When it comes to sports games, EA's Madden NFL series rules the roost in the U.S., but outside the confines of America, a different kind of football excites gamers: soccer. For that, there are only two brands that matter. In Europe, EA's FIFA is currently the top dog, but in Latin America, Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer holds the crown. We flew down to São Paulo, Brazil, earlier this month to sneak a first look at the latest iteration of Konami's franchise.
Unlike many first-look presentations, where you only get to see the game played by company representatives, Konami was more than happy to let us go hands-on with an alpha build of Pro Evolution Soccer 2013. What we played was a slice of exhibition mode, so we didn't get to check out any possible changes in the Become a Legend, Club Boss, Master League or online modes, but we did get plenty of time with the most important aspect: the gameplay.
New to PES 2013 is an updated control scheme that breaks down everything into basic and advanced controls. The basic controls are similar to what has come before and are designed to allow just about anyone to pick up and play. You don't need to know a whole lot about timing to have fun; just point the ball in the right direction and kick.
More advanced players will appreciate all of the new moves incorporated into the PES free control system. The foremost of these is the new full manual passing. Taking control in full manual mode is more difficult, but it allows for much greater flexibility. It also offers a greater deal of accuracy when playing in tight spaces.
The dynamic first-touch mechanic is used when trapping the ball. If a pass is coming in at a sharp angle or high speed, you'll need to properly trap it if you want to change direction. Some of the options allow for an advanced trap to grab the ball, a kick fake and a quick flick. By combining these options, a skilled player should be able to receive a pass, fake out an opponent and then either pass or shoot through an opening.
Manual control also comes to shooting. According to the development team, this was actually one of the most requested options from fans.
Hands-down, trying to learn the manual shooting was probably the most challenging aspect of our time with PES 2013. This is by no means a criticism of the build; it's merely a way to highlight the fact that if you want to get good, you'll need to practice. Watching a Konami rep demonstrate what you can do was impressive. One of the options with manual shooting was a slick, low-trajectory shot to the near post. He also showed off a nicely curved shot. Other control improvements include additional dribbling options and enhanced defenders that can tackle from any direction.
In some regards, the new control options in PES 2013 feel similar to what you would find in a fighting game. You're not going to be brawling with your players on the field, but you need to master both control and timing. Just as you can't get very far with button-mashing in Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition, you're not going to get away with sloppy playing, especially when playing against someone who is using manual control. On the flip side, pulling off a complex series of passes capped off with a slick goal shot is a lot like executing a perfectly timed combo Instead of knocking out your opponent, though, you end up with a nice replay of your goal.
Beyond the control improvements, the AI has also gotten a bit of an overhaul for PES 2013. Playing through PES 2012, many players complained that the defensive line was often too deep in the backfield, and that makes it difficult to respond to the action. Playing PES 2013, we noticed that the AI now moves the defensive line based on the ball position. With the revised AI, players spend more time near the ball and in the thick of the action. The AI also changes the defensive setup based on whether or not the opposing team is passing or having a player push forward with a dribble.
After spending a few hours playing PES 2013, the control tweaks and new AI left a very positive impression. There were only two teams available for play in the PES 2013 alpha build, Real Madrid and CR Flamengo, but the fact that they differed noticeably in rankings meant it was easy to see how much of an advantage the manual controls added. A skilled player could easily jump in as the weaker team and win handily simply by outplaying, rather than outperforming, their opponent. The pace of the game feels a bit slower in this build, though it doesn't feel like a negative. On-field strategy is more important here than pure reaction time.
Looking for a word to describe the visual look of PES 2013, the first thing that comes to mind is "realistic." Walking into the demo room with all of the systems running and games being played, it was surprisingly easy to mistake a PES 2013 match for a televised game. Graphical fidelity is one reason, but just as important are the player animations. This is an issue where PES 2012 wasn't exactly stellar, with players often using the same animation, resulting in a somewhat repetitive look.
Granted, many players on the field are going to move similarly, but they're not all going to be identical, and the top-tier players all have their own signature moves. With PES 2013, the team is striving to get those signature moves into the game.
Dubbing the feature "Player ID," the development team is creating custom animations for around 50 players. This will include famous players as well as up-and-coming names from around the world. Some of the examples shown to us were Arjen Robben and the way he moves his arms while running. Brazil's Neymar makes a circle with his foot before kicking, and FC Barcelona's Xavi performs his signature 180-degree turns. Having the animations modeled after real-life player quirks helps add to the level of realism in the game.
Aside from the visuals, the development team has also tried to push the realism aspect of the game by incorporating stadium specific chants as well as giving the AI the ability to recognize the difference between home and away games. For example, if you are playing a home match and are behind, we are told that you will need to play more aggressively and attack heavily in order to have your team perform at its best.
Continuing on with that theme, intentional fouls are possible this year. Unfortunately, the referees are still infallible, which does take away some of the realism. No, it's not that we want to be able to foul with abandon, but it would be nice to have refs that don't catch every single infraction. Just as they miss the occasional offside call in real life, it would be nice to see that carry over into PES 2013.
As mentioned earlier, we didn't get to see anything regarding Club Boss mode. With that said, we're hoping that the improved AI makes it into Club Boss mode since the AI in PES 2012 wasn't exactly the best at negotiating smart trades. Final team lists were also under wraps, though Konami did confirm that the American MLS teams will not be appearing. We didn't get to hear the final soundtrack, but Konami confirmed that tracks from the Chemical Brothers and Duran Duran are a go for the North American release. International versions of PES 2013 will have a slightly different soundtrack, but the majority of tracks should cross over.
It's always difficult to make judgments about alpha level software, but the limited amount we saw of Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 certainly leaves a great first impression. It may not be as flashy as the FIFA series, but PES 2013 promises to deliver an impressive depth of play. Assuming the team can wrap a healthy set of features and modes around that core gameplay, PES 2013 should be a good step up from last fall's iteration.
Editor's Note: Want to brush up on your soccer skills? Then be sure to follow the official WorthPlaying Twitter account this Friday (June 1, 2012). We'll be giving away copies of Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 for the OnLive gaming service. You have to follow to win!
More articles about Pro Evolution Soccer 2013