Last year’s edition of Pro Evolution Soccer was an enjoyable affair, providing a fun alternative to FIFA. The two titles have been duking it once again in their yearly combat across store shelves everywhere. Konami has focused mainly on improving the AI and ball control in the latest iteration of the longstanding franchise, letting things like animation and graphics stagnate a little longer. The result is a challenging and strategic football game which Konami hopes will challenge the EA’s juggernaut.
Players accustomed to the simplistic controls of FIFA may be in for a tough learning period, as Pro Evolution Soccer aims to create a deep and complicated – but very intuitive - control system. Konami has included a list of in-game tutorials they recommend new players complete, which help rookie gamers start off with both feet firmly on the ground. Once you’re accustomed to the controls, the beauty of accurate tricks, lobs and dummies becomes something of an art form – it seems the steeper the learning curve, the higher rewards there are once people have mastered it.
Tactically, each game of soccer evolves into more than just sport – it becomes a fluid chess match, where ordering your teammates around as you try and retain possession becomes the norm. The magical runs of events like Giggs’ 1999 stunner against Arsenal come few-and-far between in PES, where the average player on the pitch has to put in their time to live goal to goal. Whilst the best teams are able to consistently break apart defensive lines, the lesser-rated clubs will slog and grind for their goals. With the pace of most matches feeling slower than usual, players will be able to take control of the ball and create opportunities to dictate play.
Improvements to both defensive and offensive AI create some slower, but entertaining, matches.
One of Konami’s biggest weaknesses has always been licensing, and that woe returns full-force in PES 2013. While you can create your favorite club – or download someone’s creation online – PES could benefit so much from utilizing more real-life clubs. On the plus side, less licensing on the big teams means a lot of smaller countries were focused on in Pro Evo, including those who are only typically only included in each World Cup game but are otherwise ignored by rival title FIFA. In terms of audio, this year’s commentary from Jim Beglin and Jon Champion is forced, and doesn’t convey the feel of natural, flowing conversation that is achieved with FIFA’s Martin Tyler and Alan Smith.
Master League is back once again, though it remains virtually unchanged from the previous edition. With almost nothing new in terms of changes to game modes, the most entertainment comes from the Virtual Champions League and Copa Libertadores competitions, which Konami has fully licensed. After that, while the game may lack in terms of visual representation, the gameplay is still as deep and engrossing as ever – there’s no shortage of Messi-skilled players awaiting a challenge in online play.
It’s no surprise that the online scene is mostly veterans and less new players. Pro Evolution Soccer is geared towards those who take the time to truly learn the feel of the game and rise to what is a very challenging title - PES 13 is not for the faint of heart. The rewards for looking past the animation hiccups and lack of licensing are well-worth the price in terms of gameplay, and adaptive AI will consistently provide a challenge for the best of gamers. In the end, the well-refined tactical system and assertive AI provide entertainment from start to finish, and remains a testament to how PES can still stand up against its larger opposition.
Konami has done a good job refining some key areas in Pro Evolution Soccer – the tactical AI, in-depth controls and trick system provide some rigorous entertainment. However, it’s getting hard to conceal the wrinkles in aging singleplayer and multiplayer modes, and the lack of graphical improvements and animations is starting to rear its head. These flaws chip away at what is still a very entertaining football game, but those who can see past problems will enjoy a challenging, heart-pumping sports game that, ironically, just needs a little bit of evolution.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 is out now for the PS3, Xbox 360, PC, and Wii and has ported editions on several systems. Game Rant played the Xbox 360 version for this review.
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