The measure of a multiplayer game can be found in the noises their players make. The greats over the years have all been marked by howls of delight or despair – Mario Kart, Street Fighter, Call Of Duty and PES. Or rather, not PES, but FIFA. PES once reigned as the king of football but a slow and steady decline has seen it spend years suffering an identity crisis in the wilderness, falling between arcade and simulation. Its defences down, FIFA swooped in and took advantage off the back of its licenses, presentation and painful lessons learnt as it found its own winning formula.
You know that. The storyline of PES vs FIFA has been a long-running one and FIFA’s victory in recent years had been as predictable as a Barcelona vs. Brighton battle. But now, at long last, PES 2013 has recaptured its sparkle. Even better is that PES has had to do anything dramatic to find its lost form but rather, like all good football teams, it’s the result of some careful tinkering and tweaking ensuring Konami gets the most of its parts.
The most obvious example is how much faster PES 2013 is. After the glacial pace of PES 2012, the speed has been cranked up for this outing, so the trademark fluidity of the series has slid back in. Lightning runs down the wing inspire fear once more and defending has been beefed up to match as each player has a physical presence that’s been missing in recent years. It sounds like a minor change yet the end result is a real sense of anticipation when defenders move in to meet attackers, making the smaller battles as fascinating and engaging as bigger moments.
Konami has been massaging in a new passing and shooting system into the series for the past few years and it’s now that the hard work has paid off. Manual passing and shooting is done by holding down left trigger and pointing towards where you want the ball to go. It’s awkward to use at first. Likewise, the new ‘dynamic one-twos’ seem complicated at first and eventually become indispensable, as you use the right analogue stick to choose the direction the passing player runs in for the return ball. A long-standing argument against the series has been the level of scripting apparent in every facet of the game. Yet with manual passing, manual shooting and dynamic one-twos, you now have the option to take control if you want it. KCET deserves credit for having what are effectively two control schemes here working at the same time. The controls are as deep and complex as you’re willing to take them.
In fact, visiting training shows that PES 2013 has hidden enough special moves to rival a fighting game, let alone that usually found in a sports title. Deft touch dribbling, controlled shots, run arounds, nutmegs and so on are found via different button combinations. They’re not essential to play and work rarely enough that these tricks are a cheeky flourish of skill that only confident players will ever attempt. In any case, PES 2013 still makes it a little easy for players like C.Ronaldo and Messi to bomb around the pitch, at least until players learn that holding A to press rather than commit to challenges is the key to slowing superstars down.
New players will have to work to figure all of this out for themselves. PES 2013 doesn’t make it easy for them – even the training mode has a frustrating complete-this-task-to-attempt-the-next-task sub-structure, which makes it feel like it’s challenging you more than it’s teaching. Yet the reward is worth it and there’s a real feeling of depth underneath the shiny surface, of more moves to be found, of more tactics to be discovered and applied. Unlike PES 2012, the speed, the weight behind the shots and the unpredictability make the learning process here an enjoyable one rather than a chore.
It’s a shame that Konami still hasn’t found any obvious ways to solve the presentation problems found in Master League and Be A Legend. Both of them suffer from convoluted menus and a lack of guidance that mean you’re often guessing at whether you’re doing the right thing or not. Be A Legend mode is particularly bad for this, in light of the instant feedback you get from the equivalent mode in FIFA 13 and even NBA 2K13 informing you of your progress as a match progresses. Working your way up from a nobody to a club legend is fun but that’s a sign of the strong gameplay powering PES this year rather than any drastic improvements on the presentation side.
How does PES 2013 compare to FIFA 13? It’s still very much an apples to oranges comparison, even with PES 2013 finally matching its long-term rival. FIFA excels in control, presentation and licenses while PES 2013 has depth, unpredictability and speed. That PES 2013 should even cause the ‘which is better, FIFA or PES’ conversation to flare up again this year without an obvious winner is a big enough step forward for a series that has lost its way. But there’s no doubt the real mark of victory for PES 2013 is in those howled celebrations whenever a 35-yard volley is cracked into the back of the net, a sign that it has finally recaptured the multiplayer magic that defined its early PlayStation years.