There was a time, near the end of the last gaming generation, when Pro Evolution Soccer was the king of the football game castle. Since the HD era, however, PES has been getting slowly weaker with each incarnation, while its rival FIFA has gone from strength to strength.
Despite countless promises from Konami every year that each instalment had been rebuilt and "fixed", we always seem to find ourselves disappointed with PES while FIFA continues to exceed our expectations. Once again, then, Konami reckons it's cracked it - and it seems that for once it's right.
After just a couple of matches things feel significantly improved. Players now have much more freedom, and you feel far more in control of them than you did in the last few games. This is partly thanks to hugely revamped controls that give your players more flexibility and make them a lot less rigid and chunky than before.
New dribbling moves allow skilled players to shimmy or sidestep past defenders or - if they're feeling particularly outrageous - try nutmegging them en route to the goal. An improved trapping system also makes it easier to set up spectacular shots.
A new, more accurate, passing and shooting mechanism has also been added, where holding LT will bring up an arrow which lets you line up passes and shots on the fly. This takes a little getting used to, but with practice it can lead to some spectacular finishes, finally banishing the spectre of dodgy shooting that's haunted PES for a while now.
Defending has also been given a revamp, with a new two-tap tackling system - hold A to approach your opponent and jockey near them, then double-tap A to put in a tackle. It's an evolution of last year's effort and, as with FIFA's take on tackling, it can make for some far more accurate defending once you get the hang of it.
FIFA la evolución
In fact, it seems like a lot of new additions have been borrowed from FIFA, which is no bad thing given its rival's dominance in recent years. The right stick is now dedicated to tricks and flicks, with various directional combinations leading to all manner of fancy footwork and flourishes. Meanwhile the controlled shot - a PES staple for over a decade - now seems to float and curve in a lot more like the controlled shots do in FIFA, leading to more satisfying goals as they bend in just past the keeper's fingertips.
Regrettably, now that PES has improved on the pitch, all the problems remaining off the pitch come to the fore. While much has gone into making PES a better game of football this year, it still feels like it's trapped in an out-of-date shell with plenty of niggles that really should have been ironed out by now.
The licenses are as disappointing as ever, with only one English team (Man United) officially licensed. Replays are still horrible, with needlessly locked camera angles. Worst of all, the first four or five hours of Become A Legend mode are still a slog, with a lot of sitting and waiting as games in which you're a sub are fast-forwarded by only 2x, rather than simply skipping forward to the point you come on.
These niggles aside, there's no denying that PES 2013 is a huge improvement over the last few offerings. However, the years spent fixing the football side of things have allowed FIFA to eclipse it in terms of game modes, so that's what Konami should now focus on evolving for next year's edition.
PES is finally fun again
- Greatly improved player control
- More accurate passing and shooting
- Graphics have been given an overhaul
- Master League barely improved
- Lags behind FIFA in terms of modes