Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) was by far the superior football game throughout the whole of the last console generation, but has spectacularly fallen from grace since HD consoles hit the market. In an attempt to improve things, the developers of PES have this year made a reshuffle with longterm dev lead Shingo “Seabass” Takatsuka moving onto other projects. So has this reshuffled injected fresh blood and vigor into the series, or is rigor mortis setting into this dying series?
In the redesigning of the passing system and the shooting techniques, PES has at least tried to update its ways, if not completely change them. Listening to fans concerns they have included a free passing button which lets you have direct control over where you place the ball, both at long and short range. This is a welcome addition as it allows for more intricate play and results in the player having more control over the destination of their passing. The manual shooting also allows a greater sense of accomplishment when curling in a world class strike from range.
Alas however, it still feels like PES, not like football. Although you can trigger player runs, if the CPU is left to its own devices an intelligent run is a rare as a genuinely humble footballer. The players still feel like they are moving along pre-prepared gridlines and any real inventiveness has to be conjured up by the player.
This is not to say it is without genuine improvements. The way the camera angle changes during free kicks is nice. More importantly the goalkeepers are better represented with quicker reaction times and smarter positioning.
As well as featuring bog standard exhibition matches, PES also gives us the Champions League and Copa Santander Libertadores, both officially licensed competitions. These serve only as interesting distractions because, as ever, the main meat and drink of the series remains its Master League mode.
Here you can take over a club and keep their existing players or start anew with a fresh batch of lowly skilled squad members. This is the more challenging option but the goal in both cases is to take your club out of D2 obscurity and into the higher tier of success that is D1. Along the way you can now employ alongside the usual scouts such backroom staff as coaches, athletic trainers and club doctors. The higher their salary the greater the positive impact they will have on your players.
But be careful as you can bankrupt your clubs finances and this will result in what is effectively a ‘game over’ scenario that will end all your hard work. Thankfully the game gives you plenty of help, even suggesting ‘realistic’ player transfer targets to guide you in a financially viable direction. The mode enables you to shape your managers look to a certain degree and includes press conferences and meetings with players. These events are little more than cut-scene window dressing however, as you do not get to make any key decisions here and they have little bearing on how the club is run.
Events advance on a weekly scale and you can set up your training (allocating points to the areas you want to favour) around big match days. Tactics are simply rendered in the game plan menu and are an easy to use, drag and drop affair.
The other more recent series stalwart has been the Become a Legend mode. This sees you take control of one player in an otherwise CPU controlled squad. Again you can either use an original player or create your own. In creating your own you choose a position and a player type (finisher or all rounder for example) and allocate focus points as you see fit. This then leads to you joining a lowly starting club and working your way up to a large club and Euro success. As with Master League mode, cut scenes abound but are little more than visual diversions.
You can check how your stats are progressing and also allocate points on your training regime as they become available. Getting a better agent gives you a better chance of moving to a larger club. The key to improving your rating with the manager at your current club (and to become a first team regular and eventually, captain) is to play consistently well over a season.
The default view is a sort of just above head level camera that takes some getting used to, but can be changed, as per previous instalments. What is new are the items can be purchased using game points (GP) from the PES shop. These are either consumables that you use up after one game or permanent items like boots that give a constant bonus.
Looks and Sound
In terms of presentation PES 2013 has decided to go for bright, clean menu systems and horribly cheesy Euro pop for its menu music. I know music is a subjective thing but upon starting my career as a Master League manager I actually had to press the mute button on my TV remote to stop the awful background noise.
Graphically the game fares better. The character models move in a smooth enough fashion and star players have distinctive running styles and animations. However on changing from fast dribbling to tight turns the players still feel slightly robotic in their movement. There are some nice touches however, like your Master League team training in the background as you look through that mode’s menu screens.
The stadia are decent enough in their rendering but the ordinary player models are really not that detailed and there is a distinct lack of graphical polish on everything from in game animations to pointless cut scenes.
To Sum Up
I have no doubt that what PES 2013 represents is a real attempt to address the problems of the series and to up its game to compete with FIFA. In order to do this, what it needed to have was no less than a full scale rebuild of the CPU system and many new animation frames for the players to make the game as flexible and dynamic as the real thing.
Instead the old system of movement was kept in place with the new additions to passing and shooting adding solid new elements without addressing the old flaws. Add to this a functional (but not spectacular) training mode and online setup and you have a package that is respectable but not a knockout title by any means. If you buy two football games this year, make this your second, budget purchase.
[Version reviewed: Xbox 360]
Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 will be released on all major consoles on 21 September 2012. You can order it from our online shop now.