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E3 2012: Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 Preview

Forging a new ID?

Take a quick look at Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 (PES 2013) and you’ll probably come away with the impression that it’s a re-skinned version of last year’s effort. Given that Konami hasn’t made any dramatic changes to the engine, no-one would blame you either. However, once you pick up the pad and delve into the game yourself, it soon comes apparent that PES 2013 is a different beast entirely.

Without putting on the rose tinted glasses, it’s a similar situation to the PlayStation 2 era, where each iteration of PES appeared to be identical to the last in terms of visuals. However, it was a totally different story when you stepped onto the virtual pitch yourself. The more matches you played, the more you noticed the changes compared to last year’s version. It resulted in you slightly adjusting your style of play, but eventually you embraced the differences and enjoyed the game just as much as its predecessor, sometimes even more.

At a basic level, the above is probably the best way to describe PES 2013 in its current state. That said, it’s a description that doesn’t do the new features and changes justice. Whilst the visuals aren’t a massive step up when compared to PES 2012, the on-pitch action most definitely is. Trailers and press releases can only tell you so much about the likes of “Player ID” and “PES FullControl”, it’s playing a few matches that makes you aware of their impact on PES 2013’s gameplay.

Throughout the years, PES has managed to replicate player individuality quite well, but the introduction of “Player ID” seems to have elevated the overall quality to another level. As you’d expect, the traits of star attacking players such as Ronaldo, Xavi, Ozil, Iniesta and Kaka will stand out the most. Whether it’s the way they move with the ball at their feet or their iconic goal celebrations, PES 2013 mimics each action rather impressively. It’s not all about the attacking players either, as both defenders and goalkeepers have been lavished with some “Player ID” attention too. This includes the way Barcelona’s Puyol lunges for the ball when trying to dispossess an opponent, replicating his “on edge” style of defending in PES 2013 very well. Even the way Casillas comes out of his goal to catch a ball is present, further highlighting Konami’s desire to deliver an authentic as possible experience. The animations applied to some of these traits, whether it be Ronaldo’s running style or the way Iniesta intricately turns, are also quite impressive.

It’s these players that usually stand out when you watch a match on TV, so it makes perfect sense that PES 2013 is aiming to do exactly that. The only worry would be that players such as Ronaldo and Iniesta could become overpowered with the introduction of “Player ID”, but it seems like Konami has managed to keep play balanced in the early code. It’s a passive ability (or feature, if you will), which means you can’t really spam it. Rather than activate yourself manually, it happens naturally dependent on the player who is in control of the ball. Yes, if you’re a good player, you’ll be able to get the most out of the ability, but thankfully defending isn’t a mystery like PES 2012, which means you will be able to combat these players to a certain degree.

Hold the X button (PlayStation 3) and you’ll track the player with the ball, keeping your distance until you feel the need to tackle. Pressing R2 in conjunction with X will apply pressure, on most occasions hurrying the opposing player into make a decision. When you do want to tackle a simple double tap of X is required, with the timing of your button presses being key to actually winning the ball. It’s a system that works well, complimenting the attacking side of the PES 2013 and giving you the tools to combat the talents of attacking players. Not only that, but it highlights the “Player ID” aspects of star defenders such as Puyol, Ramos and Pique. It might not be immediately obvious, but the system also allows you to play the defensive style of your choice. Playing against Barcelona and want to get stuck in a little? You can do exactly that by applying lots of pressure and pestering the star players with challenges.

Fully manual shooting and passing is another major new addition to PES 2013, doing exactly what it says on the tin. However, the implementation of the feature isn’t exactly the most intuitive. The current code requires you to press L2 in conjunction with the shoot and pass buttons to perform a fully manual version of each action. It’s an awkward way of going down the manual route, introducing a needless extra button press when an option in the control settings would suffice. To add to that, to perform a manual low shot, you have to press L2 and triangle, which is a baffling decision when you consider the shoot button is actually square. Why not just put low shot at the beginning of the pressure sensitive spectrum when you press the shoot button? It’s the simplest and most intuitive option, rather than pressing another button entirely. Hopefully Konami realise the error of their ways before the game is released, as the manual shooting and passing featured in PES 2013 is actually really good. You have full control over where the ball goes, which means initially you’ll be misplacing passes and hitting shots near the corner flag as you attempt to release yourself from old habits. When you do get used to it, the satisfaction gained from completing a fully manual long pass or smashing home a shot is just amazing.

Beyond the improved passing (lofted passes in particular), shooting (much better than PES 2012, more weighty), AI runs and “Player ID”, the most impressive aspect of PES 2013 is the Deft Touch Dribbling. Again, it allows the star players to shine and show off their unique styles, but it’s the element of class it brings to the play that is most impressive. Performed by holding R2, players who understand its intricacies will find it to be an incredible tool for creating space and occasionally beating a defender or two. You don’t have to be in control of Ronaldo or Messi either, as smaller players likes Iniesta, Xavi and Ozil benefit from this feature too. It’s a fantastic feature, one you can only really full grasp when you play PES 2013 itself. Throw the Dynamic First Touch system into the mix and the on-pitch action gets even more interesting. Depending on the type of pass you receive you can attempt to control the ball exactly how you want. You’ll get mixed results depending on the control option you go for, but it’s another string in PES 2013’s realistic bow. Fancy trapping a long pass perfectly? Tap R2 and you can attempt to do exactly that, but you’re timing will need to be spot on if you’re going to be successful. Maybe you want to flick the ball as you receive it and beat the man near you. Sure, you can try and do that too. Press R3 as you receive the ball and the player you’re controlling will try it, but (again) timing is everything if you want to fully succeed. Even the AI will take advantage of the aforementioned features, occasionally making you look silly with a first touch flick over your head if you time a challenge poorly.

Headline features aside, Konami are placing great emphasis on improving the fundamentals too. Goalkeepers have been a bit of an Achilles’ heel for the last two years, but it seems like PES 2013 will do its very best to rectify that. Even at this early stage goalkeepers are much improved when compared to PES 2012. They not only exhibit occasional unique personal styles, but they catch the ball more often and attempt to push the ball away from the box where possible. Punches were more effective too, with the ball  travelling longer distances rather than falling into danger areas, resulting in annoying rebound goals. Referees also seem slightly improved, making more realistic decisions and being quite consistent overall.

It’s hard to completely judge PES 2013 at this early stage, as Konami are bound to make plenty of tweaks and changes before the full release. As far as first impressions go though, the fact that it left yours truly and many others wanting go back for just one more game speaks volumes. Make no mistake about it, on a visual level it’s essentially the same as its predecessor, but on the pitch (where it matters) PES 2013 is so different. It’s more open, more considered and (importantly) much more fun. There are a few niggles that need to be ironed out before release, especially the implementation of manual passing and shooting. However, if it lives up to the potential and promise shown at E3 2012, PES…no, football fans have reason to be excited when PES 2013 is released later this year.

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