2013 is the dynamic 1-2 aka tiki-taka on demand. This somewhat fiddly sounding way of generating more movement and opening up the passing game that little further has the potential to be a real game changer over time. A simple flick of the right stick in any direction after playing the first pass in a one-two sees the passer make a run in the direction chosen. From here you can either look to play the ball straight back to them (tricky!) or simply use it as a way to have the player make a decoy run. As stated, it does sound tricky and can take some time to get to grips with but one suspects that over the games lifespan, the more committed player will be crafting moves and goals that would simply not be possible in any other footy game released.
It’s all about the goals, and thankfully shooting has been subject to some pretty drastic improvements. Placement is no longer the issue it was in PES2012 and that is without factoring in the introduction of what PES fans the world over have been demanding for years – manual shooting.
Much like manual passing, the user has the option to turn on/off a placement assistance arrow but it is strongly recommended to leave this on during those first few days or even weeks of play. Additionally, users can now toggle on/off from the settings menu if they would like manual shooting to be locked on, removing assisted shooting entirely. Only sadists need apply here, but it is good to see that those of such persuasion have the option. All the shot variants in the game can be performed manually and also includes the ability to strike the ball low and hard via a quick press of triangle just as the player hits the ball. Knuckle shots and nutmeg shots are also added to the arsenal and finesse, curling efforts have edged that bit closer to how they were back in the PES6 days, though perhaps not quite there yet.
Heading on goal is once again lacking any real logic regards placement and power, not helped by the removal of crossing placement via the left stick (placement is only possible by performing manual crosses) which is as equally baffling as it is infuriating. Sort of making up for heading woes is the increased variety in how players volley the ball, with you know able to set up for volleys via a well timed press of R3 when meeting a lofted pass. This is mechanic is actually well thought out as while it doesn’t offer an input to make the player try a volley, you at least have more say in them setting up to volley a strike on goal. It really is the case that no two goals are the same and this is improved with the new additions to how you look to set-up and strike at goal.
A quick word on keepers as it is well documented how Konami need to better realise them in future. They are better than PES2012 but are still not what they should be, with them parrying into danger as opposed to out of play far too frequently and being next to useless in 1 v. 1 situations without you spending two months mastering manual keeper control exclusively! They do scale in that the better keepers clearly outperform the lesser gifted men between the sticks but it has to be said that generally they are way too inconsistent. Keepers did improve via patching in PES2012 and here is hoping Konami will look to improve them over the course of the games life cycle.
The Case For The Defence
While defensive control has been greatly improved regards options and (at last) a tactile command to have the player look to stick a foot in, it really does have some issues. First of all, while your AI team mates are a little smarter in marking and even making a tackle, they do show a lack of situational awareness, especially to loose balls. They appear more pre-occupied with adhering to formation than they are to potential danger, making defending in the final third more of a lottery than it should be. Coupled with that, the marker of an intended through ball recipient can glitch out, even under your control, with them either randomly running up the field a couple of yards creating an even clearer run at goal for an attacker or simply pathetically mistiming their attempted interception of the pass, once again giving the attacker a clear run at goal. This really does need looking at by the developers as it horribly imbalances play on higher difficulties and this is without mentioning the issue with keepers in the 1 v. 1 situations that all too regularly result.
Tactical set-up is essential when considering defence and can reduce some of the grievances with the defensive game. It is here where PES still does a fine job in demanding attention to detail from the user pre-match, in relation to their own team and the opposition and individuals that could pose a threat. On higher difficulty levels it is madness to go into the game without making necessary adjustments before kick-off; restructuring your formation, picking players in good condition (still pretty random in competition play), and assigning man-marking duties. Still, it can’t be stressed enough how much the defensive game out on the pitch could do with some post-release work.
Out With The Old And In With The…Oh.
The progress found out on the pitch does not apply to the package as a whole however. In fact, what see is something of a regression unfortunately. There is still a variety of offline and online game modes that amount to potentially hundreds of hours of gameplay but unwelcome changes and key omissions to offline play make PES2013 the least feature filled game in the series for some years.
The changes to Master League are just plain weird and have not been welcomed by the community well at all. We are used to Master League existing in a largely inoffensive “pretendo-verse” up until now and while improvements are desired by many fans, it could be said that fans were arguably willing to just about tolerate that which existed in PES2012 with some of the annoyances that plagued the mode ironed out for PES2013, if only for this final year using the current engine. Instead the developers have opted to dial up the fantasy with it well documented as to what this all entails, so no need to go into great detail here other than to say it distances the game further from that authenticity hardcore players crave. Many may well find themselves tolerating some of the new additions just so as there is an offline mode that offers some longevity but one doubts if any player could honestly say they like them or the direction taken with Master League in general in PES2013.
It doesn’t end there regards disappointment in offline modes though. League Mode has been removed and has quite possibly angered the games passionate community more than the unwelcome Master League changes. At least League Mode featuring would have offered some small comfort to players completely put off by what is going on with Master League, but no, it’s been removed from the team sheet completely. Staggering, especially when you consider one of this year’s best additions. Every La Liga clubs stadium features in the game, effectively making it the most authentic recreation of a national league in any football game ever created, yet it is hidden away out of sight in a Master League many players may simply not wish to play. That is without considering the changes to be found Master League as the simple fact is that many players don’t play Master League, or at least don’t exclusively play Master League for some offline competitive play against the AI. For some it is simply the little spare time they have to play the game that makes Master League a bit of an unwanted chore and where League Mode offers hassle free but competitive play. If one were to try and put a positive spin on things then it is that the fans have well and truly spoken and surely Konami will listen. Maybe we won’t see League Mode make it back in PES2013 but it surely must feature again in future editions?
Last Minute Equaliser!
Let’s not end on too sour a note though. The fact is that PES2013 is without doubt the best it has ever been in recent years in the place that really matters, and that is out on the pitch. What Konami have achieved with the gameplay using an ageing and limited engine should be applauded, with these advancements hopefully finding their way over to a spanking new FOX powered engine next year. It goes without saying that you might find yourself having to put up with some bizarre design choices and omissions away from the field of play more than one would like in order to get the most out of the game, but where fantasy is the order of the day off the pitch, on it PES is very much back to its simulation roots.