Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 Xbox 360 Review

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You know football season has started when it is raining outside, kids are back at school, and the press is full of news about the stars and fans of the beautiful game causing uproar one way or another. During the start of the season, two giant video game franchises are trying to prove why you should part with your hard-earned cash. In the past, there has been one clear winner between the – what seems eternal – rivalry of FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer. EA’s juggernaut has been improving on the game, while Pro Evolution Soccer’s last few attempts have felt lacklustre, losing the spark that made the series so good to play back in the PS2 era.

Finally, this is the year that marks a return to form for the series, because Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 is the best version of Konami’s attempt on the sport that has ever hit the Xbox 360 or PS3. I am not saying this lightly. I always felt that there were missing elements in the last few titles, but this year the advancements in controls bring that spark back along with an enjoyment level I haven’t felt from the series since Pro Evolution Soccer 5.

Let’s talk about these controls. Konami dubs its new control system PES Full Control, which allows the player to do much more with the ball. For example, manual passing and shooting button are assigned to L2, and holding down L2 displays an arrow around the base of the highlighted player, allowing you to move the left stick in any direction to determine the power of the manual shot/pass. It sounds like a simple implementation, but the use of manual control allows for great setups with team members. There is so much to experiment with, and, when you do it right, it can lead to some amazing plays that truly feel deserving after the effort you put in.

This feeling of accomplishment is helped by the enhanced AI for both the opposing CPU and your own team mates. Watch as players react better to their surroundings, run down the side of the pitch calling for the ball or shake off being marked by a defender. Tactical precision gains from this better AI too, with improved reactions to positional maneuvering for counter attacks, offside traps or setting themselves up for a perfect through ball to break the defensive line.

Extra controls have also been given to the player for both attacking and defending. While attacking, the game allows you to control players without the ball. You can point the right stick towards an AI controlled team member and click down to control that selected footballer. This is brilliant for getting those players into open spaces, doing precise one-twos or to confuse the defence by using the player as a decoy as you push forward with the guy on the ball. On the defensive side, you can control the distance between you and the attacking player when pressuring with the A and RT button together, slowing down the attacker and creating time to find the right moment to lunge in and steal the ball. There are other improvements, but I just don’t have the space to include them all. All you need to know is that this is some of the best football on the field when it comes to the Pro Evolution Soccer series on HD consoles.

There’s plenty to take in with the controls, so the developers have offered a very detailed tutorial that the game recommends you view on its first boot up. It covers all the mechanics needed to become a showboating star, although it will take to some time to master all of them, such as nutmegs, ball trapping, height control, flicks and so forth. You can possibly get away with playing Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 without checking this tutorial out, but you won’t find it as rewarding, and you’ll struggle on harder difficulties without taking time to view it.

Not everything has been fixed. I still feel that you have limited control when going for aerial attempts such as headers, and the physics, while great for the ball, aren’t all that well presented when it comes to two players interacting/colliding with each other. Goalkeepers have been improved, but you still often get a corner from overpowered shots from strikers.  The commentating remains awful as well – I swear they add the smallest amount of dialogue needed, because you often hear the same lines as last year’s installment.

Presentation is something of a weakness for Pro Evolution Soccer 2013; it feels prehistoric compared to FIFA. Menus are clunky and convoluted, especially in the Football Life mode (Be a Legend and Master League), which is still the Master League you know and love; there are now some additional stat boosts for players that come in form of boots and other gear. It is obvious that Konami can’t compete with EA on money, so getting the FIFA license is a no-go, and the limited amount of licenced teams – 150 in fact (all listed here) – is a pain to people who want true authenticity. It just seems weird that not all the Champions League teams are fully licenced. Superstars from the sport are closely replicated, but don’t have a soul. Some just look completely zombiefied or lifeless – freaky, to say the least. As this is the last use of the current game engine, I hope the next engine puts effort in to the look and feel of the players. The Player ID is a good start, but you need more than some copycat animation to have an authentic experience.

Online hasn’t changed much from last time. Games classify as either ranked and unranked matches, and you can play Master League online. The net code seems to be the same too, which meant that lag was not much of an issue in the few online games I played. You are rewarded with items for winning to be used in the single player Football Life mode, but, apart from that, you’re looking at similar online support as Pro Evolution Soccer 2012.

While I have not had the chance to play FIFA 13, I can Pro Evolution Soccer is great news for fans and reason to believe their beloved series has finally climbed back into the big leagues. This year’s game might not be as accessible as it once was, but that is a sacrifice Konami was willing to make, and it paid off well in the end, improving where it matters most – the gameplay. The game plays very differently to FIFA, and Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 is moving closer to the brilliance for which the franchise was once known. For any video game football fan, this is sure to put a smile on your face.

8/10

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Version tested: Xbox 360

Also available on: PS3, PC

Developer: PES Productions

Publisher: Konami

Genre: Sport